“For me, the artist is the person who should be in the foreground,” said Mr Ostin in 1994.
Still, the industry recognized the importance of his work. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2003 and the Recording Academy honored him with a President’s Merit Award in 2014 and a Trustees Award in 2017.
He was born Morris Meyer Ostrofsky on March 27, 1927, in Brooklyn, to immigrant parents who came to the United States from Russia during the 1917 Communist Revolution. When he was 13, he moved with his parents and his brother, Gerald, to Los Angeles, where the family ran a produce market.
He was a music lover from an early age, but his introduction to the music business came about by chance. Next to his family lived the brother of Norman Granz, who owned the jazz label Clef Records and promoted concerts in the 1940s and 1950s. During his college years at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he studied economics, Mr. Ostin eventually Mr. Granz to the rescue by selling programs for his concerts. He married Evelyn Bardavid in 1948.
Mr. Ostin received a bachelor’s degree with honors and enrolled in law school at UCLA, but dropped out in 1954 to support his wife and their young son. A job also came through Mr. Granz, who hired him as Clef’s controller at a time when the label included key jazz artists such as Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald and Charlie Parker.
Clef eventually changed his name to Verve; around the same time, Mr. Ostin also changed his name.
In the late 1950s, Frank Sinatra tried to buy the label, inspired by its artist-friendly approach. But he lost to MGM Records, a disappointment that led him to found his own company, Reprise, in 1960. He appointed Mr. Ostin as Executive Vice President, with the mission to model the new company on Verve.