Accurate Records: Growing Out of Boston
In the age of globalization, when almost every musician churns out his or her own record digitally, the boundary between being a one-man business and a record company is porous. However, while many of the new labels remain dedicated to a small circle of artists, there is also the more rarified example of the musician-based label which takes on a greater responsibility and becomes an outlet for a whole community. This has happened in Los Angeles, where reed-player Vinny Golia and violinist Jeff Gauthier have created their own labels, Nine Winds and Cryptogramophone, which have become proponents of West Coast excellence, releasing a steady stream of outstanding albums, mostly by local artists.
Boston is lucky to have Russ Gershon, saxophonist, composer and leader of the acclaimed Either/Orchestra. Through his label, Accurate Records, Gershon has done a tireless effort of promoting the music of the local scene, building up a brand of musical integrity and adventurousness that has become an emblem of quality for those in the know.
All About Jazz: You founded Accurate Records in 1987. What is the story behind the name and is it possible to define the aesthetics of the label?
Russ Gershon: The name comes from two places. It's a pun, of course, and I love a good punwhich may be the same thing as a bad pun! The word "Accurate" is also close to the beginning of the alphabet, and I knew that as a small label, we'd be put on lists. I figured it wouldn't hurt to be near the top of the list.
I had previous experiences in the early 80s when various rock bands I was in put out their own 45s, which was a common part of the punk "do it yourself" aesthetic. I was also influenced by labels run by Sun Ra and Charles Mingus among other jazz DIY labels, many of which I had been exposed to when I was working at my college radio station as the jazz director, and opening up the incoming mail.
After the Either/Orchestra had been together for almost a year, I recorded the band live and also in the studio [in July 1986]. The tapes struck me as worthy of release, so I took steps to mix, sequence, master and create the LP cover design for Dial "E" for Either/Orchestra. I was fortunate to have a good friend working at Rounder Distribution, the largest indie distributor in New England, who set up a deal for me. Being a radio person, and also an avid reader of jazz journalism, I decided that the most economical form of promotion would be to send out a lot of copies to radio and press, probably around 500 at the beginning, and I've continued to follow that plan. Over the years we've built up a kind of rising underground network as some of the college DJs and freelance journalists have progressed in music industry careers and remember hearing the E/O when they were just starting in the business.
The aesthetic of the label mirrors and extends the aesthetic I brought to the E/O. I was strongly influenced by the post-Coltrane mainstream and the incoming Midwestern avant-garde that I heard growing up around New York in the mid-70s. There was an expanding comprehension of the continuum from early, pre-swing jazz through swing, bop and avant-garde, and of course there were many different approaches to integrating rock and funk grooves and electronics into jazz. Connecting it all was the sense that jazz had to move forward to survive artistically. When Wynton Marsalis and his business supporters began trying to turn back the clock on jazz history and define a very conservative set of limits on what counts as jazz, I felt very alienated from the new mainstream of the jazz business. The E/O was my personal attempt to develop myself as a composer, player and bandleader outside of the neo-conservative wave in jazz. From the beginning, we integrated "non-jazz" repertoire and the full range of jazz styles. A lot of the ideas we were kicking around at that time have become commonplace in jazz now, such as playing rock songs, radically juxtaposing jazz styles, and bringing wit and humor to our presentation and promotion.