Chicagoan Bob Koester, proprietor of the Jazz Record Mart and Delmark Records for nearly 70 years, is a model of music activism and entrepreneurship from an era rapidly receding and unlikely in current business circumstances. Neil Genzlinger did a nice formal New York Times obit, and I’ve written a remembrance for the Chicago Reader.
Although some independent record stores dealing new and used physical recordings remain in Chicago, I know of none co-joined to an active independent record company, and at the hub of a metropolis-wide community (or interlocking communities) of musicians, fans, writers, photographers, recording engineers and casual listeners. To do that all that now requires a media savvy and bankroll that dwarfs what was possible pre-Internet anad prior to big media industry consolidations.
I continue to believe a personal vision with lots of energy behind it can break through at least to the point of surviving, even if it’s concerned with niche or off-brand content. That is to say more clearly: If you want to get some art out, yours or someone else’s, being smart and determined you’ll find a way to make a mark. A scratch or a dent maybe more than a splash, but that’s something. And who knows where it can lead. When Bob Koester started even his new record store, when he recorded or obtained and issued what have become enduring classic albums by Speckled Red and Big Joe Williams, Junior Wells, Luther Allison and Magic Sam, the first Sun Ra, Roscoe Mitchell and the other AACM originals (Jarman, Muhal, Kalaparusha, Braxton) as well as late career works by artists of earlier decades (Edith Wilson, Roosevelt Sykes, Art Hodes, Sleepy John Estes, Franz Jackson, too many to mention) — when he co-founded the Jazz Institute of Chicago (he insisted blues be part of its portfolio, and knew a lot of musicians to contact for performances) — could he have foreseen what would come of his efforts?