Larry Rosen, already renowned in the music industry for co-founding the contemporary jazz label GRP with musician Dave Grusin, was already into his 60s when the business as he knew it went to hell. The biz was absconded by those young’uns with their free Napster downloads. The looming rise of Apple’s iTunes Store would soon turn CDs — a format Rosen pushed on wary record labels in the early-’80s — into shiny coasters to set their beer koozies.
So what’s an older music man to do? Defy, defy, defy. Rosen, who lived part-time on Fisher Island, had made millions and altered the sound of Miami with his popular Jazz Roots series at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts by defying expectations his entire life.
Rosen, who died Friday at his home in New Jersey at 75 from brain cancer, embraced change and technology. He sold GRP for some $60 million in 1990, and launched N2K, an early online music site in the mid-’90s. He quipped in a 2011 Miami Herald article, “That’s something for a drummer from the Bronx whose mother didn’t want him to be a musician.”
Even rocker David Bowie, known for his trailblazing, approached Rosen, the jazz man, in 1996, to pick his brain on how best to sell his single, Telling Lies. Bowie’s major label, Virgin, wouldn’t allow the star to release the track digitally without a parent album to promote.
“Technology is going in one direction, consumers are going in that direction and you are a total ass if you are trying to stop it. But that’s what they tried to do. And you can see what happened: They killed themselves,” Rosen told Miami freelance writer and jazz critic Fernando Gonzalez, a former Herald pop music critic, for a 2009 feature in the International Review of Music blog.
Rosen sold GRP, the contemporary jazz label he co-founded with musician Dave Grusin in 1982, to MCA (now Universal) for some $60 million in 1990.
“You won’t stop technology or progress. It’s that simple.”
Then there’s Miami. Failed jazz clubs, one after the other. This isn’t New York City’s 52nd Street.
But Rosen, who produced and engineered music for his GRP artists, which included contemporary jazz artists like Patti Austin, Spyro Gyra, the Rippingtons, Diane Schuur and Arturo Sandoval, defied prevailing logic. He saw major possibilities for jazz at the Arsht on Biscayne Boulevard.
In 2008, he debuted his Jazz Roots series at the venue. That first season, Rosen presented Dave Brubeck, Paquito D’Rivera, Sonny Rollins, Chick Corea and others. To expose the culture to youth, Rosen and the Arsht saw to it that high school students were brought into the center to interact with musicians and learn from Rosen. About 150 Miami-Dade Schools students still attend each Miami concert.
The Jazz Roots series, which will continue, has expanded to performing arts centers in Orlando, Dallas, Indianapolis, Atlanta and Las Vegas.
For his contributions to South Florida’s cultural community — and beyond, John Richard, president and CEO of the Arsht, considers Rosen a towering figure in popular culture and a close friend.
“He was a giant in the field and brought that talent to Miami late in his career. The Jazz Roots program collaboration with the Arsht Center was just a stunning accomplishment … a brilliant stroke of genius,” Richard said. “He did this with love and passion for the genre of jazz and the musicians that performed. He approached it with incredible excitement, enthusiasm, tireless energy … and made it a key point that the Miami audience would continue to support jazz long into the future.”
For Rosen, who defied his parents when they tried to push him into a conventional career, like a doctor or lawyer, and for the adult who later defied the major labels who wanted to cling to 12-inch vinyl rather than the 5-inch digital compact disc, Rosen marched to his own inner muse.
That’s something for a drummer from the Bronx whose mother didn’t want him to be a musician.
Larry Rosen, on selling GRP, the label he co-founded, for $60 million, in a 2011 Miami Herald story.
“If you look at musical movements in America they’ve all come from some city that´s going through some social change: think New Orleans, think New York City, obviously; or Chicago and the blues; Kansas City at a certain time, Nashville of course, Los Angeles, San Francisco during the ’60s. I think the next place is Miami. I totally believe this is where the next music in the United States is going to be formulated,” he told the International Review of Music.
“Mr. Rosen made an important contribution to the cultural scene of Miami. Jazz lives in a difficult space between its artistic possibilities and the demands of the marketplace. That's a tough balance to achieve. Mr Rosen’s knowledge of the music, his experience as a musician, producer and entrepreneur was key for putting jazz front and center at one of our most important venues and making it part of the conversation in Miami culture,” said Gonzalez, who preceded Rosen as curator for jazz programming at the Arsht from 2005 to 2007.
Rosen, born May 25, 1940, in New York City, just knew. Miami had the ingredients — the ethnic potpourri, the growing art scene, investors with deep pockets, the right venue, and curiosity. Rosen figured out how to make the pieces work together.
In 2011, Rosen, who, for a time, served on the board of YoungArts in Miami, told Fisher Island Magazine, “We could use music as a vehicle for bringing the community together.”
Rosen is survived by his wife, Hazel; his children Jerold (J.J.) Rosen and Sandra Rosen Honigman; his grandchildren, Matthew, Sammy, Eric and Craig; his mother Vivian Rosen and his sister Susan Zelinka. Services will be private. A public memorial service is in the planning stages.