Siegfried Loch: 50 Years on the Music-Making Scene
Loch spoke recently with All About Jazz about his career and it's best to let him fill in the blanks of his illustrious life in music. The casual conversation with the fascinating and genial Loch occurred not long before a ceremony in which he was about to be knighted by King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden for his importance in Swedish culture via recording so many of its fine artists (which took place March 8, 2010).
Siegfried Loch and ACT recording artist, trombonist/vocalist Nils Landgren
All About Jazz: You are about to get knighted by the King of Sweden. That's quite an award.
Siggi Loch: As it happens with my label that I started late in my life, I was, by coincidence, running into an incredible trombone player and singer by the name of Nils Landgren at a festival up north in Germany. I was really fascinated by the artist, both his playing and his personality. This was the beginning of recording a Swedish artist. But through Nils, I met a lot of other incredible talented Swedish artists. First of all, of course, Esbjörn Svensson, who at the time was the keyboard player in the Nils Landgren Funk Unit.
It happened that over the years I have been recording a lot of Swedish artists and ACT became the most successful label for Swedish jazz artists. Yet we are German, not a Swedish company. As a result of that, I think, the German ambassador to Sweden, which is a lady here in Berlin, she got the King of Sweden to honor me as a Knight in the Order of the Polar Star, which is an honor I'm very proud of.
AAJ: That's pretty nice.
SL: Yeah. I think it's nice to be recognized for something I've been doing over the years. It's really a great success story but it's also a love story. I heard my first Swedish jazz back in the early '60s when I was honeymooning in Sweden and I was listening for the first time to a Swedish pianist by the name of Jan Johansson, who was the first one in history who took the Swedish folk music and put it into a jazz context. Those records he made at the time were the groundwork for many, many things of the same kind, including everything that we've heard many years later coming out of Norway. It's based on the same principal.
AAJ: I know you founded ACT in 1992, but your association with music obviously goes way back. When did you first start as a listener? What turned you on to jazz?
SL: My very first experience was at the age of 15 when I was gate crashing because we had no money then. But at the age of 15, I was listening to a concert by Sidney Bechet. I was living then in the city of Hanover [Germany]. I had never before heard jazz consciously. That man, in this one hour of performance, changed my life. I became first a Sidney Bechet fan. I bought my first Blue Note record the next day, even though I had no record player. I became a traditional jazz drummer and I formed my own band, which was called the Red Onions, based on a tune by Sidney Bechet.
This is how I got into jazz. But soon I discovered a whole world of jazz and got myself involved as a record collector. Soon, I realized my talent as a drummer and a jazz musician was limited, yet I wanted to be connected to that music. I was dreaming of having my own label one day. One way of getting into it was starting as a salesman for EMI Music, selling records at the stores. That's how I got involved.
Two years later in 1962, I became the label manager for Philips Jazz because at the time they had made licensing deals. First with Mercury Records, with Quincy Jones being head of A&R. Then they had made deals with World Pacific and Riverside Jazz...a lot of other jazz labels. I was in charge of selecting the music and promoting it and so on. So I got my first chance to also produce a record. That artist was Klaus Doldinger, who is one of the legends of German Jazz because in the '70s, he formed the group Passport, which made their thumbprint in America with Atlantic Records.
AAJ: Jazz was fairly available at that time for listeners over there?
SL: Oh yes. Philips at the time was the licensee of CBS, Columbia Records. Then Columbia decided to form their own operation and Philips lost its entire catalog. Some people had the idea then, in the head office in Holland, that jazz would be the next big thing, ruling the pop world, which of course was wrong. But that's why they heavily invested into jazz at the time. That was good for me, because it's how I got the job.
But soon after, I was not only involved in jazz, but also happened to be in Hamburg [Germany] at the time the Star Club opened and The Beatles played there. So I was running into that scene. I realized that a whole new kind of pop music was generating there. I also got involved as a producer in that world. Then soon I was not so much involved in jazz, but basically in pop music. I became the executive for 20 years for Warner Brothers [WEA Corp.] During that period, as the head of Warner in Europe, I had no chance to produce anything.