Label Watch: Consolidated Artists
Even though pianist Mike Longo had connections with three major labels during the late 1970s, he was getting frustrated with the dictates of their managers: “They tried to rock and roll me to death,” he said. “All they kept asking for was jazz rock.”
Longo’s frustration led him to start his own label, Consolidated Artists Productions (CAP), with his first release coming out in 1979. That recording featured Longo on solo piano, and the praise it received from the jazz press energized the fledgling company to press on to new things.
“A lot of cats in New York were doing the same thing that I was,” he recalled. “They’d run into problems with the bigger labels and then tried to start their own out of frustration. But radio stations and magazines don’t take a label seriously when it has only one release.”
Longo, a former sideman with Dizzy Gillespie, decided to bring many of these micro-labels under his CAP umbrella, resulting in what he described as a “flea market” or a front—a place where musicians could produce, market, and totally own their own recordings, but with every release carrying the CAP label.
“After 20 years, things have really evolved,” said Longo. “We are distributed by Empire Music and we’re in the major chains. We have 32 CDs out now, and all are by various artists who have total creative freedom to present the music they want.”
Working with Longo as officers of the label are CEO Dave Usher; sax artist Lee Greene, who is vice president of marketing; and Jeff Brown, executive producer. “But the label actually belongs to the artists whose work we distribute,” said Longo. “We have to approve each project that comes along, but we do not impose any artistic control. What you hear is what the artists want you to hear.”
Longo’s philosophy for the label stretches back to his youth when he listened to recordings by the Oscar Peterson Trio and the Basie Band. “When you heard those recordings, you knew that those people cared about you and were playing just for you. That’s the spirit I want to bring back with CAP records. And one of the ways of doing it is letting the artists do their thing.”
Dave Usher was also closely associated with Dizzy in the 1950s when he and Diz founded DG Records. “Dave went on a tour with Dizzy in 1956 for the State Department and recorded the performances with no commercial intent,” said Longo. “Dizzy just wanted a record of the concerts.” Usher brought these and other chestnuts to the CAP label, and the first of three volumes of previously unreleased Gillespie material, Dizzy in South America, is taking off.
Usher has also worked to secure distribution, a catalog, and the label’s comprehensive web site, (www.jazzbeat.com).
Besides being a recording executive, Longo heads his own trio and is now writing charts for his big band, which he has also recently recorded. In addition, he’s an educator and prolific writer of jazz textbooks.
Besides the Gillespie material, other top sellers for CAP are pianist Beegie Adair’s Escape to New York, and guitarist Adam Rafferty’s Blood, Sweat, and Bebop. Longo is also high on pianist Sarah Jane Cion, whose recording Indeed is rising on the Gavin charts, and pianist Jay D’Amico, whose recording Ponte Novello presents jazz interpretations of opera classics. Longo’s own current recording, Dawn of a New Day, is also a mover.
He says that anyone who buys a CAP recording can expect a groove: “Our catalog is mostly mainstream, but we don’t discourage other forms of jazz. We have some avant garde projects that are real quality. We are 100-percent behind our artists, and the only money we make from them comes from a nominal fee we charge to keep the label going. The majority of profits go right back to the artists.”
Longo laments that jazz recordings now represent only a small percent of the market, but he’s hopeful for the future, especially after noticing a large influx of teenagers at several of his recent gigs. “The younger generation seems to be displaying better musical tastes,” he says, “so that’s why I’m optimistic.”