Voices at Large

The Man on the Seventh Floor

09 JAN 14 NICK PHILLIPS

Legendary film producer and record company executive, Saul Zaentz passed away this past Friday (January 3rd, 2014), at the age of 92.

A generally cheery man of significant stature, Zaentz looked a bit like Santa Claus after a recent visit to the North Pole barber shop:  Always sporting a neatly trimmed  snow-white beard.  Always greeting me in the elevator of the appropriately-named Zaentz Media Center in Berkeley, California, with a warm smile and a jovial "hello."  "He was like everyone's favorite uncle," remarks Bill Belmont, a Concord staffer who started working at Fantasy Records in the mid-'70s.  (Coincidentally, I was often struck by how similar Zaentz was in appearance to Concord Records founder Carl Jefferson.)

That was pretty much the extent of my interactions with the man who took the elevator all the way up to the seventh floor during many of the nine years after which Concord Records had acquired Fantasy Inc., forming Concord Music Group, and during which time I worked in our CMG Northern California offices in that building.  In my own experience, Mr. Zaentz was short on words.  But his accomplishments in the film and record industries spoke for themselves --the significance of which cannot be overestimated in the development of Fantasy Records and, ultimately, Concord Music Group. 

Although best-known as a film producer, with "Best Picture" Academy Award-winning films to his credit--One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), Amadeus (1984, soundtrack on Fantasy Records), and The English Patient (1996)--as a record company executive Zaentz played an integral role in the Fantasy Records story.  He joined Fantasy in 1955, and in 1967 Zaentz and a group of investors purchased Fantasy Records from original owners Max and Sol Weiss.  Shortly thereafter, Zaentz and company signed a rock band co-led by a former Fantasy Records warehouse worker named John Fogerty.  That band would become known as Creedence Clearwater Revival and would be far and away Fantasy Records' biggest commercial success, not to mention one of the most significant bands in rock and roll history.

Under Zaentz, Fantasy Inc. continued to grow by acquiring other independent labels and their catalogs, including the legendary Southern soul label Stax (Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Booker T. and the MGs); folk/Americana label Tacoma (John Fahey, Leo Kottke);  as well as the jazz labels Prestige (Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins), Riverside (Bill Evans, Wes Montgomery, Thelonious Monk), Contemporary, Pablo (from his former employer, Norman Granz), amongst others, expanding Fantasy's already-impressive jazz catalog (Dave Brubeck, Vince Guaraldi, Cal Tjader) into one of the most enviable jazz catalogs in the world.

With the sale of Fantasy to Concord in late 2004, Zaentz entrusted the great company he had built and musical legacy to Concord Music Group.   We remain humbled and grateful .

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