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Orrin Keepnews, Grammy award winning Jazz producer, dies aged 91

Orrin Keepnews on Cone Magazine

Four-time grammy award winning jazz producer and record company executive Orrin Keepnews has been the man behind some of the most recognised jazz records to have ever been released.

Yesterday he passed away, which was later confirmed by his son Peter who works for the NY Times. Until now, no cause of death has been given.

Orrin Keepnews began his career as an editor for a jazz magazine The Record Changer. It was around this time that he wrote one of the first profiles on Monk, a pianist and composer, who at the time was still unknown to many. Then in 1953 he teamed up with Bill Grauer (former class mate at Columbia University) to start Riverside Records.

Within two years, Riverside Records signed Monk to the label. The unusual structure of most tracks in the record proved hard for experienced musicians like Mr. Rollins and the drummer Max Roach to manage. As such Orrin Keepnews split different takes up and merged them together to create the full album. Being one of his most hands on projects, it was also considered one of his most successful to.

In the following decade, Keepnews went on to release a string of classic Jazz albums like “Thelonious Monk With John Coltrane”, “Everybody Digs Bill Evans” and “The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery”. As well regarded as it was, the record label was a financial disaster, going into bankruptcy towards the end, leading to the heart attack of Mr. Grauer in 1963.

Orrin Keepnews, then went on to start Milestone Records with Dick Katz in 1966. With many artists from Riverside, the label also including other jazz performers like saxophonist Joe Henderson and the pianist McCoy Tyner. After his brief role at Milestone, Keepnews then went onto to manage A&R for Fantasy Records, before founding Landmark records, best known for the albums Kronos Quartet: “Monk Suite: Kronos Quartet Plays Music of Thelonious Monk” and “Music of Bill Evans.”

Keepnews was highly celebrated for his achievements, receiving a lifetime achievement award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, and in 2011 was recognised as a “Jazz Master” by the National Endowment for the Art.

He also won many grammy awards for his work, including Best Historical Album Grammy in 1999 for The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition: The Complete RCA Victor Recordings (1927-1973).

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