Legendary, innovative record producer George Avakian-who signed Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck to Columbia and produced what is considered the first jazz album in history (recorded with the specific intent of issuing the sessions together and not as singles)-was honored with a ceremony in Paris on Nov. 30 for winning the Django d’Or Award, one of the most prestigious jazz honors in Europe. Launched in France in 1992 by Frank Hagége, Babik Reinhardt and Jacqueline Danno, the Django d’Or rewards significant achievements and initiatives involving European jazz music and musicians.
Avakian, who was born in Armavir, Russia on March 15, 1919 and attended Yale University, first broke into the record industry in 1940 by producing Eddie Condon’s Chicago Jazz, but also-with the encouragement of Columbia president Ted Wallerstein-by researching and collecting the masters of a series of 78-rpm albums and assembling them to form the first fundamental canon of jazz music. Avakian also helped to establish the long-playing record as-arguably-the most important single innovation of the record industry during the 20th century, which resulted in Columbia’s dominance in the ’40s and ’50s. He also pioneered live pop and jazz recording and revitalized the careers of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.
In an age where we see new, technologically advanced CDs and DVDs daily, the achievements of George Avakian may seem to exist in a long-forgotten era, but an era that nonetheless brought us necessary-and at the time, exciting-improvements.