Wynton’s Blog

Lifetime Achievement Award to veteran record executive Bruce Lundvall

This Saturday I had the honor of presenting the Jazz Foundation of America’s (JFA) Lifetime Achievement Award to veteran record executive Bruce Lundvall. For more than 21 years, The JFA has supported jazz musicians in need. Under the leadership of their irrepressible Vice Chairman Wendy Oxenhorn, they have allowed many of our elders who are struggling or infirm to live with dignity.

Bruce Lundvall cut his teeth at Columbia Records in the 1960s, and went on to serve Jazz and popular music for over 50 years, always with dignity, style and optimism. He is responsible for signing and nurturing the careers of an unsurpassed diversity of artists ranging from Willie Nelson to Dianne Reeves Music, James Taylor to Herbie Hancock, and Stan Getz to Cassandra Wilson. With an unbridled enthusiasm, he developed, revived and even founded record companies.

In 1979, he created the historic Havana Jam Festival and brought American musicians to Cuba. This integration on the bandstand highlighted US-Cuban cultural ties in a dynamic and unapologetic way. Through the years he has supported all types of socio-political recordings that most executives wouldn’t have touched. And everything was done with hard work and due diligence, but also with a light touch and sense of humor. As a high school student, Bruce told his father, “I want to be in the record business when I grow up.” His father replied, “Son, you’ll have to choose — one or the other.”

You could always depend on Bruce to hit the clubs and concerts dressed to the nines, encouraging musicians he loved (whether they were on his label or not). I was a recipient of that love and respect all through my career, and Bruce was the one who suggested Columbia sign me at 18. When I actually became part of the Columbia roster, he had already moved on to Elektra Records, but we developed and have maintained a close relationship.

In deciding to leave Columbia/Sony after more than 20 something years, I agonized about going to a smaller label with less resources. Seeking advice, I met with my guru and the seer from the 9th Ward, Herlin Riley. Laying out the pros and cons I said, “Sony has the distribution and the resources but don’t really want to release real Jazz albums. Every album idea is an uphill sell. But Bruce and Blue Note, love the music, want to deal with it, and will embrace new ideas.” Herlin considered what was said for a moment and returned, “Bruh….Love who love you.”

I went with Bruce, and am glad to have recorded on a label run by him. Though now confined to a wheelchair due to advanced Parkinson’s, he is still able to reflect on a lifetime of unprecedented success with his characteristic wit and intelligence “Youth passes swiftly, but if you’re lucky, immaturity can last a lifetime.”


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