Those unfamiliar with The Wall Street Journal, might be surprised to learn of its cultural component. The newspaper’s Personal Journal section has frequent profiles, reviews and backgrounders involving painting, sculpture, architecture, literature, dance–the whole range of
cultural interests. The most recent piece of particular interest to jazz listeners is Tom Nolan’s update on Orrin Keepnews, the 85-year-old co-founder of Riverside Records and indefatigable producer of reissues of a wide range of recordings, including many of his own productions. From the article, here is some of what Keepnews has to say about the economics of independent jazz recording in the 1950s, with Riverside as the case in point.
Much of the label’s development reflected the improvisatory nature of the music it documented, Mr. Keepnews says, at a time when audio tape and the long-playing record were changing producing in radical ways. “Nobody was an expert at what it was we were fumbling around trying to do,” Mr. Keepnews says, “because the whole basic technique was brand-new.”
One of the key elements in the development of Riverside and other independent labels, Mr. Keepnews says, was the “postwar deflationary period”: “At that point, union-scale pay for a sideman for a three-hour session was $41.25; double that for the leader. Among other things, you could do a trio album for a total musician cost of, in round numbers, $250. That is probably the most important factor in the growth of independent jazz labels — and why, as it turned out, the “50s was such a golden age for recorded jazz, I think.”
The on line version of the story has links to clips from important recordings. To read the whole thing, which includes some of Keepnews’s thoughts about Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans and Cannonball Adderley, go here.