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Producer and music dealerby F. Norman Vickers
Copyright © 2004 F. Norman Vickers
Music dealer and record producer Gus Statiras died April 2, 2004 at age 81. The record producer and music dealer was incapacitated since July 13, l998 following a heart attack, coronary bypass surgery and a subsequent stroke. He died at the Georgia War Veterans Home in Milledgeville, GA. He is survived by his wife Genelle, a Tifton, Georgia native. They had two sons: Glenn, who died two years ago of a heart attack, and Perry who died March 19, 2004 of acute leukemia. Perry had been tour manager for various rock groups and had recently been employed by a car dealership in Tifton.
Gus was born in Jersey City, NJ, the son of Greek immigrant parents. His father owned and operated a series of lunch stands in an around New York City. Gus became enamored with the popular and jazz music business early in his life. He told of the high school students in neighboring New Jersey all skipping school one day in 1937 in order to hear the Benny Goodman band that was opening at New York's Paramount Theater. Also, he was briefly a disc jockey on one of the New York radio stations using the stage name of Gus Grant.
Musical friends, guitarist Marty Grosz and New Orleans record producer George Buck, both described Gus as an eternal optimist whose stories about the New York music scene were both entertaining and accurate. Said Grosz, who was recorded on several occasions by Statiras, "You couldn't help but like Gus because he was so enthusiastic and charming."
Statiras teamed with the Jazz Society of Pensacola to produce three annual Jazz Parties from 1989 to 1991. During the Pensacola Jazz Party in 1991 the guest of honor was Milt Gabler, founder of the Commodore Record Shop in Manhattan. Gus had worked for Gabler in the record store, a premier site for jazz records during the 30s and 40s. During a "press conference" Gus interviewed Gabler about the record store and its influence on the course of jazz. Gabler would arrange Sunday afternoon jam sessions and record them. Guitarist Eddie Condon, wit and raconteur jazz club owner was a principal in helping to arrange the sessions. Gabler would also purchase the master recordings from other record companies that had declined to reissue some of their jazz recordings. The press conference was unique because no members of the press were present. The Gulf War had just begun and because the Central Gulf Coast had a strong military presence, US Naval Air Station Pensacola and nearby Eglin Air Force Base, all the military bases were on high alert. The local press was covering that breaking story. The other unique event for Pensacola was that Eastern Air Lines failed that weekend, causing some of the attendees to scramble for alternate return air accommodations.
It was my pleasure to be the recipient of many of Gus' New York stories about jazz musicians, and the unique problems of recording jazz musicians. One day at the Arbors March of Jazz Party in Clearwater, I sat at breakfast with Gus and guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, a longtime resident of the New York scene. (Bucky lives in Saddle River, NJ, and often commutes to NYC gigs.) They were telling New York stories as I sat fascinated by the exchange. Gus told about the famous customers in Gabler's Commodore Record Shop, including Greta Garbo. When Ms. Garbo saw Marlene Dietrich come in the store, Ms. Garbo exited out the rear of the shop. Another story Gus told was about standing on the sidewalk on Broadway with a group of friends when Irving Berlin and his entourage were walking toward them. Gus recognized Mr. Berlin, having met him previously, and mentioned to friends who were unbelieving that Gus knew Berlin. Berlin was dressed, Easter parade style, with cane, spats and straw hat, leading the entourage. As they passed by, Mr. Berlin greeted him with "Hi, Gus," to the astonishment of his friends.
Statiras founded Progressive Records in the 1950s and recorded on that label Cullen Offer, Dorothy Donegan and Sammy Rimington, among others. It was purchased by Savoy and Prestige and was subsequently repurchased by Statiras in the late 70s. During that period Statiras recorded Buddy DeFranco, Carmen Leggio, Derek Smith, Scott Hamilton and others. Later, record producer George Buck (Jazzology, GHB and others) purchased Progressive Records but engaged Statiras' continued supervision of that label.
Statiras met his future wife, Elizabeth Genelle Decker, during WWII when Gus was in the service. They settled in her hometown of Tifton, Georgia. Before he went into the music business they tried several other businesses, including a hamburger stand. Statiras' music company was called Mail Order Jazz. During his active years, Statiras was a familiar fixture at jazz parties and festivals from Florida to New York. Gus published some brief anecdotes about his experiences in the music business but never completed the book he anticipated writing.
Letters of condolence may be sent to Genelle Statiras, 1304 Fletcher Road, Tifton, Georgia 31794.
F. Norman Vickers
F. Norman Vickers is Volunteer Executive Director of the Jazz Society of Pensacola (http://www.jazzpensacola.com). He is a retired physician and an amateur musician with a lifelong interest in jazz.