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Mark Stryker

From 1979: Why Big Record Companies Let Jazz Down

62 posts in this topic

 

19 hours 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?

I'd have to see the actual data for record sales to be sure (I am not sure how accurate Keepnews is about timing), but my gut is it was driven by the economy.  The Iran crisis led to a big spike in oil prices in April; the unemployment rate started rising in the summer; and the economy tipped into a short but severe recession in early 1980.

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If I remember correctly, there was petrol rationing over here late 80/early 81. That was fun !

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I had Third Street Jazz in Philly, so could find anything I wanted.  And for a time, the downtown Philly Sam Goody had full inventory. 

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8 hours ago, Rooster_Ties said:

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?

Hey Rooster - St. Louis was mail order only - Jaybee Jazz in Creve Coeur.  They would send these flyers on colored paper - I should see whether I still have one around.  Used them from mid-80s until they ran out of business. Perhaps they ran out of cut-out Blue Notes to sell.

KC - yes, best advice was from Music Exchange.  I came in once looking for a Freddie Hubbard record and they turned me on to this Lee Morgan guy.  My first lp came from there - The Procrastinator double lp, which I still have and love.  Pennylane had a very nice selection as well.  Recycled Sounds came a bit later for me.  Bought a ton of great early 80s punk/new wave for <$5 each there.  But not as much on the jazz side.  I liked that place though.

You probably don’t recall, but I believe we met each other at the Pennylane after they moved Jazz to the basement.  I believe it was through a common acquaintance - the guitarist Monte Muza - who introduced us at the store.  Mid-90s most likely.

PS - there was also a Pennylane in Lawrence when I went to KU.  Very knowledgeable staff.  I bought everything from bebop to avant garde - to me it was all good - just jazz to these newbie ears.

Edited by Eric

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When I was in grad school at the University of Georgia from 1976-1977, I had a lot of luck finding a lot of Milestone twofer promos at a newly opened used LP store called Wuxtry, which later opened a store near Emory in Atlanta. But aside from Peaches, before their decline and closing in the early 1980s, the selection of new jazz LPs in other stores wasn't all that great.

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Thanks for posting. I subscribed to Jazz just as they folded, sent a check but never received any magazines. I was working in a record store in1979-1980 and playing jazz pretty much the whole time I was on shift. Personally I was looking backwards, not forward and was playing and buying records of dates from the 40’s-60’s at that time for the most part. So I guess I wasn’t helping much.

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Wow. Incredible article and one that offers a lot of food for thought

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I feel the draft, of course. But "Big Record Companies" had, by the late 1970s, ceased to be actual record companies - they were corporate holdings, damn near all of them. Cost centers dedicate, not to their honor/quality, but to their ability to deliver earnings up the chain.

That Bruce Lundvall was able to throw some weight "our" way for a little while was cool, but definitely an outlier, and really who should be surprised by that? Why should anybody be surprised by that?

Thinking that we were somehow "let down"...when will we ever learn? When will we ever stop begging? We are not now, nor will we ever be, a "common"music in a world where the majorities of the population want lifestyle accessories to go with their current trendfuns?

Not that there's anything wrong with that, music as lifestyle accessory is totally appropriate, BUT - what lifestyle are you leading? Whose lifestyle is it anyway? And why should anybody think that everybody else should have it? This music came from the underground, and the moment it ceases to be connected to the underground is the day it ceases to be itself.

In other words, if you can't handle the underground, get out of the music.

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On 12/16/2021 at 9:40 PM, Eric said:

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

Glad you enjoyed it, Eric!  The late-1970s show is tentatively slated to air at the end of next month.  

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On 12/17/2021 at 1:48 PM, JSngry said:

I feel the draft, of course. But "Big Record Companies" had, by the late 1970s, ceased to be actual record companies - they were corporate holdings, damn near all of them. Cost centers dedicate, not to their honor/quality, but to their ability to deliver earnings up the chain.

That Bruce Lundvall was able to throw some weight "our" way for a little while was cool, but definitely an outlier, and really who should be surprised by that? Why should anybody be surprised by that?

Thinking that we were somehow "let down"...when will we ever learn? When will we ever stop begging? We are not now, nor will we ever be, a "common"music in a world where the majorities of the population want lifestyle accessories to go with their current trendfuns?

Not that there's anything wrong with that, music as lifestyle accessory is totally appropriate, BUT - what lifestyle are you leading? Whose lifestyle is it anyway? And why should anybody think that everybody else should have it? This music came from the underground, and the moment it ceases to be connected to the underground is the day it ceases to be itself.

In other words, if you can't handle the underground, get out of the music.

What's changed? Nothing really, just a transition to streaming and labels still kind of neglecting stuff beyond the big sellers.

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I do remember a time when a label like Columbia, or Atlantic, or RCA would make room for a few releases that were not expected to sell big. Even if it was a bookkeeping gambit, to get the write-offs, they would at least put some records out there. They don't even do that anymore, really.

Yes, the economics of the business ahs changed, but to use Bruce Lundvall as an example (again), if you want to find a way (and some hits to pay for it), a way is there.

But this was dying already by the middle 70s, really. It's not like it happened all at once, but it was obvious what was happening, imo.

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Record companies used to be willing, at times, to nurture artists along.   "The Joker", "Fly Like an Eagle", and "Book of Dreams" were Steve Miller's 8th, 9th, and 10th albums.  Albums 6 and 7 ("Rock Love" and "Recall the Beginning") had sold nothing, but Capitol stayed with him.  "Fleetwood Mac" and "Rumours" were Fleetwood Mac's 11th and 12th albums.  They had not sold anything in England since their first couple of albums, and had never sold in the USA, but Warner Bros. stayed with them.   

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27 minutes ago, JSngry said:

I do remember a time when a label like Columbia, or Atlantic, or RCA would make room for a few releases that were not expected to sell big. Even if it was a bookkeeping gambit, to get the write-offs, 

There's no such thing as a "write off" except in the sense that you don't have to pay taxes on what you lose but no one is taxed at a 100% rarte. 

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A deductible expense, then.

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Of course appearances can be deceiving, but I thought that back in the day the labels were started by people who wanted to be in the business, as long as they could make a good living.  I imagined that they bragged to their friends when they signed stars like Frank, Peggy Lee, Louis, etc.

I think I read that Sgt. Pepper was so much more profitable than albums before it, that companies decided to just shoot for the moon, and to heck with being respected for the label's stable of artists.

Was I kidding myself?

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2 hours ago, GA Russell said:

 

I think I read that Sgt. Pepper was so much more profitable than albums before it, that companies decided to just shoot for the moon, and to heck with being respected for the label's stable of artists.

Was I kidding myself?

Sounds right to me.

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On 16.12.2021 at 9:41 AM, sidewinder said:

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. 

Yes, it was hard to purchase. Sometimes I was lucky and ordered it from my record dealer and got it after some weeks or months. The only source of information was the "Bielefeld Jazzkatalog", a book that came out every year and the BN stock was reduced. I was lucky to find here Ornette´s "Empty Foxhole" "Golden Circle Vol. 1 and 2" and Wayne Shorters "Schizophrenia". 

About Shorty Rogers reissues I can´t say much. I think, that circle of friends and musicians I was around, mostly from them early to late 50´s born guys didn´t really listen to so called "West Coast Jazz". This seemed to be more the stuff of another kind of society  which  was older, they dug Brubeck and Shorty Rogers and so on. I only heard the name Shorty Rogers for the  first time , when a 1927 born (then around 50 years old) middleclass gentleman who played a little drums invited me to his house and most of his collection was Brubeck and Shorty Rogers and so on. Somehow I couldnt get the same "butterflies in the belly" I got from Trane, Ornette, Mingus  or from the past Bird/Diz/Monk etc. .... 
It seems that there were different "listener-categories" in Viena then: those of my "gang" that were into let´s say Bird and Bob and hardbop into 60´s New Thing  until contemporanous  electric jazz, and on the  other  hand that generation mostly middle class style that listened to Brubeck and Co, and the Oldtimers with Dixie and so on... There was not very much communication between them. And there were those who listened almost exclusivly to Oscar Peterson.....
Once  someone invited me to a matinee at some nice beer garden and a Dixieband played. Some of the more "open to beyond Dixie" knew me and asked me to sit in on piano for a number. Well they called "Georgia Brown" and when my solo came, I had in mind some impressions like Fats Navarro´s line on the Saturday Night Jazz session were some boppers mixed with oldtimers, or the 1947 "Bands for Bonds" were Bird and Diz did some oldtime tunes for "fun". 
So I sure played the changes, but didn´t do "ooom pah" but played more in a bop styled manner, maybe with a nod to older musicians like Teddy Wilson or Clyde Hart. Two younger guys in that Dixie Band who just played there "for money" smiled to me and loved it, but the leader, a white bearded really hefty guy, an ex policeman hated it and said it´s "Chinese Music", while I only tried to make a friendly connection, like let´s say "we all love music, the tune is a common field and there is no discrimination in music".... but it didn´t work with those guys....

Edited by Gheorghe

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Maybe the Shorty Rogers enthusiasm was a British thing. ‘Clickin’ with Clax’ certainly sold in decent numbers - around that time he was also touring the UK so maybe that also helped.

As for Dixieland - the nearest I got to it in that era was seeing Peter Schilperoort’s Dutch Swing College Band at what used to be the Bristol Colston Hall. That evening was a packed house.

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On 21.12.2021 at 1:10 PM, sidewinder said:

Maybe the Shorty Rogers enthusiasm was a British thing. ‘Clickin’ with Clax’ certainly sold in decent numbers - around that time he was also touring the UK so maybe that also helped.

As for Dixieland - the nearest I got to it in that era was seeing Peter Schilperoort’s Dutch Swing College Band at what used to be the Bristol Colston Hall. That evening was a packed house.

Maybe there were some Shorty Rogers fans or West Coast fans in Austria too. I think it was a generation thing. I supose that it was the generation for the college kids of the 50´s who were into that, and they were gentlemen around 50 years old, usually in solid social positions at a time when I was young and into Trane, Mingus, If they dug Brubeck what they did, they might have dug Shorty Rogers also ? As I said I haven´t even heard about that name in a time when I thought I know everything starting with Bird /Diz and all the boppers, diggin Trane and Ornette and  the then contemporanous electric jazz like Miles, Headhunters, Billy Cobham-George Duke, Return to Forever etc. 

About Dixieland, I think I had heard once about a "Dutch Swing College Band". There were so many Dixiebands like "Barrelhouse Jazzband" "Two Beat Stompers" and so on. I think that was another kind of audience. Usually they hated what they called "modern jazz", even if they were not particularly old". But that´s the story I already told you....;)

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Yes, I thought of that too. The elder generation who were coming into their 50s would account for the following of West Coast Jazz. Personally I was more into Blakey and co. at the time but did like Shorty. ‘Modern Sounds’ sold quite well on 10 inch LP here in the early 50s, around the time that Kenton took off.

Big following here for ‘trad’ such as the Dutch Swing College Band. Bristol as well being ‘home turf’ for Acker Bilk. The Dutch Swing College Band had an enthusiastic fan base over here at the time, including folk who weren’t specifically into jazz.

Edited by sidewinder

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On 12/20/2021 at 3:25 PM, JSngry said:

I do remember a time when a label like Columbia, or Atlantic, or RCA would make room for a few releases that were not expected to sell big. Even if it was a bookkeeping gambit, to get the write-offs, they would at least put some records out there. They don't even do that anymore, really.

Yes, the economics of the business ahs changed, but to use Bruce Lundvall as an example (again), if you want to find a way (and some hits to pay for it), a way is there.

But this was dying already by the middle 70s, really. It's not like it happened all at once, but it was obvious what was happening, imo.

Wow. Incredible article and one that offers

a lot of food for thought

 

Yeah I get what you mean how major labels would at least release some really cool stuff 

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On 20.12.2021 at 9:25 PM, JSngry said:

 

 

Bruce Lundvall

 

 

As much as I remember he later founded the label "Electra Musician" and took a lot of former CBS Jazz Artists with him. But I think it was short lived and as well Dexter as Woody Shaw made only one or two records. There was also the Bird and Bud in Washington 1953, and Clifford Brown/Max Roach 1956 live. 
Some other musicians were less interesting for me, but I should have purchased a thing that I think I remember as something with Joe Henderson, Chick Corea, Lenny White titled "Glass Menagerie" or something like that. 

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I met Bruce Lundvall twice when using music from his labels in movies.  We'd spend most of the time talking jazz and he'd send me records!  Box sets!  Miles when he was at Columbia, Monk and Bud when he was at Blue Note. 

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Reading Gheorghe's and Sidewinder's recollections, I more than ever feel I must have been one of the "odd men out" among jazz listeners and record buyers in central Western Europe in those late 70s. Once I had found my way into bebop, I did snap up whatever I could afford with my limited funds of a budding University student (after a careful tradeoff of what buy offered best value for money) in 50s modern jazz (including West Coast Jazz). WCJ reissues did not really come around here until the 80s, but I picked up Shorty Rogers' "West Coast Jazz" LP in the 70s when it was reisseud by WEA in their (silver-cover) "Thats Jazz" series and gave it lots of spins. This must have been one of my entry cards into WCJ. "Clicking with Clax", however, never seems to have been imported here and did not come to my attention until the 90s in a secondhand bin at Mole Jazz.
As for cross-subsidizing of reissues by the majors, there must have been a lot of cases. Bellaphon made huge amounts of jazz on Prestige available, and given their base in lots of fields of popular music I suppose their modern jazz reissue program was subsidized across the board. Milestone twofers also were available by the later 70s. In most cases we got U.S.imports of these and not nearer reprints (in France they were pressed locally with the same contents and cover artwork but different "small print").
I also remember there were reissue programs that made items available that really were off the beaten tracks of the commonplace modern jazz reissues. One example was the "Jazz Lab" series on German MCA that reissued a lot of 50s East-coastish modern jazz from the Decca/Coral stable that in many cases had to wait for another non-Japanese reissue until Fresh Sound came around later on. No doubt this (and also the tons of swing-era jazz that MCA reissued) also was cross-subsidized with the money that MCA made elsewhere. 
According to jazz record catalogs from that era, a lot of Blue Note and Impulse must also have been in print as locally pressed or imported items. I was mostly into pre-hard bop modern jazz then but even so I really cannot recall having seen and regretfully put them back in the racks often (except for some of these "brown paper bag" Blue Note twofers, some of which I found tempting but could not afford until years later). So it probably also was a case of distribution that was scantier for these labels than for, say, the Prestige reissues on Bellaphon or the "Milestone twofers".

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With regard to Shorty Rogers ‘Clickin’ with Clax’, Todd Selbert’s notes for the Mosaic box are informative. Apparently in the mid 1970s the Rogers tape archive was requested from the vaults and this session was amongst them. Via Nesuhi Ertegun all of the Atlantic affiliates were contacted to see if they wanted to release the new material. None of them gave an affirmative, even the Japanese. Eventually just the UK relented, hence that particular LP only coming out here. So, not surprising that Big Beat Steve only saw it later at Mole.

The big Atlantic warehouse fire happened shortly afterwards so a bit of a miracle that this material got to see the light of day.

That Atlantic ‘That’s Jazz’ series put out in Germany around 1976/77 was widely available here and I picked up quite a few of them. Also those MCA twofers - quite a lot of Bob Thiele sessions, I recall. Weren’t they called something like ‘Jazztime USA’?

Edited by sidewinder

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