Can recording stars of 1978 and their record companies come to terms? I hope so. Unless those composers and corporations find common ground over copyrights, you may see both entities hacking themselves to death in court over royalties in the coming year as the rest of us move on. [Pictured: Persian Wall by Dale Chihuly, 2001]
Here's why: Back in 1976, Congress updated the copyright law to state that in 35 years from 1978, recording artists could reclaim the rights to their compositions recorded that year. That means folks like Billy Joel, the Bee Gees, Barry Manilow and dozens of others with blockbuster albums. As you may recall, 1978 was a huge year for music and album sales. [Pictured: Ilkurlka, Simon Hogan, 2004]
But wait, you say, doesn't 1978 + 35 = 2013? That's right. But according to the rules, artists must file what's known as a rights termination notice at least two years before the date they want to recoup their work. And that's now. With rights in hand, when a label sells albums, the song's composers would receive 100% of the royalties if the paperwork were filled out correctly. [Pictured: Paint It Black, Melissa Meyer, 2009]
Seems simple enough, but it's not. The record companies are gearing up for a legal Battle of the Bulge. They don't appear to be willing to part with their golden geese that easily. According to Larry Rohter's reporting in the New York Times last week, the ailing record industry plans to force artists to take them to court to get their works, thereby compelling them to spend millions on legal fees. [Pictured: From the series My Ghost, Adam Fuss, 1999]
Let's step back for a moment. There are no heavies here. It would be unfair and too easy to condemn the record industry. Despite our '70s image of record companies as slimy entities run by thieving, coke-sniffing lizards, the industry has evolved. Talk to a record executive today, and you'll get a reasonable earful about how tough it is to find new artists today who can earn top dollars and keep them profitable.
In all fairness, the digital age is a bear, and classic rock, pop and jazz artists are the bread and butter of many of the top labels. What's more, these labels have done a fabulous job repackaging and marketing classic albums in box sets. Thanks to new technology, most sound much better than ones issued just 10 years ago, and the liner notes are stronger and more informative. [Pictured: Untitled, Cindy Sherman, 2008]
But wait. On the composers' side, they were the creators of the music, the artists who conceived of the music. It was their imaginative and inspirational vision and talents that record companies leveraged to earn bazillions of dollars. And by now, record companies certainly have earned plenty and some off of these artists, especially in the "complete sessions" era, when vaults have been strip mined. Besides, the 1976 copyright law change was clear from the start about the timetable. Nothing has been a mystery or a surprise.
Now that the emotional issues are out of the way, let's examine. No one could have envisioned the digital age and downloading back in 1976. Or that record stores would disappear and the sale of one album could be shared with dozens of friends, robbing artists and record companies of bazillions in sales. In other words, record companies rely on profits from the classics to take risks on new artists. [Pictured: The Gravity of Color, New Britain, Lisa Hoke, 2008]
So perhaps what's best is a negotiated settlement: Artists would get the rights to their works as the copyright law dictates, but they'd be mandated to give their original labels first crack at licensing the music's use at an initial discounted rate for a set period, after which artists would receive the standard fee. Such a deal would save artists a ton of money in legal fees and record companies could continue to hold down royalty costs. Last time I checked, the composers of '78 did pretty well over the past 35 years thanks to the sweat of sales, marketing and promotion teams.
If a slugfest does occur, I can assure you that artists and companies will both lose. Artists will paint record companies as pariahs, giving consumers an even greater incentive to download music for free. By the time the battle is settled, classic rock will have become, to use a '70s term, played. Classic-rock concert ticket sales without the support of record company marketers reissuing new sets also will be hurt. Hopefully greed will give way to common sense and common ground. [Pictured: Self-Portrait with Pipe, No. 7, Nelson Diaz, 2008]
More Steve Allen. JazzWax reader Bob Waldman sent along this clip of Steve Allen in color from 1960. Highlights: An ad for a Plymouth with a 45-rpm record player built in, and songs by guest Tony Bennett with Les Brown's band...
Kevin Dean. Here's a videoprofile from director Randy Cole on Montreal trumpeter-composer Kevin Dean...
Delta blues redux. Director Raymond De Felitta ('Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris here) is making a documentary on Greenwood, Miss., a followup of sorts to his father's own mid-'60s trip there to film a documentary on the town's black residents. Go here to follow Raymond's personal e-diary on the making of this film.
Harry James for sale. JazzWax reader Leslie Westbrook sent along a link to a site that's selling Harry James memorabilia, including his trumpets. Go here.
CD discoveries of the week. The modern electric guitar starts with Charlie Christian. A new album, Charlie Christian: Electric (Uptown), starts with jam sessions from 1939 (Tea for Two, Stardust and I Got Rhythm) and shifts to Benny Goodman Sextet radio recordings from 1939 to 1940. Christian died in 1942 at age 25, greatly weakened by a severe bout of tuberculosis in the early '40s. What you notice immediately about this CD is the crisp, warm clarity of the remastering. The jam session tracks are powerful reminders of how advanced Christian was. He's joined by tenor saxophonist Jerry Jerome, pianist Frankie Hines and bassist Oscar Pettiford. The Goodman sessions provide a sense of how Christian moved in and out and around Goodman's solo clarinet. The CD is worthwhile for Christian's solo on Stardust alone. You'll find this one here.
It's hard to believe that Ben Waters is only 35 years old. Waters is an exceptional modern boogie-woogie piano player with a rock-R&B bent. He's joined on his latest album, Boogie 4 Stu (Eagle), by members of the Rolling Stones, including a vocal by Mick Jagger. On the CD, Waters pounds out 11 rambunctious honky tonks in tribute to Ian Stewart, a Scottish pianist and co-founder of the Rolling Stones before becoming their road manager in 1963. Stewart died in 1985. Waters has enormous spirit, and it's hard to keep your knees from swinging back and forth reflexively. Waters' technique harkens back to vintage players like Memphis Slim, Professor Longhair and Jerry Lee Lewis. Sample Boogie for Stu, Watchin' the River Flow (Jagger's vocal and harmonica) and Roll 'Em Pete. You'll find this one at iTunes and here.
Larry Vuckovich is a pianist who happens to sound like two pianists playing at once. On Somethin' Special (Tetrachord), he fronts a quartet with tenor saxophonist Noel Jewkes, bassist Paul Keller and drummer Chuck McPherson. They're joined by tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton on 5 of the 11 tracks. If all of that weren't enough, the song selections are smashing. Sonny Clark's Somethin' Special, Horace Silver's Enchantment, Tadd Dameron's Soultrane, Thelonious Monk's Pannonica, Dexter Gordon's Cheese Cake and Antonio Carlos Jobim's How Insensitive—plus five more. This album bristles with confidence and muscle, treating each song with enormous gusto. You'll find this one at iTunes or here.
Clarinetist and tenor saxophonist Frank Griffith's new big band album, Holland Park Non-Stop (Hep), covers a lot of musical territory—from Horace Silver's Strollin' to Body and Soul and These Foolish Things, as well as a number of Frank's originals. Frank has worked with several leading big bands over the years, including those led by Toshiko Akiyoshi, Mel Lewis, Buddy Rich and Mel Torme. Frank's tone on the reeds is warm and breathy, and the band swings away on every track. The arrangements are all Frank's. For more, go here. You'll find this one at iTunes and here.
Oddball album cover of the week. I'm not sure why a model holding a clarinet up to the bell of a French horn is a selling point or even a moment of excitement. But sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. This nonet date from June 1957 is actually superb. On the session: Conte Candoli (tp) John Graas (fhr) Red Callender (tu) Art Pepper (as) Bob Cooper (ts) Buddy Collette (bar) Paul Moer (p) Red Mitchell (b) Shelly Manne (d).