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Delmark Turns 50

Bob Koester
Bob Koester at one of the old Jazz Record Mart locations
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band in front of one of the old Jazz Record Marts
Bob Koester
Bob Koester in the old Delmark offices
Don Hill and Bob Koester
Don Hill (left) and Bob Koester in front of Seymour's Record Mart, July 1960

On September 19, 1953 Bob Koester became a “record man.” Koester was a 19-year-old trad-jazz devotee and college student at St.Louis University when he pressed up 400 red vinyl 10-inch copies of “Royal Garden Blues” by a local trad-jazz group, the Windy City Six. He stored the 78s in his dormitory room and named his label Delmar Records after Delmar Ave., the swingingest strip in St.Louis. Fifty years later, and with the ‘k’added because of a trademark conflict, Delmark and Koester are still going strong.

Although his passion was always jazz, Koester’s original plan was to get into film. “I knew I had entrepreneurial tendencies and thought I ought to take some business courses, so I went to St.Louis University with the idea of getting into cinematography. My parents, who were ardent Catholics, told me I had to go to a Jesuit college. So rather than go to Loyola in New Orleans or Chicago I figured I’d go to St.Louis U since it was closer to home for the trips back and forth. I knew it wouldn’t have as much jazz as Chicago and New Orleans, but when I got to St. Louis I discovered that [former Basie alto saxophonist] Tab Smith was playing half a block east of the campus, the ragtime pianist Charles Thompson had a tavern a couple more blocks east from there, and just down the street from that was a black jazz joint where Art Blakey, Miles Davis, Johnny Hodges and Horace Silver and different name people would come. Then a block north of the campus was a place called the PinUp Room, which had switched its policy to trad jazz. They had a group called the Windy City Six. So I spent my college years in those clubs, and I also spent a lot of time going to secondhand stores looking for old records. I was right in the middle of it all and this wonderful music just seduced me.”

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