December 1998

Peter D. Goldsmith
Making People’s Music Moe Asch and Folkways Records

When Norman Granz decided to release his Jazz at the Philharmonic masters on a small-time label, he consulted the New York City Yellow Pages. The first name he found was Asch.

Moe Asch was so excited by the music that offered Granz $2000 and a royalty of 15 cents per record. Too good a deal, Granz thought, so he had the contract drawn for $1,850 plus 15 cents.

The ink barely dry, Asch sold that contract—and 105 others—to his new partners, Stinson Records. For a grand total of $1. So the first JATP album was first released on the Ach-Stinson label.

This very detailed biography shows Moe Asch as more an eclectic fan that a business man. He recorded jazz by James P. Johnson, Jess Stacy, Mary Lou Williams, Coleman Hawkins, Art Tatum, Meade “Lux” Lewis, Stuff Smith, Bunk Johnson, Erroll Garner, Joe Sullivan, Pee Wee Russell, Muggsy Spanier, Sidney Bechet, Charlie Ventura, DonByas, Red Norvo, Doc Evans, and Lennie Tristano, among others.

But Asch put his heaviest emphasis on recording the music of Leadbelly, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and many, many other folk artists.

Moe Asch died of a heart attack in 1985. Just before his catalog, now on Folkways, was sold to the Smithsonian.

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