[Dixielandjazz] Jazz and major record labels

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sun Feb 2 23:38:14 PST 2003

Lot's of bad information out there about Wynton Marsalis and Sony
records. Note this article from Jon Garelick about Branford Marsalis and
Columbia records, and starting his own label. Note also some parallels
with other jazz musos who really got their start on "small" labels.

Can't say for sure, but I suspect Wynton also wanted out from under Sony
to go it on his own label also.

Perhaps they are seeking ways to combat the big decline in overall
record sales, regardless of musical genre and seek some form of control.
Who can blame them? Wish it was me.

Even Brubeck started with a "small" label. Check out "Arbors" for some
solid OKOM. Forget Columbia and Sony, they'll just keep combining "Best
of" particular artists and miss all the good stuff.

Steve Barbone

Giving jazz the business  Can major labels make the music pop?

 SUCCESS: when Branford Marsalis's sales figures dropped from 80,000 to
8000, he celebrated.

"We are all on the same playing field now," says Branford Marsalis. "It
ís like a jazz artist is no different from a Bruce Springsteen or Mariah
Carey. We're all the same now."

Marsalis recently negotiated out of his 20-plus-year relationship with
Columbia so he could start his own label, Marsalis Music (it ís based in
Cambridge). "When I started at Columbia, clearly we weren't all the
same. We [in jazz] didn't get the lion's share of the attention, but we
weren't expected to deliver in the way that they were expected to

Toward the end of his tenure at Columbia, Marsalis recalls, one
executive approached him about his sales figures. "He says to me, "Our
biggest-selling record is [Miles Davis's] Kind of Blue. You've made 15
records for us and none of your records come close to that, how do you
explain that?  I said, "Man, don't tell me how much a Kind of Blue is
selling now that Miles is dead. I want you to give me a sheet and tell
me how much Kind of Blue sold in 1961. And then you can compare it to
how many records I sold when my first album came out, and let's go year
by year. How many records did Miles sell by the fifth year after Kind of
Blue was released? Now in order for you to judge me, you have to wait 40
years! But the problem is that you won't be here in 40 years!"

"The first time my record sales dropped from 80,000 to 8000, we had a
little party. Because the records we loved when we were kids didn't sell
shit when they were released. I told Tain [drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts],
"Man, we need to have a little party. We're on our way."

I'm not making a "who cares if you listen" argument here (neither, do I
think, is Marsalis), and I'm not trying to clear the room of the
"non-serious" jazz listeners. I'm just pointing out that in jazz, as in
pop, the record industry has to make room for the small. It is worth
noting that, except for the likes of Brubeck and Miles, most of the
artists cited by the industry men in Morris's Billboard piece were
recording for tiny independents "before Charlie Parker became Charlie
Parker," as Marsalis puts it. That is when Parker recorded for
mom-and-pop labels like Dial and Savoy (still considered the heart of
his recorded repertoire), when Monk was recording for Prestige and
Riverside. It took years for some of those revered classics to "hit
people over the head."

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