Mo Ostin, music powerhouse who puts artists first, dies at 95
“For me, the artist is the person who should be in the foreground,” Mr. Ostin said in 1994.
Yet the industry has recognized the importance of his work. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2003, and the Recording Academy presented him with a President’s Merit Award in 2014 and a Trustees Award in 2017.
He was born Morris Meyer Ostrofsky on March 27, 1927 in Brooklyn to immigrant parents who came to the United States from Russia during the Communist Revolution of 1917. When he was 13, he moved with his parents and brother, Gerald, to Los Angeles, where the family ran a produce market.
He was a music fan from an early age, but his introduction to the music world came by chance. Living next door to his family was brother Norman Granz, who owned the Clef Records jazz label and promoted concerts in the 1940s and 1950s. During his college years at the University of California, Los Angeles , where he majored in economics, Mr. Ostin ended up helping Mr. Granz by selling programs for his concerts. He married Evelyn Bardavid in 1948.
A graduate with honors, Mr. Ostin enrolled in UCLA law school but dropped out in 1954 to support his wife and young son. A job opportunity also presented itself through Mr. Granz, who hired him to be Clef’s controller at a time when the label’s roster included such prominent jazz artists as Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald and Charlie. Parker.
Clef eventually changed its name to Verve; around the same time, Mr. Ostin also changed his name.
Towards the end of the 1950s, Frank Sinatra tried to buy the label, inspired by its artist-friendly approach. But he lost out to MGM Records, a disappointment that led him to form his own company, Reprise, in 1960. He appointed Mr. Ostin as executive vice president, with the mission of modeling the new company on Verve.