Covering Expenses

A who, what, why, where, when—and how many—of the uncharted world of independent jazz labels

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 in Hamiett Bluiett, Abdoulaye N'Diaye. A license deal with Enja broadens the label's global sweep.
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 Russian free jazz underground.
Ganelin Trio, Ancora Da Capo (1980)


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. Unlike most conservatives, they're less interested in rolling back progress than playing within their well-honed talents.
René Marie, Vertigo (2001)


Carl Jefferson
photo: Concord Records
Carl Jefferson

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'Voice' Jazz Supplement

Institutionalized: JAZZ and the retailer/record label/arts center/museum/university/conservatory

  • Post-Bop Shopping
    by Francis Davis

  • Beyond Clubland—and Repertory
    by Larry Blumenfeld

  • Jazz Goes to College
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  • The New Apprenticeship
    by D.D. Jackson

  • Summer 2005 Listings
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    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 Concord and Arbors expats. Lately they've inched into slightly more progressive terrain, reviving no-longer-fashionable hard boppers like Eric Reed and Donald Harrison and even risking some Europeans.
    Warren Vaché‚/Bill Charlap, 2gether (2000)


    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.
    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.
    School Days, Crossing Division (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, and markets the resulting productions as a creative advance on the middle of the road. He has scored especially well in Downbeat's polls. Forget changing the art—he's changing the public's mind.
    David Berkman, Communication Theory (2000)


    PLAYSCAPE [1999, US, 30]
    The next step up from a single-artist label is one that documents a small circle of closely aligned musicians. Michael Musillami's crew are tight enough they could pass as Thomas Chapin's virtual ghost band.
    Tom Christensen, New York School (2004)


    RED [1977, Italy, 135]
    An acronym, not a manifesto, but the music could be called progressive mainstream. Americans like Dave Liebman and Bobby Watson have found a home with Sergio Veschi, alongside an imposing group of Italians.
    Massimo Urbani, The Blessing (1993)


    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?
    Yohimbe Brothers, Front End Lifter (2002)


    SHARP NINE [1995, US, 30]
    Marc Edelman can get defensive about the hard bop he perfected 40 years ago, but nobody since the '60s has brought it so crisply to life.
    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 Orsted Pedersen, Nils Winther's label went on to attract much new talent in the late '80s—Joe Locke, Rick Margitza, Rich Perry, Doug Raney, Steve Slagle, Dave Stryker, just a few names on a long list.
    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 occasionally someone who finds new angles in Fletcher Henderson or Fats Waller—Keith Nichols, Ted Des Plantes, Marty Grosz.
    Louisiana Repertory Jazz Ensemble, Hot and Sweet Sounds of Lost New Orleans (1986)


    STORYVILLE [1952, Denmark, 550]
    Karl Emil Knudsen got his start licensing import 78s, added live tapes from visitors, picked up old airchecks, 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, 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.
    Vic Dickenson, Gentleman of the Trombone (1975)


    SUNNYSIDE [1982, US, 225]
    François Zalacain got into the business to make a record for his friend Harold Danko, and one thing led to another. Not much vision, but good ears and business sense. They also cherry-pick from other labels, especially in Europe.
    Barney Wilen, New York Romance (1994)


    TELARC [1980, US, 800]
    Originally an audiophile classical outfit, Telarc is one of the few independents that thinks and acts like a major—getting chain distribution and winning Grammys. Their jazz lineup is peppered with names—Dave Brubeck, Oscar Peterson, and McCoy Tyner are just the pianists, with Geri Allen a smart addition.
    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 an avant- jazz line: the Blue Series. The combination mutated into a fusion of free jazz and electronics complete with guest DJs, but it also provides an outlet for Tim Berne and David S. Ware.
    William Parker, Raining on the Moon (2001)


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