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January 31, 2010

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Doug Zielke

For another point of view, you might want to ask Sue Mingus what she thinks about bootleg reissues. If you dare!

Michael Steinman

You are right in that these illicit issues keep the music in the air -- but it's not only Sue Mingus who is correctly furious: think of the children and relatives who see Dad's and Mom's records ripped off . . . this hasn't stopped me from buying those naughty bootlegs myself, but I feel bad for Lou McGarity's heirs, for example. I agree that I'd rather have the music in circulation -- an artist colleague says, "All publicity is good publicity," but even the most mingy royalty check is a sign that someone is taking the artist's work seriously.

Chris Albertson

Another form of rip-off is usually performed by the original record companies when they use alternate takes as fillers (to create overpriced boxed sets, for example). In fact, this is a double rip-off: There is usually an artistic judgement behind an artist's decision to do another take, so he/she is done a disservice when a discarded performance is made public. There are, of course, instances where an artist wants to have such a take put out, but he or she is still—in most cases—ripped off, because unissued alternate takes were not compensated. The union measured a "session" by time spent in the studio or the accumulated running time of "usable" performances. If either measure was exceeded, an additional session was required.

In my experience, LPs almost always required a third session and it was almost always not recorded (on the contract, that is). Ergo, all those alternate takes that became CD "bonuses" did/do not fatten a performer's wallet. The record companies? Well, that's another story—a sordid one. Yes, performers went along with this practice, but only because it was important for them to have material out there.

Major players were not paid the minimum, but most were, and if there was a performance royalty arrangement, it usually did not benefit so-called "sidemen."

Larry Kart

One problem with your "So what?" response is that you can't lump together pirate Euro label issues of, say, ABC-Paramount material that otherwise probably would languish in the vaults forever and Euro label pirating of Mosaic and Uptown's carefully assembled and properly paid for sets (Mosaic's consisting of previously issued material, plus often newly discovered alternate takes; Uptown's of material that often has never been issued before). In such cases, just to be clear, the Euro pirates do not themselves assemble packages that mimic what Mosaic and Uptown already have done (in the case of the typical Uptown set, that would be impossible); instead, they simply acquire copies of the Mosaic and Uptown sets and literally duplicate them. A "knock off" to me is a cheap imitation, like a fake Rolex watch or a fake Gucci handbag. This is more like counterfeiting or identity theft.

In any case, this behavior and the resulting loss of sales to Mosaic and Uptown (despite their handsome booklets) may put those estimable labels out of business. And then where will that leave us -- and, for that matter, the Euro pirates? They'll still be able to take the first route mentioned above, but their ripoffs of Mosaic, Uptown, and the like will cease -- you can't steal from an empty cupboard.

Ed Leimbacher

I once had an email exchange with Michael Cuscuna of Mosaic regarding those quasi-bootleg, copyright-expired sets by Europe-based Proper, JSP, Lone Hill, and others. He was of course offended by their unfair competition, lack of royalty payments, and so on. But he also acknowledged that they were able to operate with an ease of access denied to U.S. reissue producers.

We were discussing the lack of any box set delineating the across-many-labels history of Swing-Becoming-Bop (late '30s/early '40s up to the late '40s revolution), and he glumly admitted that any project that diffuse would have to be done by someone other than Mosaic.

I confess to owning sets on Wardell Gray, Lennie Niehaus, Paramount Masters, J.R. Monterose, early Blues anthologies, and more, but really only because the overseas guys got there first. I'd rather buy knowing that the artists or their estates were benefitting, but I am too greedy for the diverse music to pass up opportunities not available in the U.S.

Mike Milner

The one comment I would like to make is that as consumers, we have been forced to purchase cd's at vastly inflated prices. For example, all of the great jazz labels of the 50's were bought up and are now owned by huge conglomerates. Do you think it is reasonable to ask consumers to pay $20 or $25 dollars for a cd reissue of vinyl album that Hampton Hawes or Red Garland recorded back in the 50's? How much of that money is going as royalties to anybody? Most sessions on labels like Prestige required the minimum amount of studio time, because that's all that was in the budget. Some other labels were more professional, but come on here folks, none of these companies spent a lot of money on these artists when they were alive. Compare the money record labels spent on these records with the ridiculous amount budgeted for rock and roll recordings, many of which were unlistenable and self indulgent musical twaddle. At least the labels from Europe are providing us with the music at a more reasonable cost. Actually, I have found the sets I purchased to have very good liner notes. Copyright law is what it is in different jurisdictions.

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  • Marc Myers writes frequently on music and the arts for the Wall Street Journal. He is author of "Why Jazz Happened" (University of California Press). In 2012, JazzWax was named the Jazz Journalists Association's "Blog of the Year."
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