By now, I'm sure you've heard that the National Jazz Museum in Harlem has acquired nearly 1,000 discs recorded from radio broadcasts in the late 1930s by engineer William Savory [pictured]. The bounty includes previously unreleased transcriptions by Coleman Hawkins, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and other jazz giants. Many of the recordings are reported to be historically significant.
What you may not know is that a firestorm has been raging among the jazz cognoscenti since the news first broke in mid-August. At issue is whether the recordings will ever see the light of day commercially. There appears to be a hornet's nest of U.S. copyright issues looming. In addition, there's the very real threat that whatever the museum does release digitally will immediately be pirated by European record labels and sold here for less.
Why? European record labels aren't up against the same copyright restrictions that U.S. record companies face. In Europe, creative works enter the public domain after 50 years, which means anything recorded earlier than 1961 can be re-packaged and issued with lower overhead. In the digital age, the difference in audio quality between using a master and a clean analog or digital copy is good enough that consumers don't fuss, giving the European labels a huge advantage over American labels that devote time and dollars to reissues.
Jazz insiders have tended to divide into two camps over the Savory copyright issue: Some argue that copyright royalties on the Savory material should be paid to family members of the original artists, while others feel the music's importance transcends such things and the recordings should not be left gathering dust on a shelf because of the copyright issue. I tend to side with the second camp.
As someone who creates daily, I'm a big believer that original works should be protected. But the current length of time a work is protected by the copyright law seems overly extensive and antiquated, especially in light of the more liberal European laws. What's more, creative works under U.S. copyright laws were never intended to be annuities for artists' great-grandchildren. Comes a point when the music needs to be available to one and all—without the crippling cost of royalties and red tape.
As for those who slam the European labels for issuing out of print American albums, there seems to be a disconnect and some xenophobia. These labels have satisfied American jazz fans and enriched our culture at a time when our own major labels stubbornly refused to do so. It's fair to say that many jazz fans would know little or nothing about artists such as Red Callender, Sonny Criss, Bobby Scott, Med Flory, Joe Maini and so many others if it weren't for the European labels.
What's more, many of the same people who disparage the European labels think Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were clever for using the chord changes to Tin Pan Alley standards to create new songs. Funny, I don't hear anyone screaming that the families of Ray Noble and George Gershwin are owed a few bucks today.
Seems to me the National Jazz Museum has two choices if it truly wants the music out there: Seek a grant and release the recordings as a rolling series of free downloads at its site with hopes that the generosity and publicity generated will convert into higher visibility and museum donations. Or the museum should meet with Spain's Fresh Sound to cut a deal that would allow the European label to issue and distribute the music worldwide. The royalty issue would be skirted, the museum would get a cut from sales, and Fresh Sound would be left to worry about combating the platter pirates.
Lou Donaldson. In case you missed my rare Saturday post, here's the news: Yesterday, my profile of Lou Donaldson ran in the Wall Street Journal in advance of Lou's appearance at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola starting on Tuesday. For my article, go here.
Maynard Ferguson on Roulette. Mosaic's box The Complete Roulette Recordings of the Maynard Ferguson Orchestra is long out of print. Presently, two copies are selling at Amazon for about $1,500 each. Ouch. But wait—JazzWax reader Rick in Maryland tells me someone has put up all 146 tracks at YouTube. How good is this material? Astonishingly great. Ferguson's Roulette period is breathtaking for its energy, musicianship and rubber-burning execution. To listen to all of this Roulette material for free, go here.
CD discoveries of the week. Pianist Amina Figarova's Sketches is a stimulating, fast-paced album with a leaf-chasing spirit. Figarova has a windy, pretty sound to her playing that is uplifting and introspective. She clearly understands how to deliver lightness and intensity in equal measure. This remarkable album features Figarova compositions arranged for a sextet. The group includes Ernie Hammes on trumpet and flugelhorn, Marc Mommaas on tenor sax, Bart Platteau on flute, Jeroen Vierdag on bass and Chris Strik on drums. Figarova's luxuriant aggression on the keyboard is evident in Four Steps To..., Whotsot and On the Road. Best of all, the album never sinks into a single mood or groove and constantly offers surprises.
You'll find Amina Figarova's Sketches (Munich) here.
Eden Brent plays a mean boogie-woogie piano. But she also sings, and on Ain't Got No Troubles, Brent's heart and passion for the music becomes fully exposed. In the great Memphis tradition, Brent slings one song after the next with a voice soaked in gospel and blues smarts. Her voice is as free as a tire rolling down a back road, traveling where it pleases, deftly escaping the out-stretched arms of pragmatic pedestrians. This is music sipped slowly and neat. Dig Brent's cakewalk-y Ain't Got No Troubles and In Love With Your Wallet. Or catch Blues All Over and Let's Boogie-Woogie for some peppery blues piano playing. This is the real deal and bound to get your feet going.
You'll find Eden Brent's Ain't Got No Troubles (Yellow Dog) at iTunes or here.
Oddball album cover of the week. The music on this Buddy
Collette album from 1956 is fabulous. It features John Anderson (tp), Buddy Collette (cl,as,ts,fl), Gerald Wiggins (p), Jim Hall (g), Curtis Counce (b) and Chico Hamilton (d). As for the cover concept, it's strange to say the least. I'm not sure of the figurine's significance, but it certainly gives new meaning to the sculptural term "bust."