A Fireside Chat with Gerry Teekens
“ I don't record musicians that I think I can make a lot of money on. When I like a musician and I think that he is a real honest artist, in that sense, I record him and I keep recording him. ”
This week, I start profiling a handful of indie labels I think are superior to most of the massive amounts of titles being released each week. I think one week last year I counted more than fifty releases on tap. That is saturating an already small market so most listeners have no clue what to buy. So I will put in my two cents for your hard-earned stock option dollars. You can thank me later. Criss Cross Jazz and its founder Gerry Teekens are no nonsense. It is straight, no chaser jazz and that is how I like my jazz, neat. After you read this one on one, you can take a gander at my personal picks from the label's worthy catalog. The interview, as always is brought to you in stereo, unedited and in his own words.
All About Jazz: Let's start from the beginning.
Gerry Teekens: It started a long time ago because I started listening to jazz when I was about fourteen years old, Dixieland and then I started playing myself. I am a drummer. I started playing myself when I was seventeen. It went from Dixieland to Errol Garner and Peterson (Oscar Peterson). So I heard that kind of music. I played in bands like that. Then came bebop.
AAJ: Is that when your interest peaked?
GT: Well, I was always interested in music, from the beginning on because I really liked it, the rhythm and the whole soul feel of it.
AAJ: Is there another genre of music that has that soulful feel of jazz?
GT: No. I mean, jazz had such an impact on me and I am so serious about it that I am listening to other stuff sometimes, but I am a perfectionist and you can only do one thing well. So I don't dive into other music seriously because there is only one life.
AAJ: When did you start Criss Cross Jazz?
GT: I started the label in 1981.
AAJ: You are coming on Criss Cross' 20-year anniversary.
GT: Yes, it was because I had all these idols. I used to play with a couple of guitar players in Holland, very good guitar players. I was a guitar freak also. Jimmy (Jimmy Raney) was one of my heroes and I got hold of his address and then I got in contact with him and I flew him over. I had him here for about three months and I lined up a whole tour for him all over Europe. I think forty-one concert during that period. The year was 1976. He came back in '77 and many years after until 1983 or '84. He was here for the last time. And I kept recording him. I also brought over Konitz, Lee Konitz, who was living in London at that time. I also, during the same period, I got the address of Warne Marsh and I managed to bring a band together, to form a band of Warne Marsh, Lee Konitz, Peter Ind, who was the bassist for Lennie Tristano for a long time. Lee and Warne hadn't played for at least ten or fifteen years together. That was the first time that they played together again and so it was a big success. The concert was in Amsterdam and even journalists from Paris came over. That was my second thing and then I kept bringing over musicians like Warne Marsh and Teddy Edwards. I was a college teacher by that time and all these guys played at my school. Dexter (Dexter Gordon) played there, Johnny Griffin, a whole bunch of them. And then in 1981, I had a whole tour with Jim Raney for about a month and then I decided to make a record at the end of the tour and so that is how it started.
AAJ: What did you teach?
GT: I was teaching German, Germanistic languages as a matter of fact. I played the drums in a band in an American officer's club in Germany for three years.
AAJ: When did you make the shift from vinyl to the CD format?
GT: I had thirty-nine records on vinyl and then I started releasing both vinyl and CDs at 36 and then when it got to 39, I started releasing only CDs.
AAJ: It must have been a struggle to keep the label going initially.
GT: When you have one record, nobody is interested because it doesn't mean any profits for people if they import one record and try to sell it. But the Raney record was kind of popular then because it was a very good record. I had a lot of connections in the jazz world, so I could sell it. Then soon after that, the second one with the Kirk Lightsey Trio, which was in fact the rhythm section for Dexter Gordon and then I recorded Johnny Coles, who played with Mingus, in a quartet. Then I recorded Warne Marsh with Hank Jones and Mel Lewis and George Mraz, so that is how it started.
AAJ: The Warne Marsh records are a staple of the label.
GT: Yes, my whole idea was recording Warne with different rhythm sections because he always used to play with people from the Tristano school, so I recorded Warne with Hank Jones and Mel and then a record with Chet Baker. We did a ballads album ( A Ballad Album ) with Lou Levy and then another one with Barry Harris ( Back Home ), totally different schools.
AAJ: Has the vision for the label changed at all?
GT: No, I record the music for the sake of the music. I don't record musicians that I think I can make a lot of money on. When I like a musician and I think that he is a real honest artist, in that sense, I record him and I keep recording him. Hardly any musician that is on my label makes only one record. I keep recording them either as sidemen, which is the policy, then they have a record as a leader and another record as a leader. Like John Swana, for instance, he did about six records for me and I used the trumpet player on Eric Alexander's record, Chris Potter's record, and so forth and so forth.