NEW ORLEANS - George Buck, the businessman, producer and music impresario who preserved and enhanced the history of recorded New Orleans jazz and other music through his record labels and radio stations as well as the French Quarter’s Palm Court Jazz Cafe, died Wednesday. He was 84.
Kathy Edegran, who with her husband, Lars, helps manage the Palm Court Jazz Cafe on Decatur St. and Mr. Buck's record labels, said Mr. Buck died of a heart attack. He had been in ill health for some time.
Mr. Buck and his wife Nina owned and operated the Palm Court, a bastion of traditional jazz lined with album covers and photographs of the many musicians who have performed there. Lars Edegran himself was a fixture there, on the piano, performing along with many of the city's traditional jazz mainstays, including the city's oldest performing jazz musician, Lionel Ferbos.
The Bucks opened the cafe after moving to the city in 1987. It was the public face of the mail-order recording and broadcasting operation that Mr. Buck ran out of offices above the business, which one writer described as a jazz factory of sorts.
Mr. Buck’s business interests followed his own personal, lifelong fascination with the music. He had a near-encyclopedic knowledge of the music and musicians, despite being legally blind since college.
"I loved it from the first time I heard it. It spoke my language. It was me," he told The Times-Picayune in 2002. "It’s an emotional thing. You fall in love with jazz."
A native of New Jersey, Mr. Buck produced his first jazz record in 1949 with clarinetist Tony Parenti, a New Orleans native, and established the GHB label, which shared his initials. He also began buying radio stations, saying that the profits allowed him to continue his interest in music and purchase other labels. One of the biggest was the American Music label, on which producer Bill Russell recorded pioneers Bunk Johnson, Baby Dodds, George Lewis, Kid Howard and others.
“This is America’s great original art form and only dedicated collectors with their little labels were recording it when I began,” Mr. Buck told New Orleans writer Jason Berry in 1996. “As a teenager listening to pop music on the radio I was attracted to the big bands. Then I heard a broadcast from Coney Island by Muggsy Spanier. At first I couldn’t find any of his records.”
His own interest in the music later led him to purchase record labels that had seen declining interest in the music and sagging sales amid changing tastes.
The recording labels he purchased and preserved included Southland, Audiophile, Black Swan, Solo Art and others, specializing not just in New Orleans jazz but also Chicago-style and modern jazz, blues, big band, swing and standards. His own labels, Jazzology and GHB, highlighted new performers while his company’s other labels reissued discs from the golden era of recorded jazz, making them available to an international audience of fans and collectors that numbered in the thousands.
His GHB Broadcasting company also purchased radio stations across the country, including WIST-AM in New Orleans (formerly WTIX-AM 690). Other stations operated in Charlotte, Philadelphia, Ohio, Virginia and South Carolina. Though some had religious or talk formats without any music at all, many of them featured Mr. Buck’s weekly syndicated “Jazzology” radio show, featuring jazz and big band music and commentary from Mr. Buck himself. He first broadcast "Jazzology" in 1947, while he was in college and working at WWOD in Lynchburg, Va.
In 1986, Mr. Buck formed the GHB Jazz Foundation, a non-profit which owns his various record labels, with the goal of continuing to release and preserve the music after Mr. Buck’s death. The board of directors included Nina Buck, musicians and jazz aficionados Lars Edegran and Butch Thompson, as well as Hal Smith and Paige Van Vorst.
In January 2012, Mr. Buck was inducted into the South Carolina Broadcasters Association’s Hall of Fame.
He is survived by his wife, Nina; a son and four stepchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending.