born on 2/3/1923 in New York City, NY, United States
died on 1/3/2015 in El Cerrito, California, United States
Orrin Keepnews (born 2 March 1923 in The Bronx, New York City) is an American writer and jazz record producer known for his work for Riverside Records and other labels.
Keepnews graduated from Columbia with a degree in English in 1943. Subsequently, he was involved in bombing raids over Japan in the final months of World War II, before returning for graduate studies at Columbia in 1946.
While working as an editor for the book publishers Simon and Schuster, Keepnews moonlighted as editor of The Record Changer magazine after fellow Columbia graduate Bill Grauer became its owner in 1948. In 1952 Grauer and Keepnews produced a series of reissues on RCA Victor's Label "X". The following year the partners founded Riverside Records, which was originally devoted to reissue projects in the traditional and swing jazz idioms.
Pianist Randy Weston was the first modern jazz artist signed by the label, and he helped them to begin paying attention to the current jazz scene. Their most significant early move came in 1955, when they were made aware of the availability of Thelonious Monk, who was able to terminate his contract with Prestige Records and became Riverside's first major artist. From this point, the label concentrated on the burgeoning modern jazz scene. With Keepnews as producer, and adding such significant young artists as Bill Evans, Cannonball and Nat Adderley, Wes Montgomery, Johnny Griffin and Jimmy Heath, the label soon rivalled Prestige and Blue Note Records as a leading New York-based independent jazz label. In 1961, Keepnews produced the highly regarded live jazz recordings of the first Bill Evans Trio, Sunday At The Village Vanguard and Waltz for Debby. During this period, Grauer concentrated on business affairs, which ultimately proved to be marred by "creative accounting". At the end of 1963, Grauer died following a sudden heart attack, and Keepnews was unable to save the company from the bankruptcy that followed in mid-1964.
After a period of freelance activity, Keepnews started Milestone Records in 1966 with a new partner, pianist Dick Katz. Among their most notable artists over the next few years were McCoy Tyner, Joe Henderson, Lee Konitz, and Gary Bartz.
Late in 1972 Keepnews relocated to San Francisco as director of jazz A&R at Fantasy Records, which had just acquired the Riverside masters. Milestone was bought by Fantasy in the same year, and signed Sonny Rollins, whom Keepnews had worked with at Riverside. At Fantasy Keepnews oversaw the repackaging of the company's holdings in the idiom as "twofer"s, including many albums he had produced at Riverside. Bill Evans joined Fantasy at this time, reuniting their previous partnership; however his manager, the late Helen Keane, later a successful producer in her own right, took charge of Evans's recording. After leaving Fantasy in 1980 because, as he said, "even under the best of circumstances, I can't be happy working for someone else," Keepnews returned to freelancing.
In 1985 Keepnews founded Landmark Records, which included albums recorded by the Kronos Quartet of music by Bill Evans and Monk, as well as straight jazz albums. For Landmark, Bobby Hutcherson recorded his most extensive sequence of latter-day albums. Landmark passed to Muse Records in 1993.
In the CD era Keepnews continued to be responsible for extensive reissue compilations, including the Duke Ellington 24CD RCA Centennial set in 1999 and Riverside's Keepnews Editions series.
Awards and tributes
Bill Evans' composition Re: Person I Knew was an early tribute to Orrin Keepnews: the title is an anagram of his name.
Orrin Keepnews won several Recording Academy Grammy Awards in the 1980s: Best Album Notes for The "Interplay" Sessions performed by Bill Evans in 1984 and Best Historical Album and Best Album Notes for Thelonious Monk: The Complete Riverside Recordings in 1988. In 2004 Keepnews was given a Trustees Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Academy.
In June 2010, Keepnews received a 2011 NEA Jazz Masters lifetime achievement award from the National Endowment for the Arts in the field of jazz, including a stipend of $25,000.
Keepnews was married to the former Lucile Kaufman from 1948 until her death in 1989. He is married to Martha Egan, a clothing designer. He has two sons: Peter Keepnews is an editor at The New York Times and a writer on jazz subjects, among others, and an editor at the New York Times. David Keepnews teaches nursing and health policy at Hunter College in New York City.
Timeline of labels
- Riverside Records (1952)
- Milestone Records (1966)
- Fantasy Records (1972)
- Landmark Records (1985)
- Muse Records (1993)
- Orrin Keepnews & Bill Grauer (1956 ) A Pictorial History of Jazz: People and Places from New Orleans to Modern Jazz, Hale Publishing, ISBN 0-517-00009-1
- Orrin Keepnews (1988) The View from Within: Jazz Writings, 1948-87, OUP (USA) ISBN 0-19-505284-6
- Columbia College Today
- The Pop Life; A New Label, Landmark, Records Jazz - New York Times
- Peter Pettinger: Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings. Yale University Press, 1999.
- NEA Will Honor 18 Artists
- National Endowment for the Arts (June 24, 2010). National Endowment for the Arts Announces the 2011 NEA Jazz Masters. National Endowment for the Arts. Retrieved on July 19, 2010.
- Peter Keepnews search, The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-02-15.
- All About Jazz, "Orrin Keepnews at Eighty", February 18, 2003
- Orrin Keepnews, Producer, "20 part Video Podcast series featuring Orrin Keepnews