Fonds JPL008 - Sam Gesser Fonds

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Sam Gesser Fonds

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  • ca1950-2008 (Creation)

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6.0m textual material. 800 photographs. 42 items, audiovisual material

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SAMUEL GESSER, CM, 1930-2007 Samuel Gesser was born in Montreal on January 7, 1930 and spent his childhood in the Plateau-Mont-Royal area, the colourful neighbourhood that inspired some of Canada's greatest Jewish personalities such as Mordecai Richler, A.M. Klein, Irving Layton and William Shatner. From an early age, Mr. Gesser was captivated with music and the world of entertainment; first displaying this interest by recording school ground play songs. He continued this early education by sneaking into His Majesty's Theatre to watch the shows and to study the intricacies of scriptwriting. By age fifteen, Mr. Gesser was active in the theatre and cultural committee of the YMHA and in his chapter of B'nai Brith. Shortly after this he left Baron Byng high school to begin his professional career, not yet in the entertainment field but in the commercial art business. His true vocation in the impresario field would soon develop almost by chance. While in Chicago in the late 1940s, Mr. Gesser happened to purchase a Folkways recording of celebrated blues guitarist Leadbelly. On the back of the album was a listing of other records available from Folkways; records not available in Canada as the now-legendary record company had no distributor north of the border at that point. After a meeting in New York with Folkways founder Moses Asch, he signed on as the Canadian representative and also took on the challenge of tracking down and producing Canadian folk music for the label. From 1950-1964, Mr. Gesser produced more than 100 original records for Folkways from songs of First Nations to the music of notable musicians such as Alan Mills, Jean Carignan and Hélène Baillargeon. In addition to this work, Mr. Gesser also produced records for the Pye, Vox and Premier record labels as well as wrote countless radio and television scripts for CFCF and CBC. While producing records, Mr. Gesser had the idea that presenting the artists to live audiences was an excellent way to promote the music. In 1950, Mr. Gesser arranged a concert date for Folkways artist Pete Seeger in Montreal at the L'Érmitage Hall located on Côte-des-Neiges Road and impresario history was born. Over the ensuing years, Mr. Gesser presented over 3000 performances to local, national and international audiences. He believed in not just presenting the obvious but that audiences would be interested in seeing new, or previously unknown, artists, music and dance. His productions brought to Montreal an immense range of artistry; from folk to popular, classical to jazz, international music and dance to Broadway musicals and plays. The success of the Seeger show launched Mr. Gesser on an over fifty-year odyssey of showcasing Canadian and international talent to audiences. In addition to his shows in Montreal, Mr. Gesser also took on touring challenges for artists such as Harry Belafonte, Tony Bennett and Nana Mouskouri, bringing the live experience to western Canada, regions of the United States, the Maritimes and small-town Quebec. This work was expanded on a large scale when after his success as booking officer for Expo '67 in Montreal, Mr. Gesser was appointed to Canada's pavilion for Expo '70 in Osaka, Japan. Mr. Gesser also helped to found Les Feux-Follets, a music and dance troupe that put Canadian heritage and artistry centre stage. When Mr. Gesser directed this internationally-acclaimed troupe, the operating budget was based entirely on profit from shows as well as a small amount of donations from business. The early days of the troupe did not receive government funding nor did they partner with many private institutions, yet they managed to be successful based on the quality of performances, Mr. Gesser's skilful leadership and the impression left on both Canadian and international audiences. Mr. Gesser continued to contribute to arts and entertainment through writing. His play "Fineman's Dictionary", starring Fyvish Finkel, was presented in 2000 at the Saidye Bronfman Centre in addition to a staged reading at the Jewish Public Library. "Dancing to Beethoven", a play written for and acted by blind actors, was presented in 2003 at Place des Arts. In 2006, the cast and the play itself were also the subject of a National Film Board documentary. Over his lengthy and impressive career, Mr. Gesser focused the spotlight on many outstanding entertainers and artists. His professionalism and accomplishments have not gone unnoticed and Mr. Gesser has deservedly been honoured for his untiring work. In 1993, Mr. Gesser received the Order of Canada for major contributions to the field of arts and entertainment. The Smithsonian has also recently recognized Mr. Gesser for his work in producing music for the Folkways label. His dedication to his craft continues through his donation of his substantial album collection to the Marvin Duchow Music Library, McGill University and, in 2005, his donation to the Jewish Public Library Archives of his professional archives. These archives not only document Mr. Gesser's long career and his achievements but also the history of Canadian culture and entertainment industry. Sam Gesser passed away at the Montreal General Hospital after battling cancer for many years on Tuesday, April 01, 2008.

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Series 1 includes textual records and photographs, which are arranged chronologically by the event or concert. Series 2 includes textual records, photographs and audiovisual material of associated professional and personal material that reflects Mr. Gesser's long-standing involvement in the Montreal and Canadian entertainment field. These records are arranged by topic. Files also include newspaper clippings for information and reference purposes. SERIES 1 - Containers 001-017, 021 (Over-sized) SERIES 2 - Containers 018-022, 021 (Over-sized) 022, 023

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  • French

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