Recordings are a commodity. Companies sell them to make money. When a CD stops selling briskly, only a label willing to make money slowly over a period of years, or one that feels a cultural obligation, keeps it in the catalog. For decades, the Fantasy complex of labels took the long view. Its Original Jazz Classics program maintained supplies of LPs, then CDs, that sold slowly but steadily. The collection preserved a wide slice of music essential to American culture. Companies that make decisions based on quarterly earnings reports tend not to live by the long sales haul. A few months ago, Concord Records, owned by a group of investors, bought Fantasy.
On July 10, writing of good old Miles Davis and Cal Tjader albums, I observed:
Concord deserves credit for keeping this and other valuable music available in the Fantasy Original Jazz Classics reissue program. But how long the OJC program will last is anybody’s guess. I recommend prompt action if you want to acquire these and other CDs in the OJC series.
Concord has just made plain how long that invaluable treasury of recordings of American music will last. It will last while supplies do. The warehouse is being cleared. Concord’s “Summer Blowout Sale” is not subtitled “last chance,” but the not-so-fine print on the company’s web page leaves no doubt. It bears the phrase, “discontinued titles.”
Special bundled pricing applies only to the discontinued titles included in the Summer Blowout Sale section of the online store. While supplies last. All sales are final.
Among the discontinued titles are the massive box sets of John Coltrane’s complete Prestige recordings, the complete Riverside recordings of Bill Evans, and more than three hundred CDs in jazz, gospel, blues, Latin and other genres. This is money-saving information for current buyers, but bad news for the next generation of listeners, who will have to look on E-Bay or at garage sales for some of the most important music of the last half of the twentieth century. It seems that dire predictions about the fate of the OJCs under Concord’s stewardship are coming true.
It is not difficult to understand why so many musicians of all generations are taking their recording, distribution and sales fate into their own hands. They want their music to survive the oversight of stockholders and accountants. Large-scale capitalism works but, except for the occasional spectacular sale of a Van Gogh or Hockney, it doesn’t work for the preservation of art. Small-scale entrepreneurial capitalism may be better for serious musicians unlikely to attract mass audiences.