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Bernard Stollman: ESP Disk's Sound Revolution

By Published: January 6, 2009
However, so far, there has been no replacement that I am aware of for the kind of thrust that we can give through our radio and press support. We still provide a platform. Through the label's identity the group can have a certain level of support from the critical community. Our ideas, our approach, our thinking is shared. At least the critic/reviewer community responds well to our initiatives. As far as my life and resources permit we'll continue to do that indefinitely into the future.

AAJ: I want to circle back to the Charlie Parker set because you mentioned it. It's obviously a very painstaking effort towards completeness. The liner notes are way more than liner notes. This is an annotated history of the music, including extensive interviews. It's an amazing package. A couple of questions: First, how did this set come together?

BS: Michael Anderson, whom you know, archivist, historian. He's very tenacious when he picks up on a subject. He goes all the way. He doesn't pull his punches. If he is going to tell the story, he has to tell it as richly, as fully, and in as much detail as he can. I believe he has great discrimination and taste. I think he must have a photographic memory or something! This man is phenomenal. I really credit Mike Anderson. He assembled twenty CDs. This is just the first segment, 1940-1947. We're just getting underway. I don't think most people can handle a twenty disc set, the life of Charlie Parker.

AAJ: What is the process for putting this together? How is ESP going about acquiring the material?

BS: There is no simple answer. Archivists, collectors, that's the community. For some reason we've attracted their interest around the world. We have a level of support that is unprecedented because they know—how shall I put this—we're not bottom line oriented. We care about the music. So we've had something I never could have imagined in terms of the level of support from people who are collectors and enormously knowledgeable about Mr. Parker and history. It's a very rare thing for that to happen. I'm very glad that it is because it provides from an educational standpoint, a cultural standpoint, an achievement and I credit Mike with that level of dedication, commitment, and concern, and sense of responsibility for telling the story exhaustively and as richly as it can be done.

AAJ: Looking at some of the other ESP reissues, that have a more transparently or obviously avant-garde feel, from a certain slice of time, going to Charlie Parker for ESP seems an interesting choice. How does it fit into the catalog? How are you looking at this?

BS: In term of our direction? There are others pending. But they are not ready to be publicized. I don't want to invite, others, perhaps, to move in ahead of us (laughs).

AAJ: Fair enough. What I am getting at is, you have this established catalog of the free jazz, protest music, avant-garde from the sixties and seventies. At the same time, you've got the Parker set and some yet to be identified projects in the same line. Do you see this as branching into something new, or part of a continuum?

BS: I would say that era in particular, the 40s and 50s, we're giving increasing attention to. There will be other artists, other trends of that period that will be brought to the fore. We are assembling compilations to again dramatically illustrate the phenomenal things that were going on that have been largely overlooked and that this generation of music enthusiasts may not be that aware of. We're doing some archeological work, as I see it. Musical archeology (chuckles).

I don't see why we have to restrict ourselves. As long as we have the energy, the resources, the distribution, and the interest from the critics and the public, why shouldn't we mine those resources? Why not? It's not interfering with anything else we are doing. You'll hear more from us about expanding into other areas as well, other than jazz. We've made some commitments. We'll be announcing them soon.

AAJ: Before we move on to some of the newer releases, I want to talk about the reissues. The ESP label, at least part of it, represents a kind of soundtrack to the sixties free-jazz, era of cultural experimentation. Looking at that time period and today, do you see any parallels?

BS: There are phenomenal parallels. In fact there are the parallels that you find throughout the generations, which is to say that each decade as it takes on an identity, bebop, free-jazz, whatever, each decade or era blooms and gets public recognition. Than a new group comes up. The young Turks emerge to challenge it and provide fresh ideas. They break the mold. They shatter the mold. But at the same time they borrow heavily from the preceding group. It seems to be cyclical. It seems to be generational and it seems to be inevitable.

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