Jazz Labels

by Tom Hull

This article is an unpublished draft.


It takes two to make new jazz records: an artist to create and a
businessperson to cover expenses. Although small jazz labels
proliferated in the early LP era, by the '60s and '70s the record
industry's consolidation into a handful of majors shrunk the
opportunities to record jazz while other factors undermined its
popularity. But gloomy days in America coincided with an explosion
of indies abroad, especially for free jazz. The tide began to shift
back in the mid-'90s, when production costs dropped and the
worldwide market opened up, making it much easier to start and
sustain small labels. Without hurting the European labels' growing
local market and talent base, this let new American labels rejoin
the game.

The four remaining major megacorps, who command 75 percent of
the record market, own and recycle much of jazz's recorded legacy
but produce little new jazz beyond a couple dozen exceptionally
important artists. The flagship brand names--EMI's Blue Note and
Universal's Verve -- release fewer new jazz albums (albeit often good
ones) than many independents, while Sony/BMG and WEA are barely in
the business. The market structure, with many artists dividing few
sales -- often as few as 1000 copies, rarely  more than 30K even with
promotion and distribution -- just doesn't suit their business model.

So virtually all new jazz comes out of independent companies.
What follows is a sample of some of the larger and/or more
interesting ones, but there are many more--over 800 without getting
into single-artist outfits. For each I've provided a founding date,
country, approximate album count, and finally a single pick hit.

Arbors [1989, US, 160]

Mat and Rachel Domber started Arbors to record Rick Fay, a friend
who had played saxophone for forty years but never cut a record. Since
then Arbors has expanded from trad to more swing-oriented jazz, even
picking up artists that Concord cut loose, like Ruby Braff and Warren
Vaché. But a distinctive feature of Arbors' catalog is the parade of
first-record senior citizens, like Jane Jarvis, Jerry Jerome, and
Sammy Sherman. Another is that they love birthday parties, especially
for octogenarians.

Pick hit: Ruby Braff/Ellis Larkins, *Calling Berlin Vol. 1* [1994].

Atavistic [1986, US, 200]

Kurt Kellison's label started with Glenn Branca's Symphonies, figured
reissuing the collected Lydia Lunch would be a coup, dipped into the
local Chicago jazz scene and came up with Ken Vandermark. Along came
John Corbett with the idea of an Unheard Music Series and, well, 53
albums later you still have to go to Europe to find comprehensive
sets of old American jazz and blues, but the ultimate repository of
the German avant-garde is on this American label.

Pick hit: Vandermark Five, *Target or Flag* [1997].

AUM Fidelity [1997, US, 25]

Steven Joerg launched this small label to carry on work with Joe
Morris and William Parker, who he had worked with while doing
publicity for Homestead, a noise rock label that dabbled in fringe
jazz. Joerg caught Parker at a point when he was just emerging as
a leader and David S. Ware on the rebound from Columbia, before
he took a year off to indulge his Shrimp Boat fantasy.

Pick hit: David S. Ware Quartet, *Corridors and Parallels* [2001].

Ayler [2000, Sweden, 60]

Jan Ström's label specializes in live gigs from the Glenn Miller
Café and rare archives from avant-gardists who never caught a
break, including the first records under their own names by the
lates Arthur Rhames and Mongezi Feza and the still-living Henry

Pick hit: Anders Gahnold, *Flowers for Johnny* [1983-85].

Black Saint/Soul Note [1975/1979, Italy, 700]

Back in the '80s Giovanni Bonandrini's labels were home for a who's who
of the American avant-garde, and were properly celebrated by critics
even though sales were paltry -- bestseller David Murray topped out at
21k. Soul Note is less out and more European, but not much.

Pick hit: George Lewis, *Homage to Charles Parker* [1979].

Cadence Jazz/CIMP [1980/1995, US, 400]

Bob Rusch's empire grew out of *Cadence* magazine, which doubles as
a catalog for his distribution business -- 12,000 obscure jazz titles
on 900 labels, plus books, audio equipment, and socks. Along the way
he started a label, then another. Both are avant-garde foundries,
but CIMP has fussy audiophile engineering by Marc Rusch and classy
artwork by Kara Rusch.

Pick hit: Tyrone Hill/Marshall Allen, *Out of the Box* [1997].

Clean Feed [2001, Portugal, 35]

The Americans in Pedro Costa's catalog are staunch freedom seekers
like Charles Gayle, but they provide broader name recognition to
frame locals like Bernardo Sassetti and Carlos Zingaro, who in turn
underwrite the label with local sales.

Pick Hit: Ravish Momin Trio Tirana, *Under the Banyan Tree* [2005].

Concord [1973, US, 650]

Carl Jefferson plunged into the record business four years after he
organized the Concord Jazz Festival, named for his northern California
home town. Up to 1999 Concord recorded 900 albums, mostly in the
post-bop swing-influenced style that peaked in the late '50s. When he
started the style was decidedly retro, but he made it mainstream again.
He rejuvenated the careers of oldsters and found young players to carry
on the flame: from Stan Getz to Scott Hamilton, from Ruby Braff to
Warren Vaché, from Herb Ellis to Howard Alden, from Rosemary Clooney
to Susannah McCorkle. Then in 1999 the company was bought by a venture
group headed by Norman Lear. They moved the company to Beverly Hills,
slashed a third of their catalog, sold nearly five million copies of
Ray Charles' duets, and acquired the as-yet-undigested Fantasy, whose
huge catalog includes many of the classics that Concord aspired to.

Pick hit: Marian McPartland, *Plays the Benny Carter Songbook* [1990].

Cuneiform [1984, US, 225]

Steve Feigenbaum's notion of Adventurous Music centers on the jazz-rock
convergence of Anglo groups like Soft Machine circa 1970 and wanders
from there, tracking Paul Dunmall and Keith Tippett into the present,
Chris McGregor and John Surman into the past.

Pick hit: Brotherhood of Breath, *Travelling Somewhere* [1973].

Delmark [1953, US, 375]

Bob Koester started hustling records and tracking down bluesmen like
Speckled Red in St. Louis, but soon moved to Chicago and took over
the Jazz Mart record store. Perhaps better known for blues, Delmark's
jazz side has waxed and waned over the years tracking the Chicago
scene, which means it had a blip in the AACM heyday, and is way up
since the mid-'90s.

Pick hit: Kahil El'Zabar Trio, *Love Outside of Dreams* [1997].

ECM [1969, Germany, 900]

Manfred Eicher has maintained such a consistent look and feel for
ECM's releases that they're more like a genre than a catalog.
While the earliest were pointedly avant-garde, Eicher soon gravitated
to a chillier shade of cool jazz -- in effect, he made free jazz safe
for the world by slowing it down and making it think. Working through
major distributors, he also sold a lot of it -- four million copies
of Keith Jarrett's *Köln Concert*. ECM's New Series branched into
classical music via Steve Reich and Meredith Monk but expanded to
include the Hilliard Ensemble's mediaeval chorus juxtaposed with
Jan Garbarek's sax. World music got no separate series, because
artists from Don Cherry to Dino Saluzzi made the sort impossible.

Pick hit: Jan Garbarek, *Witchi-Tai-To* [1973].

Fantasy [1949, US, 2800]

Founded in San Francisco, Fantasy was a small mostly-jazz label
until Sol Zaentz bought the original owners out in 1967 and a year
late struck gold with a local rock band, Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Zaentz used the profits to go on a spree, acquiring important jazz
labels like Prestige, Riverside, Milestone, Contemporary, and Pablo,
as well as r&b labels Specialty and Stax. Although Fantasy and its
subsidiary labels continued to record as much new jazz as anyone --
Sonny Rollins has worked on Milestone since 1972 -- the accumulated
back catalog looms large. Fantasy has kept more old jazz in print
than any of the majors. However, in 2004 Fantasy was acquired by
Concord, putting its future in jeopardy.

Pick hit: Sonny Rollins, *This Is What I Do* [2000].

FMP [1969, Germany, 140]

Founded as a collective of improvising musicians, the anarchists put
Free at the front of FMP and sought to overthrow the establishment
through the Globe Unity Orchestra. Peter Brötzmann, Peter Kowald, and
Alex von Schlippenbach were major figures here, but their most famous
production was in 1989, when Cecil Taylor manhandled every vangardist
on the continent, recording eleven CDs in as many nights.

Pick hit: Charles Gayle, *Touchin' on Trane* [1991].

Fresh Sound [1983, Spain, 1100]

Jordi Pujol's fascination with "the fresh sound of the west coast"
led him to license a large catalog of cool jazz. As his business
grew, he added more labels covering a wide range of Spanish and
Latin American (especially Cuban) music. But his passion was jazz,
and he's developed into one of the most prolific producers around.
From the late '80s he recorded west coast veterans like Bud Shank
and Bill Perkins and in 1995 he started his Fresh Sound New Talent
series to record relative unknowns -- 220 albums later many FSNT
artists are no longer unknown, like Brad Mehldau, Kurt Rosenwinkel,
Jeremy Pelt, Miguel Zenon, and the Bad Plus.

Pick Hit: Reid Anderson, *Abolish Bad Architecture* [1999].

Hat Hut [1975, Switzerland, 300]

Werner Uehlinger launched his label to provide an outlet for Joe McPhee,
but after four albums he started adding other artists: Steve Lacy, Cecil
Taylor, Anthony Braxton, the Vienna Art Orchestra. Soon he had one of
Europe's premier avant-garde labels.

Pick Hit: Steve Lacy, *Morning Glory* [1986].

Hep [1974, UK, 240]

Alistair Robertson's label started archiving classic jazz and radio
shots, but also has a fine series of 90 new recordings informed by if
not necessarily in the old vein -- Herb Geller is, Jessica Williams

Pick hit: Michael Hashim, *Green Up Time* [2001].

HighNote/Savant [1996, US, 160]

Houston Person has recorded dozens of albums for three labels going
back to 1966, but he's only worked for one person: Joe Fields, who
signed Person to Prestige, then Muse, and finally Jazz Depot -- the
umbrella for these two interchangeable labels. Fields' mainstream
spreads from soul men like Person and Fathead Newman to friskier
sorts like Ricky Ford (on Muse) and Arthur Blythe (on Savant).

Pick hit: Sheila Jordan, *Little Song* [2003].

Jazzology/GHB/Audiophile/Circle/Progressive [1949, US, 700]

George Buck started Jazzology to chronicle Chicago-style trad jazz, then
added GHB for New Orleans, and went on to pick up other labels steeped
in jazz tradition. Progressive? That's the one Stuff Smith is on.

Pick hit: Bob Wilber, *Dancing on a Rainbow* [1989].

Justin Time [1983, Canada, 300]

Jim West started local with Oliver Jones, then gradually added more
Canadian talent, like Diana Krall and D.D. Jackson. Krall went on
to Verve, but Jackson led to David Murray, who found a home for his
Senegal, Guadeloupe, and Latin Big Band projects. And Murray brought
further connections, ranging from Hamiett Bluiett to Abdoulaye N'Diaye.
A license deal with Enja broadens the label's global sweep while they
pick their way through old Montreal gigs for their Just a Memory series
and keep looking for the next big singer.

Pick hit: David Murray, *Like a Kiss That Never Ends* [2001].

Leo [1979, UK, 400]

For Leo Feigin, jazz was the scent of freedom wafting into his native
Soviet Union via the Voice of America. Later, in England, the wind
shifted when he received a smuggled tape of the Ganelin Trio -- the
free jazz underground from Russia. Unable to find a label to release
the tape, he started one.

Pick hit: Ganelin Trio, *Ancora Da Capo* [1980].

Nagel Heyer [1992, Germany, 175]

The Nagel-Heyer family -- Frank produces, Sabine runs the company --
got its start taping Hamburg concerts by swingers like Harry Allen and
Randy Sandke, becoming the European stopover for expats from Concord
and Arbors. Lately they've inched into slightly more progressive
terrain, giving no-longer-fashionable hard boppers like Eric Reed and
Donald Harrison a new lease on life, and even risking some Europeans.

Pick hit: Warren Vaché/Bill Charlap, *2gether* [2000].

Palmetto [1990, US, 100]

Matt Baltisaris picks "left of center" musicians, takes them to an
old barn in Pennsylvania where he has a studio called Maggie's Farm,
produces their records, and markets them as a slightly more creative
advance on the middle of the road. He has scored especially well in
*Downbeat*'s polls. Which means he's doing something harder than
advancing the state of the art -- he's nudging the state of the

Pick hit: David Berkman, *Communication Theory* [2000].

RED [1977, Italy, 135]

Sergio Veschi's label name is an acronym, not a manifesto, but the music
could be called progressive mainstream. Americans like Dave Liebman and
Bobby Watson found a home here, alongside an imposing group of Italians.

Pick hit: Massimo Urbani, *The Blessing* [1993].

Sharp Nine [1995, US, 30]

Marc Edelman can get defensive about his hard bop, a style perfected
forty years ago, but nobody since the '60s has brought it so crisply
to life.

Pick hit: David Hazeltine, *The Classic Trio* [1996].

SteepleChase [1972, Denmark, 635]

Built around American emigrés -- Kenny Drew, Duke Jordan, Dexter Gordon --
and local bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Nils Winther's label went
on to attract much of the new talent that emerged in the late '80s -- Joe
Locke, Rick Margitza, Rich Perry, Doug Raney, Steve Slagle, Dave Stryker,
just a few names on a long list.

Pick hit: Archie Shepp/Horace Parlan, *Goin' Home* [1977].

Stomp Off [1980, US, 400]

Nothing old ever dies as long as you keep it working, which is what
Bob Erdos has done here, with a lot of good-old-timey bands for fun
and a few artists like Keith Nichols, Ted Des Plantes and Marty Grosz
who find new angles in Fletcher Henderson and Fats Waller.

Pick hit: Louisiana Repertory Jazz Ensemble, *Hot and Sweet Sounds of
Lost New Orleans* [1986]

Sunnyside [1982, US, 225]

François Zalacain got into the business to make a record for a
friend, pianist Harold Danko, and one thing led to another. Not
a label with a vision for the world, but they have good ears and
good enough business sense, augmenting their own recordings with
selections from other labels, especially from Europe.

Pick hit: Barney Wilen, *New York Romance* [1994].

Telarc/Heads Up [1980/1989, US, 800]

Originally a classical label highly regarded for its sound, Telarc
is one of the few independents that thinks and acts like a major --
getting big chain distribution and winning Grammies. Their jazz
lineup is peppered with big names -- Dave Brubeck, Oscar Peterson,
and McCoy Tyner are just the pianists, and Geri Allen is a smart
addition. Heads Up's catalog is split between smooth jazz and
world, a near clone of EMI's Narada.

Pick hit: Roseanna Vitro, *Catchin' Some Rays* [1997]

Thirsty Ear [1990, US, 90]

A rock label with Throbbing Gristle and Scraping Foetus took a fateful
turn in 2000 by hiring Matthew Shipp to direct a line of avant-jazz
records: the Blue Series. The combination mutated into a fusion of
free jazz and electronics, with guest DJs joining and recycling the
mix, but it also provides an outlet for adventurous jazzers like Tim
Berne and David S. Ware.

Pick hit: William Parker, *Raining on the Moon* [2001].

TUM [2003, Finland, 12]

An impressive start for a label that aspires to compete with ECM and
and main avant-garde labels of Europe. So far the artist roster is
overwhelmingly Finnish, but the music is inventive and varied, the
packaging distinctive, the booklets informative.

Pick hit: Juhani Aaltonen, *Mother Tongue* [2002].

Tzadik [1995, US, 385]

John Zorn is as wrecklessly prodigious with his label as with his
music. Who else would throw himself a birthday party and get ten
albums out of it? Zorn plays on or composed 96 albums in Tzadik's
catalog, including old work going back to 1973, but that barely
accounts for a quarter of Tzadik's 386 titles. The catalog splits
into series reflecting such Zorn interests as Film Music, New Japan,
and Lunatic Fringe, but the most substantial one is Radical Jewish
Culture, which could be *Pincus and the Pig* or could be *Yo! I
Killed Your God*, but is definitely not your bubbe's klezmer.

Pick hit: Roberto Rodriguez, *El Danzon de Moises* [2002].

Winter & Winter [1997, Germany, 150]

Musically Stefan Winter's label carries on from his earlier JMT
label -- common artists include Paul Motian and Uri Caine -- but the
new booklike cardboard packaging, with its firm snap to hold the CD
in place, feels like a luxurious indulgence. But while the JMT's are
being repackaged, the new music cultivates new idiosyncrasies: jazzed
up Mahler, reimagining cabaret, exploring Mexico, remaking Tin Pan

Pick hit: Uri Caine, *Bedrock* [2001].


Accurate [1987, US, 100]

Boston was home to many musicians but no labels, so when Russ Gershon
started releasing his own Either/Orchestra records, friends and fellow
travellers came calling.

Pick hit: Either/Orchestra, *The Calculus of Pleasure* (1990)

Adventure Music [US]

Arabesque [1983, US, 170]

Originally and predominantly classical, thirty percent of the catalog
is jazz now, ranging from Charles McPherson to Myra Melford, with a
dash of latin tinge here and there.

Pick hit: Horace Tapscott, *Thoughts of Dar Es Salaam* (1997)

Asian Improv [1987, US, 50]

Jon Jang and Francis Wong founded this to focus on Asian-American jazz
musicians. Since then the music has broadened to hip-hop, traditional,
and spoken word, and the Asian connections expanded westward to India
and Iran: Vijay Iyer and Hafez Modirzadeh.

Pick hit: Asian American Jazz Orchestra, *Big Bands Behind Barbed Wire* (1998)

Boxholder [1998, US, 45]

Lou Kannenstine's retirement hobby is to release avant-jazz from
Vermont -- an often intriguing mix of old tapes and new oddities,
such as William Parker vamping behind Dave Budbill's poetry or
Bill Cole's digeridoo.

Pick hit: Bill Cole's Untempered Ensemble, *Seasoning the Greens* (2001)

Criss Cross [1980, Netherlands, 265]

Gerry Teekens got his start recording Americans like Jimmy Raney and
Warne Marsh as they passed through Holland, then started making trips
to the U.S. to scout out younger mainstream players -- Walt Weiskopf
and John Swana are typical examples, Bill Charlap a notable alumnus.

Pick hit: Mark Turner, *Yam Yam* (1994)

DIW [before 1986, Japan, 300]

Pick hit: David Murray, *Deep River* (1988)

Dragon [1975, Sweden, 220]

The Swedish jazz that makes up the bulk of this catalog leans toward
the mainstream, including historic releases from important figures
like Stan Hasselgård, Arne Domnérus and Bengt Hallberg, although
there are some more avant moves. Mixed in are gigs from visitors,
most notably Sonny Rollins.

Pick hit: Lars Gullin, *Vol. 4: Stockholm Street* (1959-60)

Dreyfus [France]

Drimala [US]

Dune [UK]

Emanem/Psi [1974, UK, 160]

Martin Davidson calls it Free Improvisation -- a music that takes a
key idea from jazz and inflates it into its own universe. It's difficult
stuff, as demanding of the listener as the musician. One such musician
is Evan Parker, who manages the Psi boutique.

Pick hit: Paul Rutherford, *The Gentle Harm of the Bourgeoisie* (1974)

Enja [1971, Germany, 670]

Horst Weber looked to Japan for artists and sales. Matthias Winckelmann
welcomed a left-leaning range of American artists, then spread his net
to gather artists from everywhere fusing everything -- Abdullah Ibrahim,
Dusko Goykovich, Yosuke Yamashita, Rabih Abou-Khalil, Gilad Atzmon. The
founders split in 1986 but both continued to release albums under the
Enja name as well as Tiptoe and Tutu.

Pick hit: Abraham Burton, *The Magician* (1995)

ESP-Disk [1966, US, 45]

Bernard Stollman's motto was "the artists alone decide what you will
hear," but you may wonder whether artists from Albert Ayler to Frank
Wright, including some non-jazzers like the Fugs and the Godz, weren't
just testing him. The catalog has kicked around, but Stollman reformed
the company in 2003 and has started remastering, even coming up with
some unreleased tapes.

Pick hit: Albert Ayler, *Spiritual Unity* (1964)

Evidence [1992]

Intakt [Switzerland]

Knitting Factory [US]

Label Bleu [France]

Lake [UK]

MaxJazz [1998, US, 35]

Richard McDonnell has put together a handsome series of right-of-center
albums, long on piano, longer still on female vocals. Although unlike
most conservatives, they're less interested in rolling back progress
than playing within their often well-honed talents.

Pick hit: René Marie, *Vertigo* (2001)

Nine Winds [1977, US, 140]

Vinny Golia is the west coast's answer to John Zorn, all the way down
to running a company that goes way beyond his own voluminous work.
Less hyper, of course: cooler music, smaller catalog.

Pick hit: Dick Berk, *Bouncin' With Berk* (1990)

Okka Disk [1993, US, 40]

Ken Vandermark plays on more than half of Bruno Johnson's discs, and
Vandermark collaborators play on most of the rest -- Georg Gräwe and
Evan Parker are the only unassociated names to show up as much as
twice, once as a duo.

Pick hit: School Days, *Crossing Division* (2000)

Omnitone [US]

PAO [Austria]

Philology [Italy]

Pi [US]

Playscape [1999, US, 30]

The next step up from a single-artist label is one that documents a
small circle of closely-aligned musicians -- in this case, Michael
Musillami's crew are tight enough they could pass as Thomas Chapin's
virtual ghost band.

Pick hit: Tom Christensen, *New York School* (2004)

Premonition [1993, US, 25]

Pick hit: Patricia Barber, *Modern Cool* (1998)

Ropeadope [1999, US, 30]

Most titles have a jazz component, but they have something else, such
as the Tin Hat Trio's bluegrass angle or the matchup between ?uestlove,
Uri Caine, and Christian McBride on *The Philadelphia Experiment*. But
is it jazz when the label also sells hats and jackets?

Pick hit: Yohimbe Brothers, *Front End Lifter* (2002)

Savoy Jazz [US]

Sea Breeze [US]

Shanachie [US]

Smalls [US]

Songlines []

Splasc(H) [1982, Italy, 350]

Storyville [1952, Denmark, 550]

Karl Emil Knudsen got his start by licensing import 78s, added live
tapes from visitors, picked up old air shots, dug up series of
Collector's Classics and Nostalgia Arts, and eventually granted
himself a Doctor of Jazz Archaeology. While the catalog is deepest
in trad jazz, it samples later developments, including Scandinavians
ranging from Papa Bue to John Tchicai. Knudsen died in 2003, and
Edition Wilhelm Hansen has taken over the company.

Pick hit: Vic Dickenson, *Gentleman of the Trombone* (1975)

Stunt [Denmark]

TCB [Switzerland]

Thrill Jockey [1992, US, 150]

Voiceprint [UK]

Early Outline


Jazz musicians create new jazz every day, but the small subset that
gets preserved through recording is always a compromise between the
musicians and the businessfolk who run record labels. This is the
real free market capitalism, where more than 800 labels compete for
the work of several thousand jazz musicians, where even the largest
labels have little if any advantage, and where even the most marginal
musicians can parlay their day job savings or a loan from a kindly
aunt into their own label -- which is plenty if they're satisfied
just to document their creativity and pick up a little extra cash
at gigs.

This isn't true of the record industry as a whole, where four megacorps
control 75% of market, squeezing out or co-opting in almost everyone
else. But jazz is a tiny part of the music market -- its own vibrant
litle world -- and the majors do business there primarily to exploit
old property rights. If we ignore, as most jazz fans do, the smooth
jazz idiom, none of those four majors produce more new jazz albums
than any of the top dozen independents. Their brand names -- EMI's
Blue Note and Universal's Verve -- earned their fame back in the '50s
and '60s when they were independent. Sony/BMG and WEA have even less
to do with new jazz -- a couple of name players each. The majors can
offer top musicians prestige, publicity and distribution, but all
that costs control, and money is always a gamble. In the long run,
that someone like James Carter works for majors, while Chris Potter
goes for larger independents and Ken Vandermark favors tiny labels
is as personal a choice as their wardrobes.

The free market has produced some interesting effects, even if lots
of money isn't one of them. One is that successful label owners are
the ones who manage to keep afloat, not the ones who occasionally
strike it rich. Such owners get much of their satisfaction from the
music, so they are deferential to and appreciative of the musicians.
Most got into the business because they were fans -- in many cases
they started their companies to record a neglected musician-friend.
This tends to produce a lot of records -- even if many have trouble
selling 1000 copies, low costs keep the game going.

What follows is a sampling of independent jazz labels -- a small
subset really, with most of the larger ones and some interesting
cases among the smaller ones. Two major trends are under-reported:
single-artist labels and what might be called artist coop labels --
labels that provide marketing and distribution services for finished
product. (ArtistShare is one that's gotten a lot of press lately,
but there are others like Innova, and the borderline is fuzzy given
that many small labels let artists keep their copyrights.)

The list includes a founding date, country, and approximate album
count in brackets following the label name(s). European labels are
less important now for American jazz musicians than they were in
the '80s, but they're no less important overall because the jazz
market in Europe is if anything larger than in the U.S., and an
increasing percentage of the world's jazz musicians are European.
The album counts just give a rough approximation of size. They
may include out-of-print and/or non-jazz, but most independent
labels (unlike the majors) manage to keep most of their catalog
in print. After all, they're in business for the music.


Here's what I'm thinking about jazz labels:

  general introduction: the interesting question here is how labels form the
  creation of new jazz

  short section on major labels, maybe just one paragraph

  one paragraph each on 20-40 representative labels: when/who founded, what
  kind of jazz they're into, how prolific, how important, maybe a typical
  record or focal artist. here's a first-pass quickie list, from which some
  might drop, and others join (lots more where these came from):



might start with Norman Granz for some examples of how some labels
cause new jazz to be created: JATP, Parker + strings, Tatum's solo/group
masterpieces, Ella's songbooks, Oscar Peterson's meet-ups, then maybe
go into Pablo and Basie's last big bang

then widen the net a bit: maybe Orrin Keepnews, Bob Thiele, Joe Fields
(some good candidates will show up later)

maybe do something on the early history of artist-owned labels (Mingus,
Paul Bley, Carla Bley)

deal with the majors:

the four majors have about 75% of total market share for records; don't
know jazz percentage, but it is probably less (for new jazz, as opposed
to reissues, probably a lot less)

something brief on reissue labels, which basically splits between the
majors who own everything and the European reissue companies who use
the 50-year public domain rules.

then deal with the independents, alphabetically


EMI: Blue Note [Capitol Jazz, Pacific Jazz], Narada [Higher Octave]
Universal: Verve [Impulse, GRP]
Sony/BMG: Columbia, Bluebird, Legacy
WEA: Atlantic, Warner Bros., Rhino


* Arbors [US]
* Concord [US]: Peak, Picante; Fantasy: Milestone, Prestige, Riverside, OJC/OBC
* ECM [Germany]
* Fresh Sound [Spain]: Blue Moon
* Palmetto [US]
* Thirsty Ear [US]
* Tzadik [US]


* Atavistic [US]
* Aum Fidelity [US]: Riti, High Two
* Ayler [Sweden]: Silkheart
* Black Saint/Soul Note [Italy]
* Cadence [US]: CIMP
* Cuneiform [US]
* Hat [Switzerland]
* HighNote/Savant [US]
* Justin Time [Canada]
* Leo [UK]
* Nagel Heyer [Germany]
* Sharp Nine
* Steeplechase [Denmark]
Storyville [Denmark]
* Sunnyside [US]
* Telarc [US]
* Winter & Winter [Germany]: JMT


482 Music [US]
Accurate [US] (Russ Gershon)
Adventure Music [US] (Mike Marshall)
Between the Lines (Franz Koglmann)
Challenge [Netherlands]
* Clean Feed [Portugal]
Criss Cross [Netherlands]
Daddy Jazz [US]
* Delmark [US]
DIW [Japan]
Dreyfus [France]
Dragon [Sweden]
Drimala [US]
Dune [UK]
Emanem [UK]: Psi (Evan Parker)
Enja [Germany]
* FMP [Germany]
* Hep [UK]
Intakt [Switzerland]
* Jazzology [US]: GHB, Audiophile, Circle, Solo Art, American Music,
  Progressive, Black Swan
Knitting Factory [US]: Evolver, JAM
Label Bleu [France]
Lake [UK]
MaxJazz [US]
Nine Winds [US] (Vinny Golia)
Okka Disk [US]
Omnitone [US]
PAO [Austria]
Philology [Italy]
Pi [US]
Premonition [US]
* RED [Italy]
Savoy [Japan]
Sea Breeze [US]
Shanachie [US]
Smalls [US]
Splasc(h) [Italy]
* Stomp Off
Stunt [Denmark]
TCB [Switzerland]
Thrill Jockey [US]
* TUM [Finland]
Voiceprint [UK]
Water [US]: Black Beauty


A440 Music
ACT [Germany] (dist. HighNote)
Balance Point Acoustics
Baldwin Street Music
Basin Street
Black & Blue [France]
Bleu Regard
Caber [UK (Scotland)]
CAM Jazz [Italy]
CAP, aka Consolidated Artists
Caprice [Sweden]
Chesky [US]
Chiaroscuro: Downtown Sound
Curling Legs [Norway]
Daddy Jazz
Data [Netherlands]
Double Time
Dr. Jim [Australia]
ESP-Disk [US]
Effendi [Canada]
Eremite [US]
Erstwhile [US]
Evening Star [US]
Favored Nations
Gazell [Sweden]
Geestgronden [Netherlands]
Gemini [Norway]
Half Note
Intuition [Germany]
Konnex [Germany]
Mack Avenue
Marge [France]
Matchless [UK]
Moers [Germany]
Mons [Germany]
N-Coded Music
Ninth World
No More [US]
Not Two [Poland]
Panda Digital
Passin' Thru
PfMentum [US]
Power Bros. [Poland]
Random Acoustics
Red Toucan
Rune Grammofon
Sanctuary [UK]: Castle, ASV/Living Era, Black Box
Sindrome: Hyena
Sirocco Jazz
Smalltown Supersound [Norway]: includes Smalltown Superjazz
Sons of Sound
Victo [Canada]
Whaling City Sound

[#5: LABELS: UNNECESSARY (many, many more)]

Liquid 8
Rounder: Smithsonian/Folkways
Wounded Bird


Allegro [US]: Jazz Legends
Archeophone [US]
Classics [France]
Collectables [US]
Disconforme [Andorra]: Definitive, Jazz Factory, Yemaya
Dutton Vocalion [UK]
EPM [France]: Doctor Jazz, EPM Musique, Hot 'N Sweet, Jazz Archives, Zeta
Giants of Jazz
Harkit [UK]
Jasmine [UK]
Lonehill Jazz [Spain]
Ocium [Spain]
Past Perfect
Proper Music [UK]
Retrieval (now owned by Challenge)
Snapper: Affinity, Charly, Recall
Soul Jazz: Universal Sound
Sounds of Yesteryear

[#7: LABELS: ARTIST (extended)]

Acta (John Butcher)
Amulet (Billy Martin)
Asian Improv (Jon Jang)
BVHaast (Willem Breuker)
Barking Hoop (Kevin Norton)
Daagnim (Dennis Gonzalez)
Flying Note (Kali Z. Fasteau)
GM (Gunther Schuller)
Hopscotch (Assif Tsahar, Susie Ibarra)
IAI (Paul Bley)
Incus (Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, Tony Oxley)
NatSat/Libra [Japan] (Satoko Fujii)
Playscape [US] (Michael Musilami)
Ramboy (Michael Moore)
Random Chance [Germany] (Georg Graewe)
Screwgun (Tim Berne)
Slam (George Haslam)
Spartacus (Tommy Smith)
Summerfold (Bill Bruford)

[#8: LABELS: ARTIST (major)]

Marsalis Music (Branford Marsalis)
Stretch (Chick Corea)

[#9: LABELS: ARTIST (Co-op)]

Innova [US]
Origin [US]


There's been a recent explosion in high-profile artist labels, where the
artist handles production and hooks up with a distribution deal. Examples:

  Chick Corea: Stretch [Concord]
  Branford Marsalis: Marsalis Music [Rounder]
  Dave Holland: Dare2 [Sunnyside]
  Dave Douglas: Greenleaf Music [Koch]

  short section on artist labels

  maybe a short section on European archive labels


I asked these questions of many publicits and labels. Got a few answers back.

  • When was label founded? By whom? Has ownership changed? (If so, please detail.) If you've obtained catalogs of other labels, please list.
  • Does label have a mission statement or other overguiding philosophy?
  • How many titles have you released? How many in print? How many released in last two years?
  • Which albums are your best sellers? I'd appreciate more details on sales levels.
  • Do you have a single or short-list of producers? (I'm curious about how labels shape the sound of their records -- some do, some don't.)


The main file for collecting notes is here.

A chart of jazz labels sorted by number of releases in 2004-05 and by mentions in my database (presumably a representative sampling of jazz labels by importance over a longer period of time) has been moved here.

  • Bret Primack: All About Jazz article: Fantasy Records: An Archive of Many Times: also on Concord, Starbucks, Apple.

Verve/Impulse new jazz releases 2004 (8):

  1. Alice Coltrane: Translinear Light (Impulse)
  2. Jamie Cullum: Twentysomething
  3. Charlie Haden: Land of the Sun
  4. Roy Hargrove and the RH Factor: Strength [EP]
  5. Al Jarreau: Accentuate the Positive
  6. Diana Krall: The Girl in the Other Room
  7. Linda Ronstadt: Hummin' to Myself
  8. John Scofield Trio: Enroute

Blue Note new jazz releases 2004 (16):

  1. Anita Baker: My Everything
  2. Patricia Barber: A Fortnight in Paris
  3. Don Byron: Ivey-Divey
  4. Bill Charlap Trio: Somewhere: The Songs of Leonard Bernstein
  5. Dr. John: N'Awlinz: Dis, Dat or D'udda
  6. Stefon Harris & Blackout: Evolution
  7. Norah Jones: Feels Like Home
  8. Keren Ann: Not Going Anywhere
  9. Joe Lovano: I'm All for You
  10. Takashi [Matsunaga]: Storm Zone
  11. Wynton Marsalis: The Magic Hour
  12. Wynton Marsalis: Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson
  13. Medeski Martin & Wood: End of the World Party (Just in Case)
  14. Greg Osby: Public
  15. Diane Reeves: Christmas Time Is Here
  16. Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Paseo