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Citizen Jazz

Column: Label Profile

32 Jazz

32 Jazz
September 1999

32 Records
Hires Todd Barkan

AAJ News Story

Joel Dorn
Interview By

Chris Slawecki

Buy it Amazon.com

32 Jazz: Anthropology New and Old

By C. Michael Bailey

The Gold Rush of the ‘90s. Jazz listeners have had an embarrassment of riches in the latter 1990s with the major labels such as Blue Note and Verve re-releasing classic music of the 1940s through the 1960s at a midline price. Coupled with the rise of budget jazz labels such as Naxos Jazz and DBK Jazz, each producing new jazz, and the public has a better choice of recorded jazz today than any time previously. Emerging into this market in 1995 was 32 Jazz, a label started by Grammy-Award-winning Joel Dorn and musician/lawyer Robert Miller, an unlikely pair who have uncovered a special niche in the jazz market: Acquiring and reissuing vintage jazz recordings and previously unreleased recordings.

The Sum Of Its Parts. 32 Records does not only specialize in vintage jazz. There is also 32 Blues, 32 R&B, 32 Pop, and 32 Groove. The philosophy for all sub-labels is the same: identify under-appreciated and less exposed music, provide it in novel and superior packaging and present it at an affordable price. The packaging is notable. The Q-Pack is a readily recognizable advance over the traditional jewel box. It is two pieces of hard black plastic that can withstand a Honda Civic rolling over it (a small experiment). The case sports a self-adhering label rather than relying on the booklet seen through a clear plastic (and friable) face cover. The liner booklet is included inside. No more broken jewel cases, no more broken disc holders, and a slightly lighter case.

Moses und Aaron. Joel Dorn and Robert Miller teamed up in 1995 to launch 32 Records. Dorn, a Grammy-Award winning producer began his musical career in 1961 as a disc jockey at Philadelphia’s WHAT-FM. By way of his gig there, he then went on to meet Nesuhi Ertegun of Atlantic Records who gave Dorn the opportunity of producing one artist of his choice. Dorn chose Hubert Laws and the result was The Laws of Jazz. Joel Dorn was off and running.

In 1967, Dorn joined Atlantic Records full-time as Ertegun’s assistant. In this capacity, Dorn acted as Atlantic Record’s utility infielder, working as A&R man, producer, and promoter. He was charged with signing artists, producing their records, and becoming intimately involved with the resulting album’s promotion and marketing. Dorn continued up the Corporate stairway to a vice presidency. Turning his attention almost exclusively to R&B and Jazz, Dorn invented a unique production style for the late ‘60s, one that employed popular music techniques to these niche musics.

Curriculum Vitea. In 1974, Joel’s tenure at Atlantic Ended. During this next period Joel Dorn was instrumental in Roberta Flack’s Atlantic success with “Killing Me Softly” and “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”, for which he won two Grammy Awards for “Record of the Year”. He went on to produce award-winning recordings by Bette Midler, Gary Burton and Keith Jarrett, Leon Redbone, Lou Rawls, The Neville Brothers, Don McLean, Mink DeVille, and Asleep at the Wheel. Whoa! Talk about cross-dressing…err crossing genre lines. Joel Dorn has found himself straddling all of popular music.

By the Mid-1890s, Dorn decided to slow down and focus his attention on the history of American Music. He traveled across the country compiling over 250,000 hours of previously unreleased live music. Shortly after compiling this phenomenal fortune, Dorn produced some pivotal recordings on his own label, Night Records label. These releases included live performances by Julian Adderley, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Eddie Harris. Soon Dorn was asked to consult for Rhino, GRP, and Columbia. He produced a 13-disc overview of Atlantic Records for Rhino. Most notable from this period was his work on the 7-disc box set detailing John Coltrane’s Atlantic period, which included “My Favorite Things” and “Giant Steps”, earning him yet another Grammy nomination.

In the mid-1990s, Joel Dorn’s personal sphere intersected that of lawyer/musician Robert Miller, a man as notable as Dorn in a different arena altogether. A native of New York City, Miller was exposed to music from an early age by his father, and professional trumpet player. Starting on piano, he quickly switched to the electric bass in the middle of the “British Invasion” in the 1960’s.

Robert attended university, gaining an undergraduate degree in Broadcasting and Film. During and after this period he became a fixture on the Boston entertainment scene, playing in several local clubs. He performed with the late Jaki Byard and studied with Jimmy Garrison. Finding music a difficult living, Miller in 1975, decide to pursue a career in law, while playing jazz at night. As Miller states, “…things did not go quite as I planned. Following graduation, from law school, Miller went on to distinguish himself in bankruptcy law where he was instrumental is such cases as R.H. Macy, Trump’s Taj Mahal, Continental Airlines, and A.H Robins.

The Prodigal Son. By 1990, Robert Miller felt a void. He realized that he had been out of music for almost 15 years and he decided to remedy that. He started back playing bass regularly and in 1994 recorded his first CD, Child’s Play, a lively affair mix of original compositions and six covers, ranging from Miles Davis to Jimi Hendrix. Next, Robert formed his own touring band, the Robert Miller Group, a contemporary Jazz combo. Miller and his band originally started gigging around New York and then, in the Summer of 1995, hit the festival circuit. In Fall of the same year, Miller’s path crossed Joel Dorn’s, mutual interests were realized and 32 Records was born.

32 at 4. Four years after its inception, 32 records has as impressive a stable of reissued recordings as most major labels. For the jazz portion of the label, the purchase of the Muse/Landmark catalogs of approximately 600 recordings. Many of these recordings are seminal and have been our-of-print for some time. These includes Sonny Stitt’s Last Sessions Volumes One and Two, Larry Coryell’s Shining Hour, Woody Shaw’s Little Red’s Fantasy, and Pat Martino’s First Light. The most popular releases are the compilation Jazz For… series, which is made up of Jazz For The Open Road, Jazz For The Quiet Times, Jazz For A Rainy Afternoon, Jazz For When You’re Alone. The label advertises that one of these recording s is purchased ever 33 seconds (during a normal working day). For jazz, that is impressive.

In The Present. This year, 32 Records slated to release over 100 titles. My last stroll through Barnes and Noble certainly supports this plan. Thirty-Two Jazz readily fills a void in the jazz market with inexpensive re-releases and first releases of important performances. The potential growth of this label to include the moribund catalogs of other small or independent labels makes 32 Jazz the jazz label to watch in the new millennium.

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