This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Zev Feldman, Co-President, Resonance Records.
Zev Feldman reminds us of how critical it is to be engaged in an industry such as ours.
Feldman, 47, is an internationally lauded, independent record producer, and the co-president of Resonance Records in Los Angeles. He is also a consulting producer of archival and historical recordings for Blue Note Records.
Earlier in his career, Feldman held sales development, or marketing positions at PolyGram Group Distribution, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, and Concord Music Group, among others. As a producer, he has collaborated on projects with such labels as Blue Note, Impulse! Records, Real Gone Music, Elemental Music, Sunset Blvd Records, Real Gone Music, Reel To Real Recordings, and others.
Passionately knowledgeable, Feldman is a visionary who has a belief that musical history, and fan engagement matters. And that we, as an industry, need to embrace our shared musical heritage.
Feldman specifically tries to bond jazz aficionados together; get them to see themselves as part of a shared family. While he also understands the importance and the power of sales figures, he mostly encourages others to focus on the interests of the greater good of presenting artists in their best light.
Today, catalog preservation is more of a priority for the major record companies following years of untold numbers of recordings being thrown away, mislaid, left behind in warehouses, or even sold for scrap.
Yet, recordings from long-defunct or inactive small indie labels– metal record manufacturing parts, disc acetates, test pressings, and disc copies—still lie unattended in storage vaults, basements, and garages all over the world.
This dereliction worsened over the years with continual recording industry consolidations. label purchases, and re-sales yet again.
As we all know, in 2008 a fire tore through a movie set at Universal Studios in Hollywood, and spread to a warehouse known as Building 6197. Inside was a vault containing the master tapes to hundreds of thousands of recordings including by Louis Armstrong, Buddy Holly, and Ella Fitzgerald to Eminem, Nine Inch Nails, and Nirvana.
It wasn’t by any means the recording industry’s first mass demolition.
There was wholesale destruction of an RCA warehouse in Camden, New Jersey, in the early ’60s, and the fire at the Atlantic Records storage facility in Long Branch, New Jersey, in 1978 when nearly 6,000 reels of unreleased masters, alternate versions, and other session tapes recorded between 1948 and 1969, were destroyed.
Ironically, the vaults of many modern jazz labels, including Blue Note, Prestige, Riverside, and Pacific Jazz, are mostly intact; largely due to the beliefs of the original owners of the importance of the music they recorded, and the respect since accorded the catalogs by the companies which purchased those catalogs.
Since the mid-`80s. music labels have hired outside consultants like Feldman to search their vaults for previously unissued recordings. Knowledgeable about specific musical genres, these freelancers spend weeks searching company files, combing through warehouses checking out tape boxes—in order to present a unique recorded experience, often including offering the highest-quality vinyl, the highest standards of mastering, and well-curated artwork.
While the Blue Note Records vaults have been mined extensively over the past three decades, with efforts largely directed by catalog pioneer Michael Cuscuna, who also operates his own catalog label Mosaic Records, Feldman has been hired by Blue Note to focus on excavating unreleased music by Blue Note artists.
“Zev’s got impeccable musical taste, a great ear, and a radar-like sense of where to look for buried treasure,” says Blue Note president Don Was. “He’s also got a thorough knowledge of how today’s music business operates. Most importantly, he’s a good guy who puts the artists first and looks after their best interests. This exotic blend makes him a unique and valuable cat to be associated with.”
Feldman’s home base, Resonance Records, is a division of the Rising Jazz Stars Foundation, a California 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation created in 2008 by George Klabin.
The current centerpiece of Resonance Records is unquestionably its 2019 Nat King Cole box set, “Hittin’ The Ramp: The Early Years (1936 – 1943),” encompassing the music of Cole‘s teens and early 20s. The 7 CD/10 LP set, produced in conjunction with the Nat King Cole Estate, and several private collectors, is in the running at the 63rd Grammy Awards for Best Historical Album.
Your first Grammy nomination?
This is my very first. Yeah, it is very exciting.
Your box set may well win.
That’s very nice for you to say. I think I speak for my co-producers, and everyone who worked on the project, that it is certainly a very exciting accomplishment that we are all very proud of. I really feel that we have already been recognized, and won. Yes, it would be nice if it (the Grammy) happens, but just the awards that we have received, the attention, and everybody talking about Nat King Cole has all been really exciting.
You and your production team are pitted against your friend, Omnivore Records’ Cheryl Pawelski and her team, for Best Historical Album, and against “It’s Such A Good Feeling: The Best of Mister Rogers.”
Oh I know, Mister Rogers, and Prince (for “1999 Super Deluxe Edition”). But you know what? it is so exciting, man.
I have been teasing my buddy Seth Berg who works with The Nat King Cole Estate that, “The only time you are up for a Grammy, and there’s no public awards night.” Also, the ceremony has been moved from January 31st to March 14th because of COVID-19.
How proud were you when “Hittin’ the Ramp: The Early Years (1936-1943)” arrived from the manufacturer? After all this is a 7 CD/10 LP set with elaborate packaging designed by John Sellards, including a 16-page booklet with historical photos and liner notes, featuring interviews with Johnny Mathis, Quincy Jones, Tony Bennett, and Freddy Cole, the youngest brother of the Cole sons.
Oh, it was amazing. This whole project, along with assembling the hard (music) files, listening to them, seeing the packaging and how it all comes together. Look at the box set. You have to turn the (booklet) pages and look at the pictures. We all talked about which pictures excited us, and the design. I remember saying, “I’ve got to have those labels of each of these records that we are pulling (recordings) from.” We all just came together here. When you see the fruits of your labor, when you get that final production from the warehouse when it arrives from the manufacturer, and you take a look, is nice. And opening up, and listening to it. I just love when I get a chance to do that. It is so exciting. And I know that we caught fire with so many of the fans out there too. Folks should really check out, and look for this box set. It really is one of the productions that I am honored to be involved with. So, what a team.
What’s noteworthy with the success of this box set is you have dragged Nat King Cole from semi-obscurity back into the spotlight. Cole was not merely one of the highest-paid African-Americans in the United States, but one of the most successful entertainers in the world, period. Yet, he’s never received due respect for his early music. Jazz fans criticized him for going mainstream after he left the keyboard in 1950, and became a solo singer, and many civil rights activists faulted him for not being outspoken.
To play “Uncle Nat’s” discs, wrote a commentator in The American Negro, “would be supporting his ‘traitor’ ideas and narrow way of thinking.”
Like many, I have bits and pieces of the King Cole Trio’s story over the years including from such releases as “The King Cole Trio” (1950), “Nat King Cole – Capitol Collectors Series” (1990), and “The Complete Capitol Transcription Sessions” (2005). But nothing prepared me for this. Not only the range of the recordings made available or their clarity.
This box set shows that he wasn’t just a good jazz musician, he was a hell of a jazz musician. And a hell of a leader. It’s mind-blowing that he was only 18 when the Trio started in 1937.
And playing with his siblings.
In listening to these tracks, Nat King Cole is comparable to pianist Art Tatum, widely regarded as one of the greatest pianists in the jazz field.
Well, Nat was in that same generation as Art Tatum, along with Earl “Fatha” Hines. You are right. He was just extraordinary. One of the greatest pianists. When I went into this project I really wanted that to be part of the mission. That we were going to shed some light on how remarkable Nat really was, and that is a real key part of his identity. Not everybody knows that If they just listen to the hits. Nat King Cole, as much as he’s known, is mainly known for that incredible voice.
Most of the Trio’s music in the box comes from transcription recordings, which were made for radio stations, short performances broadcasters used to plug holes in programming. There is also some tracks from Decca, Excelsior, the Armed Forces Radio, the Cinematone’s Penny Phone jukebox system, and a couple of recordings of small groups with tenor saxophonists Lester Young, and Dexter Gordon.
You dealt with 33 1/3 RPM 16-inch pre-microgroove transcription discs or from original shellac 78s collected by the likes of Doug Pomeroy, Tony Craig, Gord Grieveson, Henry Schmidt Jr, Harry Arends, Scott Wenzel. Cliff Bolling. Thom Whetston, Robert Holmes, Jerry Haendiges, and Matt Lutthans. Also from various archive collections.
Who oversaw the transfers?
Matt Lutthans. He worked with us on doing the sound for the package, and he also mastered the LP. This was a remarkable team. First of all, I got a call from Will Friedwald. We have known each other for a number of years. He’s always talking to me about different projects we could be working on. He called me one day to tell me about his idea for doing this project.
Will is a well-known music journalist who has written for the Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, The Village Voice, American Heritage, Oxford American, Mojo, and The New York Times.
(Will Friedwald has written 9 books including, “A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers”; “Stardust Melodies: The Biography of Twelve of America’s Most Popular Songs”; “Sinatra! The Song Is You”; and “Tony Bennett: The Good Life (with Tony Bennett). He has written liner notes for about 500 albums.)
Yes, Will is a writer and a record producer. His father was in the music business.
His father was Herb Friedwald, a jazz producer and historian, and a record label lawyer. He was the founder of the short-lived New York jazz label, Kharma Records.
Guys like (famed jazz archivist) Boris Rose, and Warren Schomburg, Will is a very important part of the music community. A scholar, an academic, a guy who can speak in great detail about a variety of different subjects. Nat King Cole is someone who he is a specialist with. Not to mention Frank Sinatra. He wrote a book on Nat King Cole recently. He’s just a brilliant mind. We reached out to others. It was interesting because I had recently met Seth Berg. Then we had researcher Jordan Taylor and Matt for the sound and, of course, George Klabin, Seth, and Zak Shelby-Szyszko, and we had this team. It was an unbelievable team. The weekly conference calls, we were having. It was just a total brain trust, man. It was not the Zev Feldman show. It was an enormous team effort. Like it is for all of these projects.
Like Will, you are a jack of all trades.
I just love music. And when you like this music, and you like what you are doing, it’s not work. I put in countless hours a day, and it’s non-stop. It’s a lifestyle. But I wouldn’t want to have it any other way. It is never boring. The hours pass by so fast. I am so grateful to have this. I used to think that I was going to slip through the cracks of life and be a fry chef working in fast foods. I just feel so lucky when I wake up. I thank my lucky stars because Larry, right now, with all of the people that are suffering in the world, all of the difficulty, for me frankly, I am having a moment of all times. I am so grateful for that.
At the tail end of 2020, Jazz Magazine in France honored “Evans In England,” with its prestigious Choc Award. This is a two LP Resonance Records collection of previously unreleased recordings of Bill Evans, leading a trio with bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Marty Morell at Ronnie Scott’s celebrated jazz club in London in December 1968. It’s the fifth Resonance title to feature unreleased music by Evans.
Oh, the Choc Award. Oh my God, absolutely. That was really a nice treat, and an honor to get that from Jazz Magazine. Such an esteemed publication. We have been working with them for awhile, and they are very particular about choosing their selections for this distinguished honor. And yeah, it’s wonderful. It’s very nice to be recognized, especially in France where it is such an important place for Bill Evans. A lot of his fans are there. It’s been very wonderful seeing how people around the world respond to this music and being able to contribute to his legacy is also very exciting. But yeah man, it has been cool.
The French truly embrace jazz.
Maybe more so than other places in the world. I take a lot of taxi cabs when I am over there, right? It seems that every other taxi that I get into I hear jazz on the radio. It could be France Musique or TSF Jazz. They are usually the two stations there that younger people are listening to. The clubs are like New Morning and, of course, Le Duc des Lombards.
Near Le Duc des Lombards on rue des Lombards are two other famous jazz clubs, Le Baiser Salé, and the Sunset/Sunside.
Yes, and it just seems to be that there is such an influx of younger people in France who are embracing jazz and enjoying it. It is very noticeable to me.
When you came to Resonance in 2009, George Klabin really opened doors and made a lot of things possible for you. He suggested that you seek out historical recordings to issue because Resonance albums by Gene Harris and Scott LaFaro albums were faring well.
Most importantly, George advised you to become a producer.
As the new kid on the block, people didn’t know who you were.
I guess not, no. I don’t think they do unless you have worked in sales and marketing on the label side, maybe. I came from the distribution world. But Klabin was the guy that said to one day, “You know all of the stuff, and information, and about the music, and everything, but you have never produced?” I said, “That’s right.” And he said, “I’m going to make you a deal. If you can go out, and if you can find music–previously unissued recordings of music–artists and music that I like and I agree to release, I will let you produce it for us.”
What was your reaction?
That was like fire on gasoline. From that moment forward I was just really propelled out of personal interest, passion, curiosity. What’s out there?
Over time George’s affirmation gave you the confidence to work as a producer for other labels including Sam and Saga Records, Impulse!, Elemental Music, Sunset Blvd Records, Real Gone Music, Reel To Real Recordings, Blue Note Records and so many others.
Yeah, how lucky to meet someone like him. George has been so supportive. George gave me a skill set and training to do something that we are still doing at Resonance. I have been approached by numerous people, “Hey dude, are you exclusive? Can you work with other people?” Because they need some help. They’d like some advice. Before I know it, I am involved in working with another company. But there’s a caveat. I really need to be interested. I really need to be passionate. I am very fortunate. I only take on projects that really excite me. I will tell people, “That’s not for me.”
Meanwhile, the Holy Grail strategy at Resonance was to seek out unreleased recordings. The first beginning for you was overseeing the release of “Echoes of Indiana” in 2010. This first full album of previously unheard Wes Montgomery music in decades, containing studio and live performances recorded in Indianapolis between 1957 and 1958, included 4 tracks recorded at Indianapolis’ famed club, The Hub Bub.
The same year, Resonance released Bill “Evans: Live at Art D’Lugoff’s Top of the Gate,” a never-before-released recording of the Bill Evans Trio recorded by then-college student, George Klabin in 1968.
While working at WKCR-FM at Columbia University, George was recording live shows in the clubs?
Exactly. He was doing that as far back as 1966. He had a Crown two-track recorder and an Ampex plug-in mixing board that he carried around to record the likes of Keith Jarrett, Charles Lloyd, Bill Evans, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis and a lot of other people.
Also, as owner of the legendary New York City recording studio Sound Ideas, George was engineer or assistant engineer on sessions for Quincy Jones, James Brown, Sonny Stitt, Tommy Flanagan and Archie Shepp. Drawing from his direct participation in New York’s jazz scene from the mid-‘60s to 1981, George then founded the non-profit organization Rising Stars Foundation in 2005 from which Resonance emerged in 2008
Yes, George also had Sound Ideas Studios. Everyone from Dexter Gordon to Billy Joel, James Brown, Louis Bellson, they all recorded there. It was the former Capitol Studios (at 151 West 46th Street) in New York City.
So George had this radio program on WKCR-FM. He would record artists. He had a little agreement with them. He said, “Let me have this on my radio program one time, and I will give you a copy of the tape.” He did this as a service to help artists out. Bob James is an example. This is something that George did on his own. I’m not aware of him charging anybody for it. George has a wonderful legacy in music.
Bowing as an exclusive, limited edition Record Store Day LP Release on August 29th last year, and with a CD on Sept. 4th, was Bob James’ “Once Upon a Time: The Lost 1965 New York Studio Sessions,” a collection of previously unheard 1965 recordings by the keyboardist’s trio, recorded by George.
(In 1965, Bob James was just another musician trying to find his way in New York City. He didn’t have a label deal and had few career plans. “Once Upon a Time” comprises sessions recorded by George Klabin, then a freshman at Columbia University with two iterations of the trio fronted by James, who was working in Manhattan as Sarah Vaughan’s pianist along with bassist Larry Rockwell and drummer Omar Clay. At that point, James had issued only one LP, the 1962 Mercury Records debut “Bold Conceptions,” produced by Quincy Jones.)
(“I have a profound level of respect for Bob James,” Zev Feldman said in his own remarks in the set, “and ‘Once Upon a Time’ shows us all why. The pathways by which he has traveled and played are nothing short of awe-inspiring. He has lived within so many different dimensions in music — from funk to R&B, and from straight-ahead instrumental jazz to being the accompanist of the great Sarah Vaughan — it’s difficult to overstate his impact. And yes, he was also a pioneering member of the avant-garde. The recordings on ‘Once Upon a Time’ unearth another chapter in James’ important legacy.”)
George, of course, was always upfront about use of those tapes with the artists he recorded.
Artists knew when they were being recorded, and they got a copy of that tape. But George did this to help a lot of them too. Bob James is an example of the artists recorded that way, and there are others.
(“You can imagine how surprised I was to discover that this recording even existed,” James says. “Even when we recorded them, it was much more like an experiment for [Klabin] to test out his equipment than any thought that they would get released on an album.”)
In 2016, Resonance Records released an astonishing two-CD set “Some Other Time: The Lost Session From the Black Forest,” a previously unknown album by the Bill Evans Trio that only existed for six months in 1968, recorded on June 20, 1968, by legendary German jazz producers Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer, and Joachim-Ernst Berendt.
How did that ground-breaking release come about?
In March 2014 I was in Bremen, Germany for the very first time attending this annual trade conference jazzahead! (organized by a team of Messe Bremen, a division of M3B GmbH Bremen). You have there distributors, artists, bookers, club promoters, venues, talent agencies, festival directors, and media representatives. That conference in the last couple of years has really become a big event. For me, it has replaced what my MIDEM trip used to be which was going to the south of France at the end of January. Anyway, so I am there, right? The first time in Germany in 2014 at this conference which in itself was pretty cool. I got a chance to meet the family of late great German jazz producer, Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer of MPS Records.
Familiarly known as HGBS.
Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer, yes.
That’s a mouthful. But you have been using the name a lot.
I have had a little practice with that name. I can spit-ball that out pretty fast. But I met one of the sons, Mathias Brunner-Schwer and we are talking. He sold me some leftover stock of first pressings which was great. Then I said, “Okay man, I have a question for you. Do you have any unissued recordings? Any tapes?” He looks over one shoulder and looks over the other and he looks me straight in the eye, and says, “Can you keep a secret?” I said, “Yeah, yeah.” He says, “We have an unreleased Bill Evans Trio studio album from 1968 with Eddie Gomez and Jack DeJohnette.
The only existing studio recording of the Bill Evans Trio in the iteration that only existed for six months in 1968. Music that represents an under-documented chapter in Evans’s creative journey. The only released recording of this group is a live concert recording made at the Montreux Jazz Festival 5 days earlier that was released in June 1968 by Verve Records as “Bill Evans at the Montreux Jazz Festival.”
Oh yeah. And I think that my eyes kind of jumped out of my head like when in cartoons Jerry (the mouse) drops the anvil on Tom the cat. I was like, “What are you talking about?” And Mathias Brunner-Schwer took me to his car in the parking lot, and he played me some of this music, and a few other things, and it was like, “Wow.” And this was the reason why my boss sent me all around the globe for something like this. It took us a couple of months, but by the end of the year, I had flown back to Hamburg, and I had signed the contract with the other son Andreas Brunner-Schwer who owned the physical tape. Then I negotiated with the record company that Bill Evans was signed to—
Which would have been Verve in 1968.
Yes, so it was with Universal Music Group.
And interestingly, it was a studio album.
It is one thing to find lost or unknown live recordings or even studio out-takes, but finding a full studio album is virtually unheard of.
It is really uncommon unless you know what you are looking for. That is what you look for. For me, it came into my view and having this conversation. It was also something about doing deals, working with individuals, and building trust, and showing a track record with the work that you do, and what you are going to do, and what you are going to deliver. So that was a really exciting project but it is one thing working on it which was great. We worked with Eddie Gomez and Jack DeJohnette on that. Then when it came out, it was so well received, and people enjoyed it. That is very rewarding. The album ended up selling over 60,000 copies. For us, that was a major win. We had never had anything like that.
You get up and dance with those sales numbers in jazz.
It was an unbelievable feat in this marketplace. For our little company, it was very important because it signified to my boss George Klabin, who I owe so much to—he’s the one that gave me the opportunity of producing records—but it gave him the confidence for us to keep going with this.
As those records excelled for us, George was open to more considerations for other projects. So we then began to really try and find things that were special. Not reissues, but new things, and we’ve continued that mantra for awhile now and it’s been very exciting for us. We love this music, and it’s a way for us to do projects that celebrate their legacies.
And we’re a 501(c)(3) not for profit foundation—(a corporation, trust, unincorporated association, or other type of organization exempt from federal income tax under section 501(c)(3) of Title 26 of the United States Code)—actually a registered not-for-profit foundation. This is a philanthropic company from my boss. He doesn’t have to do this. He has allowed us to build something great and there are 8 of us that work at the company and we are a little family. We do all of this work and it is a team of people. A team. I tend to get a lot of accolades, but I am not the only guy here. Zak Shelby-Szyszko who is my production manager has become my right hard for a lot of the endeavors that I have been doing including Blue Note and elsewhere. And it takes a team. You can’t do everything yourself sometimes.
Last July, Blue Note Records released “Just Coolin’,” an unreleased studio album by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers recorded on March 8, 1959 in Rudy Van Gelder’s living room studio in Hackensack, New Jersey.The session, recorded while The Jazz Messengers were in flux, featured a short-lived line-up of (drummer) Art Blakey, trumpeter Lee Morgan, tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, pianist Bobby Timmons, and bassist Jymie Merritt.
Nearly six weeks after this studio session Blue Note co-founder, and producer Alfred Lion recorded the band again at the Birdland jazz club in New York City on April 15, 1959, capturing a performance that included 4 of the 6 titles that had been earlier recorded in March. Blue Note released the two-volume live album “Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers At The Jazz Corner Of The World” later that year while the studio recordings remained unreleased.
There’s a shining example of studio tapes just sitting there on the shelf in a label vault.
I knew the tapes were there. In fact, they were published in the famous Michel Ruppli, and Michael Cuscana record guide, “The Blue Note Label” (1988)
That is one of the pivotal music reference books of all time. I’ve known Michael Cuscana from when he worked for ESP-Disk in the ‘60s, and wrote for Jazz & Pop Magazine, and Down Beat. He later worked at Atlantic, Motown, ABC, Arista, Muse, Freedom, Elektra, and Novus. Then he founded his own Mosaic Records in 1982. “The Blue Note Label” was a break-through book. That series also has discographies of Atlantic and Chess catalogs as well.
It’s a great one. When I started at Blue Note I got my own book and I read the book from cover to cover to see what was in there. But a bunch of us knew that this stuff had been in there for years, and a version of the album had been circulating among collectors. When I went into this job with Blue Note, I told (president) Don Was and Justin Seltzer (then VP of the label, and GM since mid-2020) about this.
It took so long for the album to surface.
We evaluated it and decided to put it out, but you hit something. People ask, “Why didn’t this come out?” Well, you can speculate on a variety of different reasons.
Michael Cuscana was a mentor for many of us.
Michael is someone who is just such an incredible source. He’s the Godfather of Catalog, and one of the greatest producers. Someone I call a mentor. and a friend. The interesting thing about Michael and George Klabin and Resonance Records is that there is history there between them going back to the mid-1960s. Michael used to call and win all of the contests on George’s radio show on WKCR-FM in New York. They have known each other since 1965. So when I went to go and work for Resonance, Michael and I knew each other before, but it was now like I was an extension of that relationship which was very cool.
With the deluge of music thrown up on the internet, people need to realize that there are legal consequences of posting or reissuing older music. There are rights involved. They just cannot throw music online because they have a tape in their possession—even a master tape. Artists and songwriters have rights as do their heirs. There are numerous rights involved in a master recording including the recorded rights and the music publishing rights.
Too often the attitude is, “Look at what I just found.”
There is a standard operating procedure for doing things the right way. You are absolutely right. Some people find a tape and think, “Ahhh this is great,” and they just put it out. You go to places in Europe and Asia this is unfortunately common. You see intellectual property rights really disrespected.
Rights also differ from territory to territory across Europe.
They absolutely do. So just know when you see a Resonance production or something that I am involved, even with the Reel to Reel label, Elemental or a variety of other folks, that the proper steps have been done or I wouldn’t put my name on it. I also make sure that people come along (approaching me for work) do the right thing or I’m frankly not interested in being involved. Not to mention that I have to be really passionate about wanting to work on a project to begin with.
Today catalog preservation has become more of a priority for the majors and, while they are working with reduced staff, they are now cognizant that they are increasingly earning impressive revenues from their catalogs while creating new masters that extend their copyrights.
Working with reduced staff, but with greater emphasis on finding things?
It is really difficult for me to say. My scope is a little limited in being a consultant with Blue Note. The purview really is bringing a lot of tapes and other opportunities and suggestions of things that we could put out. Some of that comes under that realm and, to that extent, we have even been looking at different playlistings, and things that we can do. Putting out a series of sophisticated playlists right now, and really trying to bring the music to the masses with Blue Note.
This is the digital project you are currently work on at Blue Note?
Yeah. There is going to be a whole slew of things coming out. Working with that organization with that catalog, it is literally a dream. I know it (the catalog) backwards and forwards. There are also a lot of very opinionated fans of the label that have been studying it too, and that also needs to be respected here. We learned a lot trying to work on some initiatives at the label to bring some things out. The Art Blakey was something that I was interested in, and felt should come out, and it did. There’s another megaproject in the works that we are going to be announcing shortly. It will be a very large box set issuing, for the first time, hours of unissued material from this one artist
Holy cow. Don Was has allowed me to go to town and I have (Universal Music Enterprises catalog executive) Harry Weinger as my executive producer. I can’t wait to share more.
In many cases, if the recordings were any good, it’s reasonable to think they would have been issued by now. In a lot of cases, the artist, the producer, or even the label didn’t want them issued. Fast forward decades later, and there’s often a different evaluation. I get it. You aren’t going to put out anything that makes the artist look bad. Maybe it didn’t come out because the artist started working on something else or they had 14 tracks and only 12 tracks were needed for the released album. I get that. But then sometimes the artist didn’t want the recording ever released.
Yeah, there are a lot of reasons why things are supposed to stay on the shelf but that is where some judicious distinctions are made and sometimes it is even a group decision. We have to be very respectful to the artist, and their legacies. As much as it is like being a kid in the candy store you can’t eat everything. Not everything is meant to come out. You have to protect the artist. Sometimes, as years go by, we revisit. Sometimes, certain artists age very well on the label and, shall I say, that they become even more important as the years go by. So sometimes we can go back, and look at something.
I just want to say about Art Blakely. There was an incredible album that they got most of the same material at Birdland nearly 6 weeks later. So, of course, you should go with that. But I am trying to contribute to the team where I can, and I have brought a slew of different recordings for us to consider issuing, and we are in the midst of doing so. I am trying to contribute in different ways that I can, including digitally with playlisting. and finding ways to get this music out. So we are going to be doing that on Blue Note. That is something that is very exciting. To get a chance to look at that catalog. Also with Pacific Jazz too
You are often dealing with the artist’s family who may be bewildered by the recording industry.
You have that too. There is a bit of trust with the people that you work with to have those decisions made on your team properly. I am very transparent. I am very honest. I don’t promise things that I can’t deliver. I try to make people understand my methodology with what is going to be done in the way that I see it. I have been fortunate that a lot of people have just allowed me to take the ball and run with it. We have been very lucky at Resonance. It has been very successful. But you know there are a lot of decisions. It can get very heated sometimes and just trying to do the right thing.
You may be negotiating with rights holders, or people holding metal record manufacturing parts, disc acetates, test pressings, or disc copies, who think selling them will be a big payday. They want the cash grab.
They have mistaken ideas of how much money can be made with these releases.
Well, we know that one. That is a very common scenario with people. It’s so hard if you don’t come from the music business. How are you to know these things? But I can explain financial reports. When you look at the amount of money, and resources that the record label has to put up in order to turn key, to make this happen. It’s the houses’ money that is doing that, and that is very vital in all of this. Frankly taking risks that most people wouldn’t want to do with their savings. So I look at this being a very generous thing to do.
We are very lucky having guys like George Klabin and Cory Weeds (Cellar Live, Cellar music, and Reel to Real Recordings), and the guys at Blue Note, and Impulse! Records that make decisions of, “We are going try this.” This isn’t pop music here but it’s important. And I think that a great deal of it needs to be heard. But you have to decide what is good, what’s great, and what is going to fare well with the artist’s legacy. The cash grab thing doesn’t grab me.
That comes mostly from people that are civilians. Outside the business.
Yeah man. Absolutely.
You just want to hang around long enough to track down the John Coltrane/Larry Young tape if it exists.
I have been looking for that. I’m telling you Bill Laswell, he told me he thought it exists. “You’re not dreaming,” he told me.
(The late Larry Young, a member of Tony Williams Lifetime–often referred to as “the John Coltrane of the organ”—was master of not only the B-3 organ, but also Fender Rhodes, Moog and Arp synthesizers. He didn’t stick to the soul-jazz standards set by other keyboard giants of the time like Jimmy Smith, Ramsay Lewis, Brother Jack McDuff, or Jimmy McGriff. He recorded and performed with Miles Davis, John Coltrane, John McLaughlin, Woody Shaw, Woody Shaw, and Jimi Hendrix. It’s Young’s brooding piano riff that’s looped on Nas’ classic “New York State of Mind” in 1994. Young was an integral part of the progressive side of Blue Note Records. In 2016, Resonance Records released “Larry Young in Paris” with Zev Feldman and Michael Cuscuna providing the archival punch.)
How about the rumored Monterey Jazz Festival tape of John Coltrane’s 1961 performance, for which the saxophonist expanded his legendary band to include multi-reed virtuoso Eric Dolphy and guitarist Wes Montgomery?
Oh man, if I had a nickel for every time I got that question. It’s really hard to say what happened there. The (Montgomery) family, I understand is not aware of it. Of course, the artists could have been prefacing, “Please don’t record us.” But c’mon, everybody from Monk (Thelonious Monk) and Miles and everybody else got recorded. I find it hard to believe that John Coltrane wasn’t recorded. But the tapes aren’t there. We don’t know what happened.
Another fabled Monterey performance missing from the archives is when saxophonist Ornette Coleman performed in 1959 with saxophonists Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster. The tape is also missing and unknown as is a tape of the Wes Montgomery/ Eric Dolphy/John Coltrane performance.
We don’t know if it’s missing or not. The concert definitely took place, but nobody knows if tape was run or not. It’s quite conceivable it was never recorded in the first place, but I get asked about it all the time.
(Meanwhile, Resonance Records in 2019 released “Back on Indiana Avenue,” the 6th collection of Wes Montgomery’s unheard works from the label. The set, overseen by Zev Feldman, and mastered by the legendary Bernie Grundman, and the CD/digital audio done at Resonance Records Studios by George Klabin and Fran Gala, documents Montgomery’s early career–probably in the mid ‘50s–just before his seminal releases on Riverside Records, in his native Indianapolis via studio and live recordings by Indianapolis pianist-arranger Carroll DeCamp.)
In 2015, Elemental Music, in partnership with The Orchard, launched the Xanadu Master Edition Series, a resurrection of one of the great jazz record labels of the 1970s and early 1980s; bought by eMusic in 1999, and eMusic was bought by The Orchard, in 2007. You and Jordi Soley selected a blend of 25 albums to reissue from Xanadu’s catalog in consultation with label founder Don Schlitten. Most had never before been released on CD.
The Xanadu series was the first reissue series you’d done. But this was a catalog that had languished out of print. Most of the titles had never been on CD before. Some of the recordings had been submerged in water.
Yeah. That was a really special project for me. Working with George Klabin I got to befriend the legendary producer, designer, and photographer Don Schlitten.
One of your heroes.
Oh yes, Originally he had worked in the early ‘70s period with MPS. He also worked with RCA and everybody knows Don from Prestige Records. But then Don started his own label. He had been working with Joe Fields at the Muse label.
He and Joe had co-founded Cobblestone Records in 1972, producing Sonny Stitt, and releasing performances from the Newport Jazz Festival 1972. Then he and Joe worked together at Muse Records, and Onyx Records.
They parted ways, and then Don started Xanadu which made 200 albums or so. Don started the label in the late ‘90s, and then it was acquired by eMusic, and then it was acquired by The Orchard (in 2007) and they had these tapes which were sitting there. They were out of print. It took some time, but we put together a deal to license the rights to the Xanadu titles to reissue the series. But what happened along the way was that we discovered that the tapes, where they had been stored during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, they had been submerged in water. They had to be cleaned and re-transferred. It was a whole process that went into taking care of this thing.
Where are you from?
I was born here in Los Angeles. A month after I was born, we moved to Wisconsin where all four of my grandparents are from. Everybody is actually from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Right after that, my father finished college, and we moved to Maryland just outside Washington, D.C. in ’74, and that’s where I pretty well grew up for most of my life.
What occupations did your parents have?
My father is a cartographer, a mapmaker by trade. He worked for the government for a long time. Mom was a registered nurse, a nurse practitioner, but she’s retired now.
I want to tell you something very interesting with all of my family being in Wisconsin. My father’s family came from Russia and came through Halifax, Nova Scotia. They ended up going first to Toronto, and then through Green Bay, and all of the way down to Milwaukee. That is where our family came in from my father’s side. They didn’t come in from Ellis Island. My mother’s side came from Lithuania to Ellis Island. I’m very proud to say this that my great uncle, my grandmother’s brother Uncle Alvin “Abe” Aaron– he was born in Toronto when the family was en route heading towards to the States. He’s been gone since 1970. He was the first member of the Leonard Feather Encyclopedia Jazz First Edition book (1960).
What is your musical background?
Music was my big passion since I was a little boy. In my teens, I was deeply rooted in classic rock, the British Invasion, Motown, and other R&B, including everything we got at home which included Nancy Wilson, Cannonball Adderley, Wes Montgomery. That was my parents. For me, I think I got to a point that listening to so much rock music that it was like a bridge into jazz.
I began reading Downbeat in my mid-teens likely because there were musicians going back and forth between jazz and rock like Larry Coryell, Gary Burton, Charles Lloyd, Jeremy & the Satyrs and later the Mothers of Invention, Electric Flag, and Blood, Sweat & Tears.
From a long long time ago. I just hung out in the record stores. When I lived in the Washington area as a (distribution) salesman, I used to shop every day on my way home at Joe’s Record Paradise (founded by Joe Lee). I’ve got some hillbilly records. I’ve got a lot of country records.
I knew that because you oversaw the 2018 Elemental Music reissue of Bobbie Gentry’s debut “Ode to Billie Joe” album.
Yeah, I got the chance to work on that release for the Elemental label. She’s still around too. Keeping a low profile.
After high school, you landed at Maryland’s Montgomery College, studying communications and broadcasting. Were you looking at a radio career?
I just wanted to connect with music. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. I thought, “Well in radio, they play music.”
Student coursework at the community college focused on fundamental recording techniques and gaining on-air experience.
I was the music director of our campus station which you couldn’t pick up past the parking lot. We had a transmitter, and did broadcasts. Oh my gawd, I couldn’t operate a board to save my freaking life. I just remember some of the exercises, but anyway, yes, I was a broadcasting communications major. I used to get so much music from the record companies. They invited me one day to come to PolyGram Group Distribution, and do an internship, and that was it. I was very lucky. My classmates were going to television and radio stations, and I wanted to go to a distribution record company office, and the guy who headed the curriculum, he allowed me to do it. Oh my God, it was breaking the mode.
So you came to PolyGram Group Distribution as a young intern?
I was an intern. In Greenbelt, Maryland, we had a distribution office for PolyGram and then they hired me. And 6 months later I was hired to work in the mailroom and then 6 months later again I got a job in New York as a merchandiser covering Manhattan retail for all of the jazz and classical labels including Deutsche Grammophon, Decca, Phillips, London, Verve, and Antilles. I was a regional marketing person by the time I was 23. Then I went over to Warner Music Group very briefly, and for several months I was the sales manager for Rhino Records. I knew all of the customers. (Rhino founders) Harold Bronson and Richard Foos were there at the time, and I worked for Antone DeSantis who was our VP of sales, and he was my boss in New York. And he works with us now at Resonance as our marketing sales manager.
You went on to marketing and development or sales positions at Universal Music Group, Concord Music Group, Jazz Legacy Productions, Posi-Tone Records, Strange & Beautiful Music, Little Bear Films, Fuel 2000 Records, among others.
I worked at Fuel Records 2000 for 11 years (2007-2018, as VP, sales and marketing) with a good friend of mine Len Fico (CEO, Fuel Music Group)
Len Fico amassed an astonishing catalog of classic rock, blues, big band swing, jazz, and gospel recordings. Fuel owned or had long-term licenses for more than 20,000 masters.
I came on with Len in 2007. We knew each other when I was a salesman at Universal Music Group going back to 1999 when I oversaw purchasing for a great number of stores. So I was putting together promotions, doing advertising, and so on. I moved to L.A. in 2005 to work for the Concord Music Group, and I was there for two years. After Concord, I did miscellaneous freelance work, including representing the soundtrack to Bruce Weber’s 1988 documentary film “Let’s Get Lost” (about the turbulent life and career of jazz trumpeter Chet Baker) including overseeing the masters.
Then, for the first time in 14 years, I was floating.
Len called me up. “I heard what happened. I don’t want you to think twice. You are coming to work for me. And oh yeah, I’m starting another label (Airline Records) too.” So I started working for Len. And he also said, “You are going to work for other people. You’re going be a freelancer.” Well okay? He looked after me, and if it wasn’t for Len Fico it would have been a long walk back to Baltimore from here.
(The Fuel catalogs contained music by Jethro Tull, Deep Purple, Julian Lennon, Creedence Clearwater Revisited, Ian Hunter, Edgar Winter, Jefferson Starship, the Smithereens, the Dickies, Berlin, Culture Club, Fleetwood Mac, the Four Tops, Sheena Easton, Asia, the Rembrandts, the Zombies, Count Basie, Cole Porter, Otis Rush, Art Tatum, Joe Stafford, Charles Brown, Son House, Junior Wells, Betty Everett, Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley, and Doc Watson plus a large collection of gospel recordings including by the Blind Boys of Alabama, the Mighty Clouds of Joy, Albertina Walker, Yolanda Adams, and the Soul Stirrers.)
A very diverse catalog.
A lot of different catalogs. At one point, we were putting out 5 releases a month.
(The Fuel Label Group assets were acquired by IP Investment Fund 43 North in 2015.)
What were you specifically doing for Bruce Weber—the reigning king of fashion photography. He shot for such publications as Vogue, Vanity Fair, GQ, Glamour, Elle, Life, Interview, and Rolling Stone for decades, and did erotically charged ads for ad campaigns for Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Pirelli, Abercrombie & Fitch, Revlon, and Gianni Versace?
A good friend of mine for many years is William Ewart. We had a company together called Montage Music. Bill had done music supervision for a number of years for Bruce, for Little Bear Films. A lot of his work was music supervision for (Weber’s ads for) Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Este Lauder, and a lot of different brands. Working with Bill, I was trying to find music placement opportunities for Chet Baker. and some other masters that Bruce controlled the rights to. For nothing more than it was just fun getting a chance to doing that. Mr. Weber was very nice to me as was his wife (and agent) Nan Bush.
(Bruce Weber photographed album covers for Chris Isaak, Harry Connick Jr., and Jackson Browne).
Your attention to detail is admirable. For example, the cover of Bill Evan’s “Live at Ronnie Scott’s,” the label’s third collection featuring unheard recordings by his short-lived 1968 trio with bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Jack DeJohnette, has artwork drawn from a never-before-published, one-of-a-kind lithograph by the late artist/illustrator David Stone Martin. A nod to his legendary ‘40s and ‘50s Verve, Clef, and Norgran album covers.
(Bill Evans] “Live at Ronnie Scott’s,” was released as a two-LP Record Store Day exclusive on Black Friday, Nov. 27th, 2020, and subsequently released as a two-CD set, and a digital download on Dec. 4th.)
Packaging was distinctive for most jazz and blues releases decades ago. You could tell the label just looking at the design of the album, looking at graphics and the lettering. Look at an Impulse! album, and you knew exactly what it was about. The same with albums from Atlantic, Blue Note, Pacific Jazz, World Pacific, Riverside, Prestige, and Horizon.
Oh man, Horizon was one of the great record labels ever in terms of packaging. They were the first to do Digipaks. They had thoughtful curation
My friend Dave Hubert founded Horizon in 1960. It was first distributed by World Pacific Records and Vee-Jay Records. He also founded the publishing company Davon Music which he sold to A&M Records when he joined them as head of their publishing department in 1965. In 1966, A&M promoted him to International Director.
From 1974–1978 Horizon was a subsidiary imprint of A&M, issuing jazz and pop releases. Its catalog included albums by Dave Brubeck, Ornette Coleman, Paul Desmond, Charlie Haden, Jim Hall, Brenda Russell, and the Yellow Magic Orchestra. By 1980, the label disappeared.
I just love those records.
In essence, you have become part of a musical dynasty entrusted with protecting our musical heritage.
This is going to seem bold to say this but I really want to play my part in elevating the art of record making. If we have the opportunity of doing something, literally it comes down to putting a menu together for my boss. Before I do a project, we sit down, and I go over different aspects. “Here’s what I’m going to do, and here are the writers. This is what I want for photographs.” And I go. Go man go, right afterward. We then have a conversation of, “If he’s is going to do that, why not make it as great as it can be?” I see right now that we have more of a challenge to do something better than it has ever been done. Especially when people have bought things before, “Oh, do I really need to go and buy that physical LP or CD? Why don’t I just wait for it for streaming?” “No, no man, you want to be part of this experience. You want to be able to read about this.”
This is music investigative journalism. We are going to tell the story. And we have been able to do this. I am always asked, “What is there to say about this music?” But in working with George Klabin, and Cory Weeds, and all of these other folk that I am working with at Blue Note, I want to make it (a release) exciting. If people put their hard-earned money into it, I want it to be special. So that they feel that they got something great.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-80. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record.
He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is a co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide,” and a Lifetime Member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
He is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry.