Even in 2023 buying albums is one of the most direct ways you can support jazz. It’s also one of the most rewarding. While many artists self produce there are a few labels releasing albums that appeal to TST readers. I will explore them below and I hope you take some time to familiarize yourself with their catalogs. In picking albums to gift, or buy for yourself, I encourage you to weigh heavily in favor of either living artists, or the research projects where freshly restored recordings are accompanied by substantial album notes. Of course, also consider what the recipient will enjoy! If that is a 40 year old release completing a shelf of Vic Dickenson so be it.
Rivermont Records is easily the most important label to the music The Syncopated Times focuses on. Founded in 2003 by Bryan Wright they share our belief in balancing the study and appreciation of artists of the past with support and encouragement of those making music today. They have released a number of important historical albums that sometimes earn Grammy Nominations. The more obscure end of these include Edwin J. McEnelly’s Orchestra, Frank Westphal, The Dixie Daisys, Tom Clines, Charlie Straight, Nat Brusiloff, and Paul Specht, less obscure are Ted Lewis, Ted Weems, Isham Jones, Irving Arronson, Sam Lanin, Frank Banta, and their definitive must own restoration of The New Orleans Rhythm Kings. Also not to be missed are the twelve CDs of Rich Conaty’s Big Broadcast, with his selections of music from the 20s and 30s.
More recent history includes a 2 CD set of the late Ian Whitcomb with music from 1964 to 2009, and an important release of a set from 1992 including the best players of that time titled, One Step to Chicago: The Legacy of Frank Teschemacher and the Austin High Gang. They have also made all eleven of the recordings of the West End Jazz Band that were self released on cassette and CD between 1989 and 2007 available to purchase individually or as a set (download only). Rivermont has also produced an original album for the West End Jazz Band.
Close to my heart are the living artists for whom they have provided professional recording, distribution, and support. Most artists can only hope to unload their box of self produced CDs from the merch table. The value of connecting artists to an online market of eager buyers of music as obscure as contemporary solo piano ragtime cannot be overstated.
Rivermont is the only label releasing fresh material from current ragtime pianists in any meaningful way. Their artists include Domingo Mancuello, Adam Swanson, Ethan Uslan, Richard Dowling, Fredrick Hodges, Dalton Ridenhour, Andrew Oliver, Max Keenlyside, Will Perkins,, Ed Clute, Brian Holland, Bryan Wright, Martin Spitznagel, Carl Sonny Leyland, and Danny Coots. Several of these artists are also frequent jazz players. The have released several albums from The Peacherine Ragtime Society Orchestra and several wonderful collections of newly composed rags.
Rivermont has also released wonderful albums from Paul Asaro and the Fat Babies, The Chicago Cellar Boys, and Andy Schumm projects including Futuristic Rhythms: Imagining the Later Bix Beiderbecke. Alex Mendham, a young British band leader, chose Rivermont for the release of his Jazznocracy album, as did Matt Tolentino when he wanted a high production value release for his Singapore Slingers. The Original Cornell Syncopators, and the Bramin Bellhops fit right in with a focus on the hot dance band music the label understands so well.
For the younger set, they offer many selections on vinyl, including a few special issue 78 RPM vinyl (not shellac) pressings from groups like the Cellar Boys, Alex Mendham’s Orchestra, and the Graystone Monarchs. Rivermont Records continues to bridge the gap between old and new, young and old, in their support of the jazz and ragtime community. You can order everything in stock on CD, currently 85 albums, for $799.
Founded in 1998, Archeophone Records focuses on well researched releases of acoustic era recordings, roughly 1888 to 1925. They have a Phonographic Yearbook series where a variety of recordings from a given year are restored with substantial album notes. They also release historically significant projects including this year’ Loren McMurray set. Recent albums that we have not covered in the paper, but may interest readers with an interest in the earliest recorded sound include; Waxing the Gospel: Mass Evangelism and the Phonograph, 1890-1900, Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, Inventor of Sound Recording: A Bicentennial Tribute, Etching the Voice: Emile Berliner and the First Commercial Gramophone Discs, 1889-1895, Actionable Offenses: Indecent Phonograph Recordings from the 1890s, and Real Ragtime: Disc Recordings From Its Heyday.
They have artist focused albums on early recording stars including Bert Williams, Billy Murray, Sophie Tucker, Joe Weber and Lew Fields, Irving Kaufman, Henry Burr, Six Brown Brothers, Collins & Harlan, Arthur Feilds, Guido Deiro, Will Oakland, Marion Harris, Dan W. Quinn, Eddie Morton, Cal Stewart, and more. Specific to jazz and dance bands they have releases of Isham Jones, Art Hickman, Wilbur Sweatman, The Benson Orchestra of Chicago, The Wolverine Orchestra, Joseph C. Smith’s Orchestra, James Reese Europe, Gus Haenschen, several various artist collections, and are the home of Off The Record’s now famous King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band restoration and the follow up, Cabaret Echoes: New Orleans Jazzers at Work, 1918-1927.
It would be hard to exaggerate the significance of Archeophone Records in both preserving and encouraging a deeper knowledge of the acoustic recording era. Without their hard work much of this music could only be heard by the public on YouTube when a collector showed off his cylinders. The sometimes book length notes that accompany an Archeophone release and provide expert context for these records are worth the purchase price.
Turtle Bay Records
Turtle Bay is the newest label in the traditional jazz scene with a focus on making new recordings for a stable of current artists based primarily in New York City. Nearly all of their releases are available on LP. They have done a wonderful job promoting artists at a level of professionalism that is a rarity for traditional jazz musicians. Each release receives a series of promotional emails to people like me (but actually influential), and frequently music videos, listening parties, and “singles” that are released ahead of the album premiere. They treat new jazz albums the way they deserve to be treated. Recently they have started a YouTube series titled “On the Back Porch” where musicians are interviewed and then play a live set. These are fantastic and professional, and exactly what we need to reach new fans.
While they have only been around a few years the last several months have seen a swarm of new and important releases from the label. Mike Davis and his New Wonders are a new addition to the roster. They have also released an album for Hannah Gill. In the past they released a pairing of Terry Waldo with Tatiana Eva-Marie, and this year brought a previous release of hers to a broader audience. They have released several selections for Sweett Megg, including Christmas music and an excellent album with Ricky Alexander. Molly Ryan’s latest is on the label.
One important exception to their focus on new recordings is the re-release of The Bix Centennial All Stars: Celebrating Bix, which was recorded and released 20 years ago but deserved the double CD/LP and expansive album notes treatment that Turtle Bay has given it. That Dan Levinson turned to them for this job is evidence of their growing importance. Levinson has his own new record on Turtle Bay, joining The Palomar Trio, with Mark Shane and Kevin Dorn. Turtle Bay Records is a breath of fresh air, the bridge jazz needed to younger fans.
I recently acquired an ear opening collection of Arbors cassette tapes from the 1990s. They have been recording jazz long enough to have watched the young musicians playing with stars of a previous generation become the stars of a previous generation playing with young musicians. Founded in 1989 they have released around 450 albums with big names including Ruby Braff, Dick Hyman, Kenny Davern, Bob Wilber, Harry Allen, Dan Barrett, Bob Haggart, Dave Frishberg, Rebecca Kilgore, Johnny Varro, Warren Vache, George Masso, Bucky Pizzarelli, Bobby Gordon, Jackie Coon, Nicki Parrott, Ed Metz, Adrian Cunningham, Diego Figueiredo, and Jon-Erik Kellso. I would argue they are easily the most important label of the modern era, at least covering classic swinging jazz.
Arbors is still going strong under Rachael Domber and releasing several new albums a year. A recent one I can’t wait to listen to is Jon-Erik Kellso and the EarRegulars Live at the Ear Inn. We have reviewed more from the label than I can count, frequently releases from Adrian Cunnigham, or Nicki Parrot. Popular guitarist Diego Figueiredo is bringing new eyes to the label. CDs are a more than reasonable $10, and there is a clearance bin with some at $8. You can explore a number of releases from Bucky Pizzarelli, or other late stars, and even rabid collectors are likely to make new discoveries to fill out collections. Anything sold out on CD remains available as a download.
Upbeat Recordings has managed to keep hundreds of jazz albums available that otherwise wouldn’t be. In addition to their own releases they have acquired several important labels including Big Bill Bissonnette’s Jazz Crusade, Jazz Oracle, Retrospective, 504 Records, and the Lake label. If you are interested in British traditional jazz, or other excellent traditional jazz bands of the revival era in Europe they are the go to source. The carry a wide selection of releases from the last 75 years, the revival era, including some bands and artists still active today, complemented by a few choice sets from earlier stars and the priceless sets of 20s and 40s recordings on Oracle and Retrospective labels.
Imagine the old Columbia House catalog, but everything was your kind of jazz and there were dozens of new artists to explore. That is Upbeat Mail Order. While not an issue goes by that we don’t review one of their albums, we are always just barely scratching the surface. A random sample of artists includes Norman Thatcher’s Ragtime Band, Ken Colyer, George Lewis, Cuff Billet’s New Europa Jazz Band, Sideney DeeParis, Roger Marks Armada Jazz Band, Barfota Jazzmen, Tuba Fats, French Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Kid Ory, Red Allen, Crane River Jazz Band, Bob Wilbur, Sam Rimington, George Webb, and on and on. Spend a day doing a deep dive and build yourself a big box of new discoveries.
Some of the best jazz musicians are in Europe and many of the best records they are putting out are distributed by LaJazzetal. The catalog is an interesting mix of gypsy jazz from the contemporary stars of the style, the hottest of hot jazz from bands like the Dime Notes, and thoughtful but still hot chamber jazz from groups like Three Blind Mice. You will notice several albums from Evan Christopher and releases from New Orleans’ own Don Vappie. European artists of note include Guillaume Nouaux, Dave Kelbie, Malo Mazurié, Sébastien Girardot, Félix Hunot, Attila Korb, David Lukács, and Martin Wheatley. Some of the best jazz of the last decade is distributed on this label.
Camille Productions is the source of many of the best albums distributed by LeJazzetal and you can you find those albums and many more on their Bandcamp page. They released Evan Christopher’s marvelous tribute to Sidney Bechet last year, and I have two wonderful new CDs on my desk, Fine Ideas, featuring Michel Pastre, Louis Mazetier, and Guillaume Nouaux, and one from The Viper Club featuring Tcha Limberger, Jérôme Etcheberry, Dave Kelbie, Sébastien Girardot. They were also behind Etcheberry’s two Sachmocracy albums. This is rewarding, entertaining, swinging, and complex jazz and these have become some of my favorite living artists. Everything they have released is worth exploring, and you can preview it all on Bandcamp.
New Orleans based Jazzology has acquired ten labels and has a huge catalog available. American Music captured the early part of the revival making fresh recordings of Lizzie Miles, Bunk Johnson, George Lewis, Jim Robinson, Kid Ory, Baby Dodds, Leadbelly, Raymond Burke, Kid Thomas, Kid Howard, Alvin Alcorn, Punch Miller, Kid Sheik, and Billie & De De Pierce. On their G.H.B imprint they distribute other revival stars including George Lewis, John Handy, Turk Murphy, Lu Watters, Basin Street Six, Louis Nelson, Claude Luter, Kid Thomas, Sammy Rimmington, Pete Fountain, and Percy Humphery.
Jazzology distributes the original Paramount Records jazz and blues archive under the Black Swan Label. Circle has a focus on Big Bands, Audiophile has a focus on popular song, Solo Art has a piano focus, Southland covers the blues, and Jazzology itself concentrates on Chicago Jazz. This set up makes it very convenient for fans to get right to the style they want to hear.
New releases from their massive archive appear on many of those labels, but they also feature contemporary musicians. There are several releases from New Yorkers Jon-Erik Kellso and Daryl Sherman, and New Orleans-based artists like Lars Edegran, Don Suhor, and Orange Kellin of somewhat recent vintage. They have a members club for discounts on CDs and a catalog worthy of a lifetime of exploring.
Outside in Music
To me, the most notable thing about Outside in Music is that they treat traditional jazz and swing artists as seriously as they do the more modern artists they promote. The also understand which albums to send to The Syncopated Times, and which not to bother with, a truly unique level of jazz awareness in the industry! When albums have appeared from them that we initially thought wouldn’t fit our uniquely moldy persona a listen has often revealed something that if not a perfect fit, was still relevant, beautiful, and appealing to our readers.
Right now the primary artists to seek out on this label are swing band leader and all around genius Danny Jonokuchi, the marvelous Hailey Brinnel, and Mariel Bildsten. There may be other hidden gems, especially if your taste extends to the contemporary. It may be that after a generation or two in the wilderness, the contemporary is swinging back to us.
Launched in 1952 the Danish Storyville Records label has released countless records of both American and European musicians and helped launch groups like Papa Bue’s Viking Jazz Band to a worldwide audience. From classic players like Louis Armstrong and Art Tatum to notables of the 70s and 80s the label has a true wealth of material. But no, you don’t need to fill out an order form with carefully scrawled album numbers to send airmail and wait weeks for your box to arrive. (To anyone under 50, people really did that, and not so long ago.)
Someone at Storyville had the wonderful idea of putting their catalog on Bandcamp. A slow arduous process to be sure. Several new albums have gone up every week for the last few years and there are now hundreds available for listening and download at around $7 an album. Not everything will appeal to the traditional jazz fan, not by a long shot, but there is plenty to explore, from Duke Ellington, to Ralph Sutton to “Fesser” Lindgreen. Many of the greats you find will be live sets from their European tours, the once hard to find stuff, has been made easily accessible.
Whaling City Sound
Whaling City Sound is a small but passionate label promoting a number of contemporary, but not “out there” jazz artists. We have reviewed a number of their albums over the years including Danny Bacher and more recently Terry Gibbs, whose Legacy Band album is on the label. Last month I reviewed Mike Renzi and Jim Porcella’s Christmas duets album from Whaling City. While there is not much that fits our genres they are worth peaking in on from time to time and those with tastes inclusive of bop and contemporary jazz who want to discover new working artists are encouraged to do so.
Right now the primary albums to look out for on Dot Time are from the great Catherine Russell and under her guidance albums of new material from her father Luis Rusell. She has several albums of her own music on the label, and the first of two double discs of her father’s music was released this year. They have also released four Albums in the Louis Armstrong Legacy Series, now available as a set, they feature rare recordings that span his later career.
Evan Arntzen had a wonderful release on Dot Time titled Countermelody. Lizzie Thomas is a vocalist that they are currently promoting who many readers will enjoy. While there will only be an album or two a year from Dot Time that fits The Syncopated Times the ones that do are, as the kids say, “bangers”.
The Louisiana Music Factory
A record store in New Orleans, not a label, but they are the only place to order CDs or LPs from a multitude of New Orleans based artists who consign their physical copies there. For example, The Louisiana Music Factory is the only place authorized to sell Tuba Skinny’s CDs and LPs. Scores of other local artists also have albums available there that you won’t find anywhere else, in many cases not even on their websites or Bandcamp pages.
Galvanized Jazz Band
Not a record label, but the GJB has culled 50 years of archives to release a record labels worth of albums focused on their frequent guest musicians. An unfortunate number of these are recent tribute collections for people who are no longer with us. They have CDs of the band with Noel Kaletsky, George Masso, and Steve Yocum. Among the living who get an album are Herb Gardner, Sarah Spencer, and Jeff Barnhart. There are dozens more focused on themes or times and places. Every GJB release I have heard has been exciting and enjoyable music that transports you to a tavern in Connecticut to hear the real thing.
The Syncopated Times Bandcamp Page
Also not a label, we do not have one at this time, but it is safe to say our Bandcamp wishlist is the most extensive selection of self released traditional jazz albums currently available. We have 901 albums in our list as I write, nearly all from currently active artists who recorded the album in the last 7 years. That’s hundreds of bands and artists from dozens of countries, many with an average age under 40, many a tiny hot jazz oasis in a vast desert. All of them highly appreciative of your download purchase. At least a third even have CDs or LPs available. If you ever fear traditional jazz is dying visit our wishlist and discover a few dozen new hot bands.