Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: Orrin Keepnews: With Great Respect and Appreciation

Orrin Keepnews (1923-2015) circa 1995
Orrin Keepnews (1923-2015) circa 1995

We mark the death on March 1, 2015 – six years ago today – of the American jazz producer and founder of Riverside Records and Milestone Records Orrin Keepnews, in El Cerrito California, but a couple of stones’ throws from where I’m writing this blog. Born in da Bronx on March 2, 1923, Keepnews died one day before what would have been his 92nd birthday.

Keepnews remains one of those indispensable people who made entire careers possible, who protected and respected musicians in an often-vicious artistic environment, who labored in the background and was thus someone whose contributions are often overlooked. Well, not here; not today.

We will get to Mr. Keepnews in a moment. But first: March 1st is one of those “feast days” during which so much stuff happened in music history that any number of anniversaries or events could have occupied the bulk of today’s post. As I would never forgive myself for not mentioning at least some of them, here we go.

Frédéric Chopin as painted by his friend, Eugène Delacroix
Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) as painted by his friend, Eugène Delacroix 1798-1863), painted circa 1839

We mark the birth on March 1, 1810 – 221 years ago today – of the miraculous Frédéric François Chopin in Żelazowa Wola, Poland, not far from Warsaw. He died, all-too-young 39 years later, in Paris, on October 17, 1849.

On this day in 1919, the Vienna State Opera went on strike in protest of the hiring of Richard Strauss (1864-1949) as music director, claiming that Strauss was being paid too much and that he would only produce his own operas!

Here’s a few items that must go under the heading of just plain stupid:

On March 1, 1969 – 52 years ago today – Jim Morrison of The Doors behaved poorly on stage during a show at the Dinner Key Auditorium in Miami, when he whipped out his penis, began masturbating, and simulated oral sex, all the while shouting obscenities at the audience. It turned out to be a big thing, if you’ll excuse me; Morrison was charged with “lewd and lascivious behavior” and was eventually found guilty and sentenced to eight months of hard labor. He died in Paris two years later while the sentence was still under appeal.

We remain in Miami for stupid item number 2. On this date in 1990, Janet Jackson played the first concert on her 120-concert “Rhythm Nation World Tour” at the Miami Arena. The show featured a live panther, on stage. It didn’t go well: safety precautions to protect the audience from the cat (or perhaps to protect the cat from the audience!) were deemed inadequate and the panther, freaked out by everything going on around it, kept urinating on the stage. The cat was axed from the show; we trust its agent negotiated sufficient recompense.

On March 1, 1997 – 24 years ago today – a gent named Clifford Goldberg, who had sued the band Mötley Crüe for irreparably damaging his hearing during a show in New Jersey, had his suit thrown out of court. The judge told Goldberg – who sat right in front of the stage – that he should damn well have known the risk he was taking.

Finally, we wish happy March 1 birthdays to:

The conductor and composer Dimitri Mitropoulos, who was born on this date in 1896 in Athens Greece. (Died 1960)

The American trombonist, composer, arranger and bandleader Glen Miller, born on March 1, 1904 in Clarinda, Iowa. (Died 1944)

Harry Belafonte
Harry Belafonte (born 1927)

A most happy birthday to the singer, songwriter, actor and activist Harry Belafonte, who was born 94 years ago today in Harlem, New York City and is still going strong today!

Likewise, a happy birthday to the English singer, songwriter and actor Roger Daltrey, who was born on March 1, 1944 in East Acton, in west London.

Lastly, we would be remiss if we did not at least acknowledge the birth on March 1, 1994 – 27 years ago today, of the singer and songwriter Justin Bieber in London, Ontario, Canada. I, for one, take some solace in the fact that, for a change, this paragon of pop egoism and bad taste was not born in the United States. To paraphrase the Foster’s beer ad (“Foster’s: Australian for beer”), we would declare “Justin Bieber: Canadian for boor.”

Orrin Keepnews with Julian Edwin "Cannonball" Adderley
Orrin Keepnews with Julian Edwin “Cannonball” Adderley (1928-1975), ca. 1970

Orrin Keepnews was born into a Jewish family in the Bronx on March 2, 1923 and grew up in upper Manhattan, in a neighborhood known as “Inwood.” He was the only child of Louis Keepnews, who was a social worker, and Naomi Keepnews (born Perlman), who was a schoolteacher.

He fell in love with jazz when he was a teenager and became a regular habitué of the many famed jazz clubs that dotted Manhattan’s 52nd street between Fifth Avenue and Seventh Avenue.…

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