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Mark Stryker

From 1979: Why Big Record Companies Let Jazz Down

62 posts in this topic

Wow--much appreciation for the timing of your post, Mark, as I'm beginning work at the end of this month on a Night Lights show about jazz on Columbia in the late 1970s, as a kind of sequel to the Great Columbia Jazz Purge program that I did a few years ago.  Only able to skim the article right now, as I'm on air, but it looks as if it will be very helpful for depicting the state of things at the label circa late 1970s.  (I also bought Bruce Lundvall's memoir, which should provide even more background.)

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JAZZ was a very good magazine.

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The only time I found many of the Columbia jazz LPs issued in the late 1970s when I was living in Atlanta was promo stamped copies in a used record store. They never seemes to reach regular record stores.

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Over here, some of them were pretty good sellers - the Miles twofers of unissued stuff put out by Teo Macero, the Dexter Gordons and the Stan Getz releases come to mind. Then there were things like ‘Summit Meeting in Birdland’ and that Miles in Paris release with its lousy audio.

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Fact remains that most of the jazz being recorded by Columbia at that point wasn't particularly good, Dex's "Homecoming" and a few of the Woody Shaw, Arthur Blythe, and Max Roach titles being exceptions.  When you want to listen to Freddie Hubbard, Jimmy Heath, Bobby Hutcherson, Cedar Walton or Bennie Golson, do you go reaching for their Columbia's from this era?    But Shaw's "Rosewood" won awards but still doesn't seem to have been a huge seller.

Also interesting to note that the Marsalis franchise and all the young clones kicked in on Columbia a very few years later, where the roster circa 1979 got purged.  The Marsalis albums actually sounded fresh and exciting at first. but deteriorated as they went on, and even the early ones have not aged well as the CD era  brought so much classic music back into circulation.

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I am most curious to know the cause of this so-called collapse in record sales in 1979. Does anyone know the details of that? And it was apparently industry/genre wide?

Oh - I guess I know why, this must have been the same time cassette tapes became prevalent and you didn't have to buy that record you could get a copy made by your buddy. And the industry answered by trying to convince the world that cassettes were evil.

Do you think they had any clue what was coming in barely a decade's time?

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16 minutes ago, felser said:

When you want to listen to Freddie Hubbard, Jimmy Heath, Bobby Hutcherson, Cedar Walton or Bennie Golson, do you go reaching for their Columbia's from this era?   

With the exception of Golson, On occasion, yes. Not all of them, but a few of them, yes.

It depends on what I'm n the  mood for.

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1 hour ago, Dan Gould said:

I am most curious to know the cause of this so-called collapse in record sales in 1979. Does anyone know the details of that? And it was apparently industry/genre wide?

Oh - I guess I know why, this must have been the same time cassette tapes became prevalent and you didn't have to buy that record you could get a copy made by your buddy. And the industry answered by trying to convince the world that cassettes were evil.

Do you think they had any clue what was coming in barely a decade's time?

Sonically, cassettes WERE evil.  Also. I can't think of a single non-disco pop album from 1979 that seems like an enduring classic, though I have not researched.

Edit:  Tom Petty Damn the Torpedoes. Joe Jackson Look Sharp. Neil Young Rust Never Sleeps are all good albums but not monster sellers.  Pink Floyd The Wall and Fleetwood Mac Tusks were great disappointments to me then and now, though they sold.  I'm not a fan of the Clash, though people love "London Calling".

Donna Summer Bad Girls and Michael Jackson Off the Wall were the classics, and there were other excellent discoish albums.

 

 

 

Edited by felser

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25 minutes ago, felser said:

Sonically, cassettes WERE evil.  Also. I can't think of a single non-disco pop album from 1979 that seems like an enduring classic, though I have not researched.

 

 

 

Is Joni Mitchell "pop"? Anyway, the 'Mingus' album is from 1979.

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44 minutes ago, Daniel A said:

Is Joni Mitchell "pop"? Anyway, the 'Mingus' album is from 1979.

Yes, but that one didn't sell, and was musically pretty ponderous.

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Tusk sold?

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1 hour ago, JSngry said:

Tusk sold?

Not like "Fleetwood Mac" or "Rumours" (nor should it have), but 4 million copies,  #4 on the US album charts, #1 on the UK album charts.  I had it, was immediately disappointed, expecting (or at least hoping for) another "Rumours" x 2.  And I have not particularly warmed up to it in the 40 years since. 

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That was in the days when "sales" included advance orders and shit. You may very well be the only person I know who actually bought it! 

It hit the cutout bins in a little over a year, iirc! A world record, perhaps?

What I do recall about that year was that the industry had grown used to supermegajumbotron sized hits, and then that skipped a year or two, and of course, home taping was the reason, not that tastes were changing 

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6 hours ago, ghost of miles said:

Wow--much appreciation for the timing of your post, Mark, as I'm beginning work at the end of this month on a Night Lights show about jazz on Columbia in the late 1970s, as a kind of sequel to the Great Columbia Jazz Purge program that I did a few years ago.  Only able to skim the article right now, as I'm on air, but it looks as if it will be very helpful for depicting the state of things at the label circa late 1970s.  (I also bought Bruce Lundvall's memoir, which should provide even more background.)

Wow - followed the link to your show - which led to the interview with Lundvall.  Fascinating - and thank-you for linking it!!

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I haven't read all the thread but as a label owner I must remind folks of the mid '70s "vinyl shortage". Large labels are slow moving giants and they might have been reacting to this situation. Sorry if this has already been mentioned.

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Thanks, Mark!

My experience of the 1975-82 period while living in Pittsburgh was that jazz records were not to be found in the stores.  The store managers would just shrug, and tell me, "Jazz just doesn't sell anymore."

Throughout that period, it was far easier for me to find in the stores Canterbury-type records imported from England.

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Yes, all the Dexter albums for CBS are great, most of all "Manhattan Symphony". 

And I remember the before mentioned bop discoveries , I had them all , they were called Contemporanous Masters" and I had "One Night at Birdland", "Summit Meeting at Birdland" and "Bird with Strings" all three with Charlie Parker, and the also mentioned "Miles Davis Paris 1949" with that french radio voice but Miles very strong like Diz or Fats.....

And the Miles comeback in 1981 with the first Miles albums: "Man with the Horn" "We Want Miles" and "Star People" were great, "Decoy" somehow bored me, "You Are under Arrest" was more interesting, but I got bored of all those endless performances of "Time after Time" and "Human Nature" all the years that followed....

But as I remember, from 1977 on there was an increasing audience for renewed "acoustic jazz", like VSOP which I love so much, Dexter´s comeback and so on. 

My difficulties in the 70´s were mostly with Blue Note. Many many of the classic albums slowly went OOP, there were only those LA-Series which was new, but some of it wasn´t even BN. 
Prestige also had a lot of double LPs. 
 

I don´t know about other big companies, since I only heard jazz and I think the only labels that maybe had also non jazz artists was CBS and maybe Atlantic, I´m not sure. 

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Blue Note seemed to be scarce in Europe in the mid 1970s. For a time, just cutout blue label were the norm in the specialist shops plus that UA release around 1977 of selected titles such as ‘The Sidewinder’ and ‘Roots and Herbs’.

Shorty Rogers reissues were very popular over here in the late 70s - that ‘Clickin’ with Clax’ topped the jazz sellers list at a time when Spirogyra were all the rage. 

Edited by sidewinder

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I had the impression that the oil embargo of 1973-1974 had a significant impact on the quantity and quality of vinyl in the second half of the 1970s.

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Maybe living in a college town close to a “jazz city” (Kansas City) allowed me to miss some of the scarcity.  I started buying jazz records circa 1981 or so and the two large local shops had plenty of jazz.  Lots of imports (Soul Note, Black Saint, Res) both for new releases and BN reissues (Japanese, French).  And all the Milestone 2fers plus tons of OJCs, plus of course Muse.  I also found a place in St. Louis (from an ad in the back of Downbeat) that sold cut-out BN titles, tons of them, cheap.  There were stores that carried them in KC as well.

PS - college town was Lawrence, KS, University of Kansas, whose students over the years included Nathan Davis, Carmell Jones and Bobby Watson.

PSS - my search was guided by the Len Lyons book, 101 Best Jazz albums and a very passionate professor of jazz at KU, Dick Wright.  Very knowledgeable staff at stores in both Lawrence and KC.

Edited by Eric

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12 minutes ago, Eric said:

I also found a place in St. Louis (from an ad in the back of Downbeat) that sold cut-out BN titles, tons of them, cheap.

There were stores that carried them in KC as well.

Which store in St. Louis?, and about when? (I grew up outside of St. Louis, but my jazz interest didn’t hit until late in my college years, ~1989)

And where in KC? (but I didn’t live there until ~1994). But I’m assuming Music Exchange and Pennylane. Or maybe Recycled Sounds?

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Toronto, where I lived at the time, was an excellent place to buy jazz records - Sam the Record Man, A&A, Sherman's, etc. Plus the Jazz and Blues Centre for the really hard to find imports (actually probably 90% + of  jazz albums available in Canada were imports)  But Sam's often got the hard-to-find stuff, too. Amazing what you would find there.  

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2 hours ago, gvopedz said:

I had the impression that the oil embargo of 1973-1974 had a significant impact on the quantity and quality of vinyl in the second half of the 1970s.

Very true. You just have to look at what happened to the thickness and quality of Impulse vinyl through the 70s. Strangely though, those thin ones can sound good !

5 minutes ago, John Tapscott said:

Toronto, where I lived at the time, was an excellent place to buy jazz records - Sam the Record Man, A&A, Sherman's, etc. Plus the Jazz and Blues Centre for the really hard to find imports (actually probably 90% + of  jazz albums available in Canada were imports)  But Sam's often got the hard-to-find stuff, too. Amazing what you would find there.  

Used to waste whole afternoons navigating backwards and forwards between Sam’s and A&A on Yonge St. Bit later period though, when LPs were on their way out.

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2 hours ago, John Tapscott said:

Toronto, where I lived at the time, was an excellent place to buy jazz records - Sam the Record Man, A&A, Sherman's, etc. Plus the Jazz and Blues Centre for the really hard to find imports (actually probably 90% + of  jazz albums available in Canada were imports)  But Sam's often got the hard-to-find stuff, too. Amazing what you would find there.  

And IIRC in some rare instances there were Lps available in  Canada and not the US. 

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