Saul Zaentz, one of the most significant music and film producers in history, died Friday in San Francisco. Having suffered from Alzheimer's disease for some years, Zaentz was 92.
The New Jersey native pursued a varied entertainment career. He produced three Academy Award-winning films -- “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Amadeus” and “The English Patient.” His other movies include “The Mosquito Coast,” “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” and “At Play in the Fields of the Lord.” The Zaentz Media Center in Berkeley houses the Saul Zaentz Co., Concord Music Group and Fantasy Studios as well the Berkeley Digital Film Institute and other media production companies.
Zaentz was perhaps best known, however, for his involvement in the music industry, most notably for operating Fantasy Records at 10th and Parker in Berkeley. The label is best known for bringing Creedence Clearwater Revival to the world but Zaentz got his start with jazz and blues, Wikipedia reminds us.
After serving in the United States Army during World War II, Zaentz began realizing his passion for music by working for Jazz at the Philharmonic and record company head Norman Granz, a job that included managing concert tours for musicians such as Duke Ellington and Stan Getz. In 1955 he joined Fantasy Records,for many years the largest independent jazz recordAfter label in the world. In 1967 Zaentz and other partners purchased the label from founders Max and Sol Weiss. Zaentz, advised by the journalist Ralph J. Gleason and benefiting from profits from the sales of Creedence Clearwater Revival records, pursued a policy of acquisition concentrating on independent jazz labels. Zaentz had picked up Debut Records as a wedding present from bassist Charles Mingus to which were added Good Time Records, Prestige Records (in 1971), Riverside Records and Milestone Records (both 1972), Stax Records (1977), Contemporary Records (1984), Specialty Records (1991),Pablo Records (1987), Takoma Records and Kicking Mule Records (both 1995).
With this incredibly rich content, Fantasy began an unprecedented reissue campaign that brought the early music of Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, John Coltrane, and many others, back into the forefront. The program continues to this day, preserving these works of art in a way that both honors the creators and their music, and the listener, as well. In the 70s, Fantasy established a two for one "twofers"? program with luscious 2-LP sets. In the 80s, they debuted the Original Jazz Classics series, where reissues included the original artwork and format. In 1980, they also released the first boxed set by a jazz artist, Miles Davis' Chronicle: The Complete Prestige Recordings (1951-56).
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