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Record Label Profiles

Harkit Records

By Published: April 8, 2006
With their sponsorship of this month's Live from London festival in NYC and unsurpassed archive of classic performances, Harkit Records has rapidly become a worldwide voice for British jazz. Begun in 1999 by collector and jazz aficionado Michael Fishberg, Harkit is definitely the place to go for those impossible to find but wonderfully jazzy British film and TV soundtracks. More recently, Harkit has added a treasure trove of live performances to their unique catalog that are bound to excite jazz fans in any locale.

Harkit's inaugural CD was Dudley Moore's movie soundtrack, Bedazzled. A piano protégé later turned comic genius, Moore has several Harkit releases with his jazz trio that included bassist Pete McGurk and drummer Chris Karan. The recently released The First Orchestrations is a 1960 big band recording with broad orchestrations by Moore and Richard Rodney Bennett. Sweet brass voicings, Moore's piano work and the hot vibes of Richard Shade make this a swinger's delight. Tony Crombie's Man From Interpol is a recent Harkit re-release that features juicy big band music from this seminal British TV show and performances by the great tenorist/vibraphonist Tubby Hayes. In a similar vein, jazz mainstay altoist Johnny Dankworth, who scored the early Avengers TV shows, is represented by the jazz potpourri of Modesty Blaise. Dankworth also cooks with trumpeter Kenny Wheeler on "Fall Guy , a selection from the All Night Long movie soundtrack. Two originals from pianist Dave Brubeck with altoist/flutist Johnny Scott and trumpeter Bert Courtley plus a tension filled Charles Mingus/Tubby Hayes bass-vibes duet that opens "Noodlin' are likewise a part of this classic jazz soundtrack.

Given Harkit's collector mindset it is no surprise that releases are deservedly known for the painstaking research and excruciating detail that goes into the packaging and liner notes. According to Fishberg, "Very often, with our re-issues, you would find that the original LP back covers only had the sparest of information. That was either out of laziness, arrogance on the part of the original company or they maybe just needed to get a release out quickly to cash in on a movie's success... We go back to zero and imagine what a buyer would have liked to have read or known about at the time. In fact, we've sometimes been accused of giving out too much information!

Those with even a passing interest in the UK jazz scene quickly become aware of England's most famous venue: Ronnie Scott's in London. Scott, himself a tenor saxophonist, opened the club soon after a trip to NYC where he experienced first hand 52nd Street's ambience. At spots like the Three Deuces, the Famous Door, Jimmy Ryan's and the Onyx, he heard Bird, Dizzy and Miles. The holy grail of British jazz performance, Scott's Soho club has played host to top artists since its opening in 1959. Luckily for the jazz world, jazzman/archivist Les Tomkins recorded many of these early performances. Fishberg states that, "Harkit was approached with an archive of previously unreleased recordings made at the legendary Ronnie Scott's club in London during the period from 1962- 1969. Some 600 hours of material was investigated which eventually led to the Live In London series...historic sessions by the likes of Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins, Blossom Dearie, Tubby Hayes and a host of other giants. Many Americans were playing London for the first time following the relaxation of the British Musicians' Union's stringent performance regulations.

Listening to these sessions is the closest one can get to experiencing the atmosphere of those heady days in London and, according to Fishberg, Harkit is judiciously releasing the best of the best. "They require an enormous amount of editing and restoration and sadly many of the tapes do not make it possible to release them all. The label is fortunate that veteran restoration expert Peter Rynston has the magical capability of bringing back the thrilling original sound thereby enabling the listener to re-enact an evening at Ronnie's! It is quite obvious from the start that the unmistakably inviting tone of Stan Getz' tenor is quite at home at Ronnie's on Live in London Vol. I and II. Recorded during a 1964 engagement, these performances feature Getz backed by a trio anchored by the venerable British pianist Stan Tracey.

Great tenors of this era all seem to have made an appearance at Scott's and the series is a bopper's delight as Stan Tracey plays host this time to US ex-pat Johnny Griffin who blows up a hurricane through tunes like "All the Things You Are . Few will challenge that the greatest living tenor hails from right here in NYC and Theodore "Sonny Rollins has no less than four CDs across three Harkit volumes. His untouchable solo playing is gloriously present in his 1965 visit to Scott's.

While a majority of these sessions feature US frontmen in the context of Stan Tracey's house band, the aforementioned Hayes, who many consider Britain's foremost jazz musician, did call Scott's home. His two volumes recorded at Scott's showcase a prodigious tenor master whose working band could bop with the best. Although Hayes may not have gotten the double meaning of Dizzy's "Two Bass Hit , he rounds second easily and heads for home on a screaming rendition of this classic. In his quintet, Hayes clearly had an awesomely talented trumpeter by his side in Jimmy Deuchar. Hayes subsequently moved in a harmonic direction inspired by Trane and this is effectively captured on both the double CD Live at the Dancing Slipper with his quartet and Live at the Hopbine that in addition features the tenor playing of Tommy Whittle. When taken together, these four releases, recorded when Hayes was in his prime, paint the picture of an an evolving dynamic player whose death in 1973 at the age of 38 robbed British jazz of one of its strongest voices of the time.

Singular artists who re-defined the boundaries of their instruments also visited Scott's. The unique chordal brilliance of pianist Bill Evans and his mid '60s trio of bassist Chuck Israels and drummer Larry Bunker, the soulfully meditative multi-instrumental warmth of Yusef Lateef, t-bone master J. J. Johnson and no holds barred performer Roland Kirk each have their own Live in London offering. A special bonus on many releases are in-depth interviews that give an inside look into these instrumental giants at the pinnacles of their careers.

Fishberg views the label's immediate future as continuing the archive concept but also as providing a forum for current working British bands to release new projects, "Two further archives from broadcasting organizations are currently being considered. We plan to make an announcement in the summer about these tremendously important collections...We have for the past three years been looking for a cutting edge unsigned contemporary jazz act and we have recently signed Delphy and their debut album to Harkit. Such offerings will have New York Jazz fans quickly realizing that Harkit is definitely their cup of tea.


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