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Holy Ghost

Ornette's Tenure At Contemporary

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Why two albums? How Atlantic got in there? 

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I don't think he had an exclusive contract to Contemporary -- he went to Koenig to sell compositions for others to record, and played them to Koenig on alto. My memory of the circumstances is a bit fuzzy and would require some digging around in my library, but Ertegun swooped in and signed him pretty quickly after the first Contemporary recordings were released. I would imagine John Lewis and Mingus had something to do with that signing as well.

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John Lewis, Gunther Schuller + Lennox School of Jazz. Time/Place.

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right, Schuller too -- but weren't the first of the Atlantics recorded prior to Lenox in May '59?

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the way i heard it was that Lewis & Schuller moved fast. The Lennox thing was a "showcase" for their "new discovery", so if the first Atlantic was already in the can, that would make sense.

As sincere as the musical motivations were, there was also a marketing strategy in play. For example, I've got two published folios of Ornette compositions, and both are published by MJQ music. One has an introduction by Gunther Schuller (iirc).

I think it was Percy Heath who brought Ornette to Lewis' attention, then Lewis to Schuller, Everybody to Atlantic to get some product, and then Lennox for a "coming out" party.

It might be easy to either forget or simply not realize how much sway that Lewis and Schuller had with Atlantic in that time.

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Posted (edited)

So who did all the talking, why were Atlantic so interested in Ornette so much? Were representatives from Savoy and BN there too during the Lenox show? None of them seemed to walk away with better deals than Ornette. 

To me, during this time, Ornette should've been on par with Jackie on Prestige/New Jazz. Am I alone here on this point? 

I should add, John Lewis was different, like Ike Quebec was for BN, so that may be the Atlantic connection. 

Edited by Holy Ghost

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By the time of Lennox, Ornette already had his sponsors - Lewis and Schuller orchestrated his appearance there.

They were convinced that Ornette was the next major move forward for jazz. They were already doing the Third Stream thing, which in their minds was very much a "way forward". Well, Ornette was definitely that, and he had the whole package - a band 9sort of), a book of compositions, a genuinely new way of playing (one where the improvisations were not about chord changes and song forms), so hey - let's get him wrapped up because this is gonna be BIG. I think it was Lewis who said that Ornette was the next logical progression after Bird, which rapidly got distorted into Ornette being the NEXT Bird.

so if you're Atlantic and you've got two of your power players telling you this, hell yeah, you get him signed ASAP.

Ornette would certainly not have been on Prestige, though. He was a California guy and he was neither a bebopper or a "systems" player like, say, Don Ellis. Prestige had neither geographical proximity to nor musical interest in him.

Those first two Contemporary albums didn't make a whole lot of noise, remember. It was only after the Lewis/Schuller sponsored media blitz that people paid attention. Before that, nothing. Afte that, Lennox, the Five spot, and EVERYBODY was coming out to check out The Next Big Thing.

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34 minutes ago, JSngry said:

the way i heard it was that Lewis & Schuller moved fast. The Lennox thing was a "showcase" for their "new discovery", so if the first Atlantic was already in the can, that would make sense.

As sincere as the musical motivations were, there was also a marketing strategy in play. For example, I've got two published folios of Ornette compositions, and both are published by MJQ music. One has an introduction by Gunther Schuller (iirc).

I think it was Percy Heath who brought Ornette to Lewis' attention, then Lewis to Schuller, Everybody to Atlantic to get some product, and then Lennox for a "coming out" party.

It might be easy to either forget or simply not realize how much sway that Lewis and Schuller had with Atlantic in that time.

Makes a ton of sense, thanks. Just re-read the liners to the second Ornette LP on Contemporary and it looks like John Lewis was out in LA and his hearing of Ornette there set the whole thing in motion.

Also, Tomorrow Is The Question was released after Atlantic had signed him, though recorded slightly before (Jan-Feb 59).

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10 minutes ago, JSngry said:

so if you're Atlantic and you've got two of your power players telling you this, hell yeah, you get him signed ASAP.hi.

Lewis I get, but how was Schuller a power player at Atlantic? 

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11 minutes ago, JSngry said:

By the time of Lennox, Ornette already had his sponsors - Lewis and Schuller orchestrated his appearance there.

They were convinced that Ornette was the next major move forward for jazz. They were already doing the Third Stream thing, which in their minds was very much a "way forward". Well, Ornette was definitely that, and he had the whole package - a band 9sort of), a book of compositions, a genuinely new way of playing (one where the improvisations were not about chord changes and song forms), so hey - let's get him wrapped up because this is gonna be BIG. I think it was Lewis who said that Ornette was the next logical progression after Bird, which rapidly got distorted into Ornette being the NEXT Bird.

so if you're Atlantic and you've got two of your power players telling you this, hell yeah, you get him signed ASAP.

Ornette would certainly not have been on Prestige, though. He was a California guy and he was neither a bebopper or a "systems" player like, say, Don Ellis. Prestige had neither geographical proximity to nor musical interest in him.

Those first two Contemporary albums didn't make a whole lot of noise, remember. It was only after the Lewis/Schuller sponsored media blitz that people paid attention. Before that, nothing. Afte that, Lennox, the Five spot, and EVERYBODY was coming out to check out The Next Big Thing.

Wow. Color me impressed. Don't take that the wrong way, that's concentrated history, so there's a lot to deconstruct here. So I'll start with Don Ellis. A Boston guy, who got a one deal with  Prestige/New Jazz....why one deal?

19 minutes ago, clifford_thornton said:

Makes a ton of sense, thanks. Just re-read the liners to the second Ornette LP on Contemporary and it looks like John Lewis was out in LA and his hearing of Ornette there set the whole thing in motion.

Also, Tomorrow Is The Question was released after Atlantic had signed him, though recorded slightly before (Jan-Feb 59).

Its these snippets that puts it all together, thanks Cliff and JSngry! 

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23 minutes ago, medjuck said:

Lewis I get, but how was Schuller a power player at Atlantic? 

Third Stream was a big deal for Atlantic. Now why and how, I don't know. Probably Lewis through Neshui. But by 1959, yeah, the Lewis/Schuller tandem had a very real niche carved out.

Don't forget, Schuller produced the Buster Smith record, and his liner notes are unintentionally hilarious anthropology.

23 minutes ago, Holy Ghost said:

 So I'll start with Don Ellis. A Boston guy, who got a one deal with  Prestige/New Jazz....why one deal?

Ellis was NY-based by then, he was on the Maynard gig, also working alongside Eric Dolphy with George Russell.

Why just a one-off? Because not everybody likes everybody's new concepts, I suppose. Record companies all have their quirks,

Oh, business - MJQ Publishing getting the rights to Ornette's early recorded compositions, that's hardcore business move. Lewis and Percy Heath (remember him), saw investment potential there, and "Lonely Woman" alone probably proved them right. But all(?) of those tunes on Atlantic were published by MJQ Music.

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Did Ornette's Atlantics sell well? 

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Yes. The Five Spot engagement was a huge, huge deal.

I was visiting the archives of abstract painter Barnett Newman (1905-1970) and his record collection was part of the library. In addition to classical LPs were a number of late 1950s-early 60s jazz LPs, including Ornette's Contemporary and first few Atlantic albums. He had seen Ornette at the Five Spot and was a fan. It was a cultural phenomenon. 

Interesting side note: Jackson Pollock, whose art was licensed for the cover of Free Jazz, was not the original artist they planned to use for that album. Judith Lindbloom, an abstract expressionist painter and close friend of Steve Lacy, was supposed to paint live as the sessions were taped. However she was too indisposed that day to be able to do it, and the record label ended up licensing the Pollock image instead.

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As I understand it, Nesuhi Ertegun was working for Contemporary / Good Time Jazz in the early '50s and moved to NYC in '55 to join his brother at Atlantic. When Ornette ventured East, Lester Koenig suggested he hook up with Nesuhi.

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Ah, that is interesting -- I didn't know Nesuhi Ertegun was at Contemporary.

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whoa, yeah!

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1 hour ago, clifford_thornton said:

Yes. The Five Spot engagement was a huge, huge deal.

I was visiting the archives of abstract painter Barnett Newman (1905-1970) and his record collection was part of the library. In addition to classical LPs were a number of late 1950s-early 60s jazz LPs, including Ornette's Contemporary and first few Atlantic albums. He had seen Ornette at the Five Spot and was a fan. It was a cultural phenomenon. 

Interesting side note: Jackson Pollock, whose art was licensed for the cover of Free Jazz, was not the original artist they planned to use for that album. Judith Lindbloom, an abstract expressionist painter and close friend of Steve Lacy, was supposed to paint live as the sessions were taped. However she was too indisposed that day to be able to do it, and the record label ended up licensing the Pollock image instead.

Fascinating, I love the idea of Barnett and Ornette coinciding like that. Two of my favourite artists.  I don't know Judith Lindbloom but will certainly do some research to remedy that.

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I picked up the recent Concord/Craft reissue of the two Contemporary Ornette albums but haven't cracked it open yet.  If there's any pertinent info there that hasn't already been contributed to the thread, I'll be sure to post it.

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3 hours ago, clifford_thornton said:

Yes. The Five Spot engagement was a huge, huge deal.

I was visiting the archives of abstract painter Barnett Newman (1905-1970) and his record collection was part of the library. In addition to classical LPs were a number of late 1950s-early 60s jazz LPs, including Ornette's Contemporary and first few Atlantic albums. He had seen Ornette at the Five Spot and was a fan. It was a cultural phenomenon. 

Interesting side note: Jackson Pollock, whose art was licensed for the cover of Free Jazz, was not the original artist they planned to use for that album. Judith Lindbloom, an abstract expressionist painter and close friend of Steve Lacy, was supposed to paint live as the sessions were taped. However she was too indisposed that day to be able to do it, and the record label ended up licensing the Pollock image instead.

Woahhh, cool story. Knew that Free Jazz was a Pollock, didn't know the rest.  

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4 hours ago, JSngry said:

Third Stream was a big deal for Atlantic. Now why and how, I don't know. Probably Lewis through Neshui. But by 1959, yeah, the Lewis/Schuller tandem had a very real niche carved out.

Don't forget, Schuller produced the Buster Smith record, and his liner notes are unintentionally hilarious anthropology.

Ellis was NY-based by then, he was on the Maynard gig, also working alongside Eric Dolphy with George Russell.

Why just a one-off? Because not everybody likes everybody's new concepts, I suppose. Record companies all have their quirks,

Oh, business - MJQ Publishing getting the rights to Ornette's early recorded compositions, that's hardcore business move. Lewis and Percy Heath (remember him), saw investment potential there, and "Lonely Woman" alone probably proved them right. But all(?) of those tunes on Atlantic were published by MJQ Music.

Did not know the West/East  coast connection, the Etergin Bros, deserve their own discussion. Still don't know much about these dudes. But get the MJQ connection, didn't they name one of their albums "Lonely Woman? or John Lewis at least on Atlantic?" See that connection. 

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23 minutes ago, Holy Ghost said:

Did not know the West/East  coast connection, the Etergin Bros, deserve their own discussion. Still don't know much about these dudes. But get the MJQ connection, didn't they name one of their albums "Lonely Woman? or John Lewis at least on Atlantic?" See that connection. 

It was Ornette's composition.  The MJQ did a nice version of it.

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18 hours ago, mjzee said:

It was Ornette's composition.  The MJQ did a nice version of it.

This what I meant:

 

MJQ.webp

Sorry, not very good at posting pictures. 

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I like Patty Waters' lyrics to it on the Marzette Savoy...

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