Don't recognize the name? Jordi Pujol is the owner of Spain's Fresh Sound label. Since the 1980s, Fresh Sound has specialized in releasing American jazz albums from the 1950s that U.S. labels have all but ignored, overlooked or forgotten. In this regard, Fresh Sound has performed a heroic task, rescuing jazz's greatest decade from the dumb clutches of record conglomerates that have all but written off the music. You see, with the advent of the digital age in the 1990s, many American record companies shifted priorities, treating their rich jazz catalogs like junk unworthy of remastering or re-issuing. The big names saw the light of day again but not the lesser lights. Enter Jordi Pujol and Fresh Sound. [Photo of Jordi Pujol by Eric Garault]
Fresh Sound, which is based in Spain, has been able to accomplish this noble task thanks largely to smart deal-making with artists and favorable European copyright laws. These laws state that recorded music dating back 50 years or more is in the public domain. This means European companies are allowed to issue the music that American labels have written off without the burden of paying hefty copyright fees. In the process, many American consumers have developed a flawed impression about Fresh Sound—that it's somehow in the bootlegging business or that it's skirting laws.
So I simply reached out to Jordi Pujol, who agreed to answer the big questions that jazz fans have on their minds. Jordi not only happily answered all of my questions without hesitation, he also provided me with lots of great photos of him and American jazz legends whom he has befriended over the years. Hopefully his answers will clear up the misconceptions and shed light on a business few fans know about:
JazzWax: Does Fresh Sound owe jazz artists or their families royalties on the albums it issues?
Jordi Pujol: First of all, if you are talking about public domain recordings—music that was recorded more than 50 years ago—such recordings do not require such payments under European union copyright laws. These laws are different than yours in the U.S. But if we’re talking about recordings that were provided to Fresh Sound by artists or their families, that’s a different matter. Over the years, I’ve purchased many tapes from jazz musicians, and I’ve also been in touch with musicians’ widows for recordings. In every case, I’ve reached an agreement with them and paid them whatever was required for their permission to release the material on Fresh Sound. [Pictured at top: Bebo Valdez and Jordi Pujol; bottom: Bill Holman and Jordi Pujol]
JW: What about mechanical royalties paid to composers?
JP: We pay mechanical royalties for each song on our CDs to the Spanish Society of Composers (SGAE)—which is similar to your ASCAP or BMI, and is required by law here. Of course, the process under which such payments are accounted for and distributed is a function of SGAE, not Fresh Sound. Under Spanish law, to release recordings legally, you need to pay mechanical royalties to SGAE for composers, even if the recording itself is in the public domain. Currently, composers still have 70 years of posthumous copyright protection. [Pictured: Jordi Pujol and Frank Strazzeri]
JW: What is the source of Fresh Sound’s releases?
JP: At Fresh Sound, we have a large warehouse of reel-to-reel tapes that we bought from many different record labels in the 1980s, when the LP was still the dominant format. Back then, some well-known labels and quite a few American companies traveled to Midem, the big annual recording-industry trade show in Cannes, France, to sell or license all kind of tapes in their vaults. Ironically, the first entities that came to Europe to sell what you in the U.S. call “bootlegs” actually were American companies. This occurred long before any label in Europe started to issue recordings that are in the public domain.
JW: How could they do this?
JP: I assume these recordings were not protected under the U.S. copyright law, so these American companies could deal them at Midem. You should know that we never bought them. But it was common practice back then. With the rise of the CD in the 1990s, new European labels began to capitalize on the public domain laws here, which is perfectly legal.
JW: What triggered the shift?
JP: Before 1995, the copyright laws in Europe varied and weren’t standardized. So, for example, until that year, Spanish law protected sound recordings for 40 years after their release date, based on a law from 1987. Prior to 1987, sound recordings were protected only for 25 years. Before 1995, only France and England had a 50-year protection term. Other countries like Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and much of Europe had protection terms that went from 15 to 25 years. [Pictured from left: Bill Perkins, Jordi Pujol and Bob Cooper]
JW: And in Italy?
JP: In Italy, live recordings were not protected at all. That’s why many live concerts were released on LP or CD back then. They were called bootlegs in the U.S., but they were not illegal in Italy. There simply were no laws there regulating live recordings in that country then.
JW: What changed in Europe?
JP: In October 1995, all European Union countries agreed to adopt the same period of protection for sound recordings, 50 years, starting that same year. So, for example, in Spain, before 1995, recordings had had 40 years of protection. But with the addition of 10 years based on the new law, 1955 was not public domain until 2006. [Pictured: Jordi Pujol with Buddy Collette]
JW: So issuing these recordings isn't bootlegging?
JP: People in the U.S. who think that most European labels are issuing bootlegs are misinformed. Here’s a translation of Article 119 of the Spanish copyright law: “The duration of the rights given to the producers of a sound recording will be 50 years, counting from January 1st of the year after it was recorded.” So if and when copyright protection is extended to 70 years, that means that from the year the law enters into effect—let’s say in 2012—all recordings from 1962 with a legitimate copyright claim will be protected until the year 2033. [Pictured: Marty Paich and Jordi Pujol]
JW: If adopted, will the new 70-year European copyright law affect Fresh Sound?
JP: It’s too soon to say how much the extension of an additional 20 years of protection will affect European labels like mine. Obviously it will be a handicap for most labels here. Jazz fans should also be concerned about this coming change. [Pictured: Pete Rugolo and Jordi Pujol]
JP: Because it will limit what can be issued under the public domain laws. For example, I regularly receive hundreds of emails from jazz collectors asking me to reissue specific albums that are out of print in the U.S. and locked away in record company vaults. Often, the recordings they request are not yet in the public domain. Under past laws, many of those albums were just a few years away from qualifying. But that’s going to change. Any hope of our releasing choice recordings from the '60s and beyond, for example, will vanish with the new law if that recording is copyrighted. [Pictured: Jordi Pujol and Roy Harte]
JP: In virtually every case, the American labels that own the masters will not be interested in reissuing them, and we cannot either until they are in the public domain in Europe.
JW: Does Fresh Sound use LPs as a source?
JP: Yes, of course, when we need to. We always use clean or mint LPs, as well 45-rpms and 78-rpms if need be. We also use the most advanced technology to restore and improve the sound of these old recordings, in most cases improving on the original sound. [Pictured: Supersax. From left, Lanny Morgan, Jay Migliori, Jordi Pujol, Med Flory, Ray Reed and Jack Nimitz]
JW: Does Fresh Sound pay to license source material?
JP: Yes, we pay when it’s required. For example we have worked with RCA for many years and have always paid for the material we use. But if it’s a recording that has already gone into the public domain here, we are not required to do so. Some labels, however, don’t invest anything in restoration technology, using CDs that are already in the market to produce their own. That way they can sell their products much cheaper. I can say that every master in the Fresh Sound catalog for the last 15 years has been sent to a studio to be newly mastered before heading to the pressing plant. [Pictured: Shorty Rogers and Jordi Pujol]
JW: Is Fresh Sound affiliated with Lone Hill?
JP: Not at all. Fresh Sound is my label, and it’s based in Barcelona, Spain. It’s not affiliated with any other jazz label. Many people believe that all labels coming from Andorra or Spain are related to Fresh Sound. This is simply not true.
JW: When did your love for jazz begin?
JP: I began listening to swing bands at home when I was a child. My father had records by Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Artie Shaw as well as by Duke Ellington and Count Basie. My father loved Johnny Hodges and Coleman Hawkins. Back then, being a jazz collector or jazz fan wasn’t easy. It was hard to find jazz albums in record shops here. Every LP was like a trophy. [Pictured: Jordi Pujol at home in Barcelona, Spain]
JW: When did you buy your first jazz album?
JP: When I was 14 years old. It was Hank Mobley’s A Caddy for Daddy. Soon I started my own collection, apart from my father’s records. I knew all my LPs by heart. I loved trumpet players. I played trumpet too, but I never studied. I learned everything by ear. Fats Navarro and Clifford Brown were my favorites, and Lee Morgan was my hero. Later I became attracted to West Coast jazz as well. I was especially interested in the work of arrangers Bill Holman, Marty Paich, Shorty Rogers, Jimmy Giuffre and many others. Today I still enjoy jazz from the 50s and 60s.
JW: Fresh Sound also records new albums, yes?
JP: Absolutely. Over the years, Fresh Sound has recorded over 70 albums with legendary jazzmen. In the last 15 years many of those albums have been produced by my friend Dick Bank in Los Angeles. I feel very fortunate to have shared the passion of reissuing old recordings and releasing new ones, especially by new artists, on Fresh Sound’s New Talent label. All in all, producing these albums has been an exciting experience for me. As most buyers can tell, it’s a labor of love. I think the consumer recognizes and appreciates this.
JazzWax note: All personal photos courtesy of Jordi Pujol.