Legendary jazz record executive brings festival to Saddle River

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Saturday, August 23, 2014 10:58 am EDT

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NewJersey.com/ Town Journal

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Recording industry executive Bruce Lundvall has been in pursuit of jazz since the first time he heard it. When the Bergen County native was 12 years old, the music "just hit his ear," and the chase was on. Since then, he has sought it out no matter where he was or what he was doing.

Even now, at 78 years old, after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Lundvall continues his mission to seek out music wherever he is, most recently inspiring him to bring a jazz festival to the community in which he lives at Brighton Gardens in Saddle River. The Sunrise Senior Living Jazz Festival, held Sunday, Aug. 24, not only benefitted the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, but also gave Lundvall the opportunity to share his love of jazz with others.

For Lundvall, his lifelong passion for jazz began with getting his hands on any 78 RPM jazz records he could and playing tunes on juke boxes, funding his thirst for the music with soda bottle deposits. With the purchase of his first turntable at 14, his collection and love for the genre grew. In high school, weekends were reserved for trips to New York City’s famed jazz clubs, donning suits to look of age. At the time, $1.25 bought an afternoon of music.

While in college at Bucknell, he hosted jazz concerts and a weekly radio show, and took up the trumpet and saxophone himself. And even while serving in the United States Army, working counterintelligence in Stuttgart, Germany, Lundvall managed to scout out live music – a highlight of his time spent overseas.

It’s no wonder that music became Lundvall’s livelihood, almost as if he didn’t have a choice. The music executive began in an entry-level position at Columbia Records in the early 1960s, shortly after being released from the Army. He got the job by offering to work for just his bus fare into New York City from Wyckoff, where he lived with his wife. He went on to become president of the company and continued on to Elektra Records, where he also served as president. He was then recruited to EMI to revive the defunct Blue Note Records – which had been a favorite of his as a kid – and would be where he carried out the remainder of his illustrious career.

Lundvall said as a young man, he wanted nothing more than to be a musician – but being on the business side of things turned out to be his forte, and was the next best thing.

Thanks to him, artists such as Willie Nelson, Herbie Hancock, Dexter Gordon, James Taylor, Dianne Reeves, Natalie Cole and Norah Jones were introduced to the world. Lundvall said he looks for originality when signing artists and credits his ear for fine musicianship to the hours he spent listening to those 78s as a kid. He’s been nominated for three Emmy Awards and received many other accolades and honors throughout his career.

Lundvall moved from his Wyckoff home in April, where he had raised his family and lived with his wife Kay for more than 50 years, after his Parkinson’s disease began to progress. Having been disabled by the disease, he is now a resident of the assisted-living center.

Staff members and friends of Lundvall’s at Brighton Gardens say his love for music is contagious. When speaking with him, it is obvious music is and has always been his passion. His eyes light up when he talks about highlights of his successful career and the path that led him there.

His friend Jim, also a resident at Brighton Gardens, was the one to suggest Lundvall bring jazz to him if he couldn’t make it out to the clubs. The resulting Sunrise Senior Living Jazz Festival brought in a number of artists who contributed their time and talents pro-bono for the concert. A portion of the proceeds from the festival is being donated to the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which is dedicated to finding a cure for Parkinson’s.

Festival co-coordinator Alexis Bolton, vice president of Sales and Marketing at Brighton Gardens, said when Lundvall came to her with the idea, she was thrilled. She feels Lundvall’s strength throughout his diagnosis and battle with Parkinson’s is an inspiration.

"When people are afflicted with some type of ailment, sometimes it’s tough to look on the bright side," she said. "Bruce is taking it all in stride. He never misses a beat; he still marches forward and he takes it all on. It’s exciting to see and he can motivate folks to not get discouraged with something that’s scary, and unfamiliar. Bruce is a huge example that it’s not the end of the world and you really can continue to live a fulfilled, successful life."

Indeed, Lundvall is still very much involved in the music business, serving as chairman emeritus of Blue Note.  He said once you’re in the music business, it’s tough to get out – not that he’d want to.

"It’s like the mob," he said with a laugh.

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