It is always tempting to explain one story in the light of another, and in the case of guitarist and composer Dagobert Böhm's Ozella Music label, it is inevitable to be reminded of Windham Hill, the record company started by the guitarist William Ackerman in 1976. Like Windham Hill, Ozella started out as one-man project run by a guitarist and evolved into something more, and both have a focus on acoustic and lyrical music and the kind of atmospheric and meditative sounds that are often termed new age or lounge. But this is also where the comparison stops. While Windham Hill was eclectic and had a jazz division in its prime, it was never really a jazz label. The focus of Ozella is primarily on jazz and with its two subsidiaries, Ozella Lounge and Songways (concentrating on singer/songwriters), the priorities are clear.
While Ozella is first and foremost a jazz label, jazz in Dagobert Böhm's ears also means that there can be influences from all corners of the world, but especially the Nordic sound, and musicians like pianist Helge Lien
Talking about his reasons for starting the label, Böhm is quite humorous: "I started Ozella Music and the publishing company Edition Ozella in 1999. For a few years, I used it only for my own releases. One reason to do my own company was probably to avoid having as bad a CD cover as I had for the album Acoustic Unit on In-Akustik in 1998."
However, there are other reasons than bad cover art as to why Böhm went on to start Ozella. "I think it is good to know the business from both sides. And as a musician I was always interested in the business side too."
There is a story behind the name Ozella. "The band on Acoustic Unit is a nice band that I had for several years with saxophonist Tony Lakatos, the fantastic percussionist Kornel Horvat and bassist Bela Lattmann. We played a song called 'Ozella' and in those days I sometimes told the audience the story behind the name. In short: it is a fantasy word that my daughter created when she was a little child. At that time, she had just begun to learn how to speak."
The name Ozella is special and it makes good sense that a special label should have a special name. In fact, the reputation of the label is so good that Böhm doesn't have to do any work to find his artists: "The artists find me. I never contact artists directly for the label. The exception is the four CD series Morning, Noon, Evening and Night, which was the first release with other artists. I collected many instrumental tunes and compiled them on the quite successful Rhythm of the Day Series."
Ozella is known for its roster of fine Nordic artists, but as it turns out, the focus on the Nordic sound was a coincidence. "The Nordic sound became one of the most important influences for Ozella by accident. At the end of the music fair WOMEX 2004 in Sevilla, packed with many bags full of CDs, I ran into Norwegian saxophonist Karl Seglem, who wanted to give me one more promo CD. This CD was packed in very big paper artwork and I had to fold it, kind of destroy it, to squeeze it into one of my bags. Out of the many albums I brought home, this was the music that interested me the most and I agreed with Karl to compile an album with my personal Karl Seglem favorites from his many albums and a few unreleased tracks. The result was New North. It was quite successful, and still sells, and was a very nice start for a cooperation with Karl that now has lasted for many years. And this was also the beginning of the Nordic sound on Ozella. I suddenly got many calls, emails, demos and productions from Norway."
While the Nordic sound is prominent on Ozella, the label has a wide range of genres and artists, as Böhm explains: "There are many styles and different releases. Some artists you may not know, but nearly every album was or still is important and was a success or is still doing well. Not every album is really selling much, but some of the instrumental albums are doing very well in terms of syndication, as the music gets used in TV documentaries and in films."
In the end, the criterion for Böhm is quality, and he has a firm belief in the music he releases and knows what he likes: "I like music that creates pictures in your head and this type of music very often has the chance to do well as film music. So not only the top sellers are important, and I am very happy when I can do something for music that I love, even though it appears to have no commercial chances, at least from the first glance. But we also have some albums that sell in a five-digit quantity."
Ozella has become both an artistic and commercial success. Here is a selection of highlights from the eclectic catalog.