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Why I Love Pablo Records
This is an article on Pablo Records which was a jazz label started by Norman Granz in the 1970s. I have a large collection of releases on this label and always have enjoyed them.

Why I Love Pablo Records
By Matthew Robinson

When most people think about record labels in regards to jazz, you will always hear the label Verve mentioned, but only few people realize that Norman Granz the label’s founder actually ran another label years after he sold Verve called Pablo. Norman Granz was born in Los Angeles on August 6, 1918 and he was the son of Jewish immigrants from Tiraspol in Russia. He worked several small jobs until he was drafted in the midst of World War II. In the US Air Force, Norman was assigned to the morale branch which dealt in entertaining all of the troops and it was not long afterwards that he organized some of the first non-segregated jam sessions at the Trouville Club in Los Angeles. He always believed even at a young age that it didn’t matter the color of your skin because if you had a great talent for music then you were just as equal as anyone else. Eventually he created the concerts well known as Jazz at the Philharmonic where musicians of all colors came to play to large audiences who greatly favored jazz. Norman would go on to manage several great talents such as Canadian pianist Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald. This was at a time when African Americans were greatly looked down upon by whites and did not always receive equal pay in regards to their jobs. Norman always tried his best to make sure none of his artists were discriminated against. Granz helped to promote many of these artists and get them fair pay for their shows and years later several of them such as Oscar Peterson never forgot it.

To understand the founding of Pablo you have to realize that throughout the 40s and 50s the jazz scene was really vibrant and alive, but when the 60s came around and The Beatles had touched down in the US in 1964 most people were starting to forget and jazz was pushed aside to welcome rock and roll. One of the biggest little victories for jazz amongst this time was when Louis Armstrong’s Hello Dolly made it to number one on the charts even beating out The Beatles for a short time. Also at this time the once great Queen of the jazz world Ella Fitzgerald was also starting to fade away in popularity. Most people didn’t care very much about Ella at the time and her career was really coming to a standstill. It wasn’t until 1972 when Norman Granz had the idea to set up a concert at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium with her and the Count Basie Orchestra that she would be greatly relevant in the jazz world again.

With the 1972 concert, Norman did the smart thing and surprised both Ella and Basie by secretly inviting Oscar Peterson and a huge cast of other notables in the jazz world such as Stan Getz, Clark Terry, and old members of Oscar Peterson’s trio like Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen to appear. This particular concert was a throwback to the old Jazz at the Philharmonic shows and it was such a huge success that Norman recorded the entire show and released it through mail order only. Granz didn’t have a label at the time having sold Verve to MGM much earlier and he knew that if was going to release this concert or any future recordings he would need to start a new one. That became the genesis of Pablo records, the new label that would soon become his focus throughout the 70s leading through to the 80s when it was sold again and he stepped down as the label owner. After Norman’s departure, Pablo Records would go on to release new recordings and reissue several as Verve had done several years earlier.

There have been many things that have been said about Pablo Records over the years and I’d like to offer my thoughts. Many people have said that the album covers are bland and boring and they’ve also complained about the sound quality of many of the recordings. Most people site particularly the studio recordings referring to the sound as dry and flat. Pablo has also been called a very conservative label meaning that they seemed to be afraid to take risks and instead went for many of the same old standards in songs and arrangements. Despite all these negative comments on the label, I will stand up and gladly defend it any day of the week because I feel that there are many important albums featured on Pablo and Norman Granz with this label gave all of the elder statesmen and women of jazz a place to go where they could record in a very relaxed environment and just have fun. When other labels didn’t want them, Pablo gave these artists a place to be. I feel that the black and white album covers give Pablo a very unique style, and if you look at many of the early albums from one of Granz’ earlier labels Norgran you’ll see a very similar style. It’s also been said that Norman did a lot of these recordings on the cheap so sound quality was not always priority, but there have been worse recordings issued and for some of the rarities like the Art Tatum Solo recordings and some of the last studio works from the great Duke Ellington I feel you can overlook it. Also Pablo was conservative and they didn’t always take too many risks to do something out of the box but albums like Dizzy Gillespie’s Afro Cuban Jazz Moods with Machito tell me they tried some new things every once in a while and they did work.

Aside from new recordings, Pablo also through Norman Granz was able to release vintage recordings from artists who had long since passed like John Coltrane and Lester Young or “Prez” as he was known to friends. If you’re looking to get started on Pablo recordings I’ll say that anything from Oscar Peterson on the label is worth checking out. Pablo also recorded the last studio sessions from Duke Ellington and they are always worth hearing. Many people online will tell you anything Zoot Sims recorded for the label is also worth seeking out and I’ll say that anything jazz guitarist Joe Pass recorded also fits in that same category. One of the best releases to seek out for my money is The Greatest Jazz Concert in the World which was a four record box set released in 1975 but taken from a massive concert in 1967 before the label existed. That album is a perfect example of the Jazz at the Philharmonic shows and since it features Ella, Oscar Peterson, Duke, and several others I feel the name of the album is pretty apt. These days Pablo records are relatively cheap if you know where to look, mostly because nobody cares anymore, so that means you can get them for a steal and they are well worth it.

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