Lester Koenig

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Lester Koenig
Lester Koenig

December 3, 1917
DiedNovember 20, 1977 (age 59)
EducationB.A. Dartmouth College
Spouse(s)Catharine Anliss Heerman (divorced)
Joy Bryan
Parent(s)Minna Harlib Koenig
Morris Koenig
FamilyJulian Koenig (brother)
Pauline Koenig Porter (niece)
John Koenig (nephew)
Antonia Koenig (niece)
Sarah Koenig (niece)

Lester Koenig (December 3, 1917 - November 20, 1977)[1] was an American screenwriter, film producer, and founder of the jazz record label Contemporary Records.


Koenig was born to a Jewish family in New York City, the son of Minna (Harlib) and Morris Koenig.[2] His father was a judge; his brother was advertising executive Julian Koenig.[3] As a child, he collected records and was introduced to the record producing business by John H. Hammond who served as his mentor.[3] He attended Dartmouth College where he was friends with Budd Schulberg, son of B.P. Schulberg, the head of production at Paramount Studios.[3] After Dartmouth, he attended Yale Law School but was forced to drop out after his father's death.[3] In 1936, he then went to work for Martin Block on the Make Believe Ballroom radio show at Milton H. Biow's, WNEW in New York City.[3] In 1937, B.P. Schulberg offered him a job as a writer at Paramount Studios and he moved to Los Angeles.[3] In Los Angeles, leveraging his experience with John Hammond, he was hired by David Stuart and his wife, Marili Morden - the owners of the Jazz Man Record Shop which was adjacent to Paramount Studios - to produce some records under Stuart's Jazz Man Records label. In 1941, Koenig recorded Lu Watters which he followed on with Bob Scobey and Turk Murphy.[3] World War II interrupted his career and he served in the film unit of the United States Army Air Corps where he wrote the 1944 war documentary film, Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress[3] and the 1947 film Thunderbolt, both directed by then-Major William Wyler. In 1947, Koenig was blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee.[4]

He decided to return to record producing with Jazz Man Records but when he returned to Los Angeles, he found that Stuart and Morden had divorced and she had since remarried to Nesuhi Ertegun, the founder of Crescent Records; instead Koenig founded his own label, Good Time Jazz Records.[3] In 1952, Ertegun sold him the Jazz Man label (Crescent Records had been merged into Jazz Man) and then Ertegun went to work for Koenig at Good Time Jazz Records. In 1951, Koenig founded Contemporary Records.[5]

Personal life[edit]

In 1948, he married artist Catharine Anliss Heerman, who was the daughter of Sarah Yeiser Mason and Victor Eugene Heerman. Koenig had two children with Heerman, John (born 1950) and Victoria (born 1951). They divorced in 1954.[6] In 1961, he married jazz singer Joy Bryan, with whom he had two children.[7] Koenig died of a heart attack on November 20, 1977.[7]


  1. ^ "Lester Koenig, Contemporary Records, Shelly Manne and AKG", by Rudolf A. Bruil, June 28, 2010.
  2. ^ The East Hampton Star: "Julian Koenig, 93, Legendary Ad Man" June 26, 2014
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Jarrett, Michael (August 30, 2016). Pressed for All Time: Producing the Great Jazz Albums from Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday to Miles Davis and Diana Krall. The University of North Carolina Press. pp. 19–20.
  4. ^ Levin, Floyd (August 30, 2016). Classic Jazz: A Personal View of the Music and the Musicians. The University of North Carolina Press. p. 242.
  5. ^ KCRW: "Lester Koenig, Contemporary Records, and the Great Sound of Roy DuNann" By Tom Schnabel January 6, 2013
  6. ^ "Biography: Catharine Aanliss Heerman (February 5, 1922 - April 4, 2007) by John Koenig November 24, 2007
  7. ^ a b Jazz Journal: "More About Les" September 20, 2010 | Les Koenig died of a heart attack in Los Angeles on 20 November 1977, 13 days before his 60th birthday. He was married to the singer Joy Bryan and the father of four children