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Gerry Teekens, Head of Criss Cross Jazz, Dies at 83

For almost 40 years, the Dutch producer and label owner made it his business to put out music with “some fire and some blood”

Gerry Teekens
Gerry Teekens (photo: Ethan Iverson)

Gerry Teekens, a record producer and label owner who was passionate in his embrace and promotion of straight-ahead jazz artists (especially in the United States), died on October 31 in Enschede, the Netherlands. He was 83.

His death was confirmed by his son, Gerry Teekens Jr., and by Criss Cross Jazz, the record label Teekens founded in 1981 and operated until his passing. Cause of death has not been disclosed.

Teekens’ passing unleashed a torrent of reactions from jazz musicians and fans on social media. “It’s hard for me to overstate the impact that [Teekens] and his label #crisscrossjazz have had on my life,” wrote violinist Zach Brock on Instagram.

“Criss Cross Records was THE label for me growing up,” said bassist Paul Sanwald on Twitter. “I’d buy as many new releases as I could afford and I knew they’d all be great.”

Himself a veteran drummer, Teekens was also a tour producer and promoter in the Netherlands. He founded Criss Cross Jazz as a means to record one of his clients at the conclusion of a European tour. Over the course of nearly four decades, he would oversee a prolific and beloved recorded legacy of over 400 albums—nearly all by American artists, whom Teekens would seek out and record on his biannual trips to New York.

His output was almost entirely “inside” mainstream jazz, though in his last years he made space at Criss Cross Jazz for some denser, more experimental releases. “There are never any restrictions on my dates; I just let the musicians play their music,” Teekens told jazz journalist David R. Adler in 2003. “As long as the music has some fire and some blood, I’m happy.”

Geert Teekens was born in The Hague on December 5, 1935. He became a fan of jazz at about the age of 12, when the music was reaching a zenith of popularity among Dutch music lovers. “Even the girls in the street knew Kenton and Konitz,” he recalled in a 2005 interview.

Teekens became a professional drummer in the 1960s, playing jazz throughout Europe for much of the decade. He was also fluent in German, and when he left the road he was offered a position as a college professor in that language, a job he retained for 25 years. However, he never lost his affection for jazz, and in the late 1970s he began booking Dutch and larger European tours for American jazz artists. When guitarists Jimmy and Doug Raney concluded one such tour in February 1981, Teekens made arrangements for them to record in the Dutch city of Hilversum with a European rhythm section. The resulting album, Raney ’81, became the first release on Teekens’ new recording imprint, Criss Cross Jazz—named for the transatlantic travel that the musicians and their music undertook in order to make the records.

Thus began a series of releases that numbered 404 as of May 2019. With a single exception—Back on the Scene, a 1985 album by Dutch saxophonist Joe Van Enkhuizen—Teekens’ releases were made by artists based in the U.S. and Canada. The Criss Cross catalogue included a wide swath of musicians that crossed styles and generations, from post-World War II legends Chet Baker and Warne Marsh to 21st-century arrivals Lage Lund and Matt Brewer.

He had a particular soft spot for up-and-coming young musicians, telling Adler that “I’d rather record guys who are really eager to play than feature big names who have recorded many times already. There’s a lot of fire among the younger musicians.”

Criss Cross’ earliest releases were recorded in the Netherlands, but in 1984 Teekens began making twice-yearly trips to New York in search of new additions to his roster. “He asks everyone he meets the same question: ‘What have you heard recently that you like?’” wrote Peter Watrous in a 1996 New York Times profile. “And like the most successful record companies of the past, he has relied on musicians as his talent scouts.”

As the sole proprietor of Criss Cross, Teekens kept it a resolutely small operation, albeit one with a reputation for high-quality production and packaging. This allowed musicians to escape the corporate atmosphere of promotion and marketing that was associated with larger domestic labels. The flip side, however, was that they had to reckon with Teekens’ notoriously spendthrift ways—a source of both amusement and bemusement for the artists with whom he worked.

Teekens and Criss Cross continued putting out music at a regular pace, with a handful of new releases coming approximately every four months until the 404th, saxophonist Noah Preminger’s After Life, in May. Even then, however, there was no indication that the schedule would cease any time soon. “I’m still here,” Teekens said in 2005, “because I go for this music!”

In addition to his son, Gerry Jr., Teekens is survived by his wife and two granddaughters.

Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.