Bruce Lundvall

President of Blue Note Records, Bruce Lundvall, poses for a picture in his office in New York City on March 26, 2009.  

AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Bruce Lundvall, the former CEO of Blue Note Records and a key figure in jazz music, has died. He was 79 years old.

Lundvall had been living in a senior assisted living center in New Jersey for complications related to his battle with Parkinson's, according to biographer Dan Ouellette, who wrote the book Bruce Lundvall: Playing by Ear, and tells Billboard that during a brief hospitalization, Lundvall underwent surgery but never regained consciousness. He passed on May 19.

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Lundvall, a beloved figure in the industry, is credited with signing such Grammy Award winning musicians as Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis, Natalie Cole and Norah Jones, among many others.

Reads a statement from Blue Note issued on May 19: 

Born in Englewood, New Jersey in 1935, Bruce was a lifelong jazz lover whose passion for the music was ignited by Clifford Brown, Charlie Parker & the other beboppers he heard as an underage teenager at clubs along West 52nd Street in New York City in the 1950s.

A self-described "failed saxophone player," Bruce took an entry level marketing job at Columbia Records in 1960 and over the following two decades rose to lead the North American division of the label, signing artists including Dexter Gordon, Herbie Hancock, Stan Getz, Wynton Marsalis & Willie Nelson. After launching the Elektra/Musician label in 1982, he received the offer of a lifetime in 1984 when EMI approached him about reviving Blue Note Records which had been dormant for several years. He jumped at the chance, partnering with producer Michael Cuscuna to bring back the label's earlier stars like Jimmy Smith, McCoy Tyner, Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson & Jackie McLean, and signing new artists including Dianne Reeves, Cassandra Wilson, Michel Petrucciani, John Scofield, Charlie Hunter and Medeski Martin & Wood.

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Under Bruce’s stewardship Blue Note established itself as the most-respected and longest-running jazz label in the world. He presided over a prosperous nearly-30-year period of the label's history, reaching commercial heights with artists including Bobby McFerrin, Us3, Norah Jones, Al Green and Amos Lee, while recording some of the most important jazz artists of our time including Joe Lovano, Greg Osby, Jason Moran, Robert Glasper, Ambrose Akinmusire, Don Pullen, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Terence Blanchard, Jacky Terrasson, and many others.

Indeed, Lundvall's leadership at the then-EMI-owned label brought a then unknown singer, Jones, to his office. Her debut album, Come Away With Me, would end up selling more than 11 million copies and win eight Grammy Awards.

Lundvall stepped down as president of Blue Note in 2010, eventually taking the title of Chairman Emeritus. Don Was was named president of the label in 2012. “Bruce was a one-of-a-kind, larger-than-life human being,” says Was. “His Joie de Vivre was equaled only by his love for music, impeccable taste and kind heart.  He will be sorely missed by all of us who loved and admired him but his spirit will live forever in the music of Blue Note Records.”

Recording Academy president Neil Portnow commented: "Bruce Lundvall discovered, signed, promoted and guided the careers of some of the most respected artists in the world. In addition to his keen ear and knack for recognizing superstar talent, Bruce was an extraordinarily kind and compassionate man, making him one of the music industry’s most notable and respected figures. Our music community has lost an influential, trailblazing and dynamic friend and his passion for music will forever live on. Our deepest condolences go out to his family, friends, and to all who have had the pleasure and good fortune of having known or worked with him."

Lundvall is survived by his wife Kay; three sons: Tor, Kurt and his wife Blythe, and Eric and his wife Johanna; as well as two grandchildren: Rayna and Kerstin. A private family service will be followed by a forthcoming public service, details will be announced shortly. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that a donation be made to the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly listed Lundvall's age as 75. He was born on Sept. 13, 1935.