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January 24, 2010


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Doug Zielke

Thanks for mentioning Lester Koenig of Contemporary Records. When I'm out hunting for prime vinyl, I know that anything I find on Contemporary will be delightful. Not only did Les take good care of the A&R department, he must have had a hand in the technical aspects of record making as well. Contemporary products almost always sound great.
By all accounts, Les was also a true friend to the artists who worked for him. Art Pepper comes vividly to mind.

Chris Albertson

"Even the greatest jazz artists needed direction, and the best producers of the 1950s had a strong concept of what they wanted and knew how to get it. In truth, these producers are the unsung heroes of the great jazz LP era. We're fortunate they worked as hard as they did behind the scenes to help brilliant artists create their greatest works. Next time you put on a CD you love, take a look at the producer's name. We owe them all a debt of gratitude."

Some of the most significant recorded jazz performances were done with producers who did little more than operate the stopwatch and fill in the forms. Let's be real and recognize that our debt of gratitude is primarily owed to the performers and arrangers. We know producers by the artists whose sessions they supervised, but can you name an artist who is largely known for having worked with a specific producer?

Ed Leimbacher

Mr. A., I know you know much more about the record industry than I, but I think maybe you are putting more emphasis than Marc did. While he does offer praise to the unheralded producer/A&R dudes of the past, he doesn't say the artists would be nothing without them. That one sentence seems crucial to me: "We're fortunate they worked as hard as they did behind the scenes to help brilliant artists create their greatest works." For every stopwatch cat there was a busy thinker working to help realize a concept or a mixture or a jam session or get on tape a particular temporary assemblage of musicians. Maybe they aren't more famous than the artists--and why should they be?--but people as varied as Les Koenig and Phil Spector and, for god's sake, Mitch Miller, not to mention dozens of Southern soul music producers like Allen Toussaint or Jerry Williams/Swamp Dogg, or Sam Phillips at Sun, all made their special mark, and ARE often better known than many of the artists they worked with. Seems to me the best music often requires more than one set of hands or a single mind. So Marc wants to extend some extra credit? Fair dinkum.

Chris Albertson

You bring up a good point, Ed, but I was speaking of jazz producers, which also seems to have been Marc's focus. I should also have noted that there are, among jazz A&R men, important exceptions. One of these was Teo Macero whom I personally saw turn a seemingly hopeless jumble of taped fragments into enduring Miles Davis albums. Norman Granz certainly helped along many careers, and there are others. My point is that I have personally observed highly acclaimed A&R men (some of whom Marc names) sit back with a stopwatch and notepad while the performers did the job for which they, the producers, would later take credit.

So, I disagree that we owe our gratitude to ALL. Let me add that I am not exempt from the not quite so praiseworthy list.

John P. Cooper

Hats off, too, to the reissue LP producers of the vinyl era who were responsible for choosing a dozen tracks from the 30s and 40s and frequently managed to put together a well balanced program of 45 minutes worth of sides that were not cast-aways and which segued well from one track to another.

Today we are lucky to hear everything an artist recorded, but we can no longer purchase an album on the RCA Victor Vintage series and be assured of 14 great sides instead of 30 indifferent ones.

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  • Marc Myers writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal and is author of "Anatomy of a Song" (Grove) and "Why Jazz Happened." Founded in 2007, JazzWax is a two-time winner of the Jazz Journalists Association's best blog award.

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