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Norman Granz Bio ‘The Man Who Used Jazz for Justice’

Tad Hershorn’s comprehensive bio of an epic career

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Norman Granz

The subtitle of Tad Hershorn’s biography of jazz impresario Norman Granz, The Man Who Used Jazz For Justice, is slightly misleading. As the force behind the legendary concert series Jazz at the Philharmonic, Granz was instrumental in mainstreaming integrated audiences and mandating equal treatment for all musicians. But the book itself is less a treatise on civil rights than a straightforward chronicle of a singularly important jazz career, and true music fans will find this colorful, well-written bio more than sufficient to suit their interests.

The son of Russian Jewish immigrants, Granz knew the outsider’s life from the start, but Hershorn chooses not to belabor this spiritual connection to disenfranchised black Americans. Nor does he simplify Granz by cherrypicking a moment to mark his “conversion” to the civil rights cause. Granz simply seems to be one of those individuals who saw black America’s circumstances, realized something was wrong and found a way to do something about it. The means of his rebellion were provided when he heard Coleman Hawkins’s seminal recording of “Body and Soul” and realized that jazz musicians could change the culture simply by doing what they did best in front of anyone who wanted to hear them.

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