Chuka George Avakian – That Rhythm Man!

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Robert Baird (Stereophile magazine) writes:  "So where did it all go wrong, George? When did the major-label record business begin slipping away?"

Before he can answer, I recall something George Avakian once told me over the phone. "Goddard Lieberson [former president of Columbia Records] said, 'I'm tired of sitting in A&R meetings with record guys. Get me some lawyers and accountants who don't want to argue about music.'"

"I don't remember saying that, but that's very interesting," Avakian says with a mischievous smile of recognition.

Renowned as a producer and engineer, and the first man to record a collection of songs meant to issued together as an album (as opposed to a series of singles), Avakian, while he worked at Columbia Records, was one of the forces who built what is perhaps the world's largest catalog of recorded music—or, as he puts it, "every aspect of education as well as entertainment for the knowledgeable purchaser." He is also one of the last living links to the pre- rock'n'roll music business, and a time when the major labels thrived as they shifted into high gear during the transition from the 78rpm shellac to the 33.33 long-playing (LP) vinyl disc. He connects back to an era when working at a record label was still about music and musicians, as opposed to manufactured celebrity and entertainers; to the halcyon days when the business of selling recordings was large and profitable. Most famous for the time he spent working first as a freelance producer and, from 1946 to 1958, on staff at Columbia, Avakian is erudite, opinionated, and genial. At 92 he may be a bit more bent over than he used to be, and a touch more forgetful, but he's retained the quick mind and personal verve (to use a jazz word) that have made him such a dominant figure in the history of recorded music.

"This irritates the hell out of me." He points at the cane leaning against his chair. "I can't walk the way I used to; my spine has been shrinking. My driver's license still says 5' 10?, which was what my height was when I was 17. I'm now 5' 3?, the same height as my wife and Louis Armstrong."

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