June 2000

Label Watch: Go Jazz

Before and since starting his Go Jazz label 10 years ago, Ben Sidran has worked as singer, pianist, songwriter, producer, music authority and, for much of the 1980s, as TV/radio host. This year, Go Jazz is celebrating its 10th anniversary with an attractive batch of releases and a new distribution agreement through Allegro, which makes the entire 40-plus album catalog available in the U.S. for the first time.

“The whole idea [of Go Jazz] started with working with people I met who I liked who I knew should be recorded, who had histories,” says Sidran. “My idea was to keep them in the context of their history. I’m really in some ways just the opposite of most big record companies that find people who are young—they sell youth. I like to find people who have a history and who are carrying on a tradition in their own personal way, and who are stylists and individualists. Like Go Jazz artists Gege [Telesforo] in Italy, Georgie [Fame] in England, Clementine in France, Charlie Wood in Memphis, Ricky Peterson in Minneapolis, Phil Upchurch in Los Angeles, there are plenty of people doing that all over the world!”

Born Aug. 14, 1943, in Chicago and raised in Wisconsin, Sidran studied at the University of Wisconsin, played in a band with Boz Scaggs and Steve Miller from 1961 to ’64, obtained his graduate degree in American Studies from Sussex University in England in 1971 and published his dissertation as the book Black Talk. Upon his return to the U.S., Sidran and his family settled briefly in Los Angeles, where he made his solo recording debut (“the first time I ever sang in my life”), then headed back to Madison, Wis.

In the ensuing two decades, Sidran amassed 20 solo albums; worked again with Scaggs and Miller; produced albums for Phil Upchurch, Tony Williams, John Hendricks, Diana Ross and others; published his second book, Talking Jazz; and appeared regularly on radio and TV before mounting time demands of his new label forced him to quit.

Sidran sees the world as truly shrinking and Go Jazz as a small but global effort. CDs are manufactured and marketed by Artelier Media in Cologne, Germany. Recording, design, editing and liner notes are created wherever they happen to come about.

The first Go Jazz albums were released in September 1989. “The label set out to make records of the kind that weren’t getting made and with people who weren’t getting recorded,” Sidran says. “I found distribution partners around the world who would come up with advances so we could make records and start to build this catalog.”

What catches Sidran’s ears? “Just something that moves me, for whatever reason,” he says. “I like all kinds of music. And it’s gotta be someone I like as a person, because I’m going to be dealing with them. I don’t want to deal with jerks.”

Sidran started out focusing on jazz containing some vocal elements, but expanded to include players he admires as instrumentalists. “I’m looking for somebody who has their own voice, somebody who is mature and is making a statement. Then I have to like the statement that they’re making; I have to feel comfortable with it. Maybe it comes from some of the roots that I come from, whether it’s bebop, R&B. It doesn’t have to sound to me like it’s going to sell a million copies. It’s just got to sound to me like something that deserves to be released, [a project] that has something different about it.”

One of the most remarkable releases this year is Sidran’s own CD, The Concert for Garcia Lorca, gorgeously packaged as an attractive 112-page book in English and Spanish, with a CD tucked into the inside back pocket. Sidran is featured in a charmed set with his son, Leo, on drums, saxophonist Bobby Martinez and bassist Manuel Calleja. “The performance was done as a tribute to [Spanish poet and dramatist] Lorca at his home on his piano on the anniversary of his 100th birthday. It wasn’t done to be a record but was for his family and people who knew him. And when it was over, I was handed a tape of it, which was like this little miracle. It’s very powerful. It’s like a haunted recording.”

This year’s Go Jazz recordings feature Sidran’s 23-year-old son; blues singer-pianist Di Anne Price; saxophonist Bob Malach (duets with Michel Petrucciani, recorded in 1990); vocalese master Georgie Fame; saxophonist Charlie Wood; French jazz singer Clementine; and a Go Jazz anniversary compilation, to be followed by a tour.

Always thinking creatively, Sidran has plans for a 10-CD series called “Talking Jazz,” which will feature transcribed conversations with great jazz musicians published in book form with a CD in the back. “I own hundreds of hours of taped interviews done in recording studios with all the most important jazz musicians of the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s: Miles Davis talking about the relationship of his painting to his playing; Freddie Hubbard talking about how Eric Dolphy and the modernists changed what he did and demonstrating on the trumpet how he would play things differently; Art Blakey demonstrating how he uses a press roll to conduct the band; Max Roach talking about how the rhythm of the subways he rode influenced the rhythms that he played.”

In addition to his label duties, Sidran travels half of the time performing, recording or producing sessions (like recent ones for Rickie Lee Jones and Mose Allison) around the world. Yet Sidran still finds time for family (and golf), and is working on his personal memoirs. You can reach Sidran through his Web site, www.bensidran.com.

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