Bruce Lundvall, the music executive who revived the iconic Blue Note Records label in the mid-1980s and turned it into a major influence on the contemporary jazz scene during his 25 years as president, died May 19 at a hospital in n Ridgewood, N.J. He was 79.
The cause was complications from Parkinson’s disease, Blue Note announced.
As a top executive at Columbia Records and later Blue Note, Mr. Lundvall was responsible for signing and or nurturing the careers of Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis, James Taylor, Bobby McFerrin, Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz, Dianne Reeves, Richard Marx, Phoebe Snow, Willie Nelson, Bruce Springsteen and Norah Jones.
“My belief is that if you sign an individual artist, an artist that has their own sound, their own concept, and is doing something important musically, that in the end, you will win,” Mr. Lundvall said in a 2003 interview posted on the All About Jazz website.
After graduating in 1957 from Bucknell University in central Pennsylvania, Mr. Lundvall was turned away when he went looking for an entry-level job at Blue Note. But in 1984, he and producer Michael Cuscuna were tapped to reactivate the dormant Blue Note label, which had been acquired by EMI.
As president, Mr. Lundvall brought back some of the label’s earlier stars such as Freddie Hubbard and McCoy Tyner, while also signing new artists including singers Reeves and Cassandra Wilson, and saxophonist Joe Lovano.
Mr. Lundvall’s biggest commercial success came when a woman in the label’s accounting department he had never met wanted him to meet a young singer she had heard in a local cafe.
A few days later, he had a nervous Jones in his office playing her demo tape. He signed her on the spot. Her 2002 debut album, “Come Away With Me,” won eight Grammys, including album of the year, reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and sold more than 10 million copies in its first three years.
“I met Bruce on my 21st birthday and it was life changing,” Jones said in an e-mail. “It would be easy to say that he gave me my career, but it goes beyond that. He guided me and helped me to make good decisions. When I was too green to make them, he told me the path to take, and when I figured out who I was as an artist he let me fly.”
Such successes enabled Mr. Lundvall to realize his dream of having the label represent some of the most influential jazz musicians representing the music’s future, including pianists Jason Moran and Robert Glasper, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and guitarist Lionel Loueke.
A self-described “failed” saxophonist, Bruce Gilbert Lundvall was born Sept. 13, 1935, in Cliffside Park, N.J. His father was a mechanical engineer who discouraged his son’s early interest in jazz, formed by his frequent visits to New York jazz clubs as a teenager.
In 1960, he got a job as a marketing trainee at Columbia Records and rose up the ranks to become president of the domestic division of its parent company, CBS Records, in the mid-1970s.
Mr. Lundvall played a crucial role in getting the label to release Hancock’s groundbreaking “Head Hunters” electric jazz-fusion album, encouraged Springsteen on his breakthrough “Born to Run” album and steered Snow onto the pop charts with her hit “Poetry Man.”
In 1979, Mr. Lundvall created the Havana Jam Festival that brought American jazz and pop musicians — including Weather Report, Billy Joel, Kris Kristofferson, and the CBS Jazz All-Stars with Gordon and Getz — to Cuba for the first concerts in nearly two decades.
Mr. Lundvall left Blue Note in 2010 because of failing health. Musician-producer Don Was succeeded him as president two years later.
Mr. Lundvall didn’t let his illness diminish his passion for jazz, organizing the Sunrise Senior Living Jazz Festival last August at his assisted-living center featuring Jones, Reeves and Lovano.
Survivors include his wife, Kay; three sons; a brother; a sister; and two grandchildren.