Submitted on behelf of Steven Robinson
From Concord, Concord Jazz, Concord Picante, and The Jazz Alliance, to its joint ventures and alliances with Stretch Records, Feinery, Peak Records, and Playboy Jazz - Concord Records is presently in midst of its 30th Anniversary celebration.
In 1973, Carl Jefferson, car dealer and local jazz festival organizer, started the company that became Concord Records to give the straight ahead jazz players whose music he loved more frequent opportunities to record. Since starting with a record by guitarists Herb Ellis and Joe Pass, neither Mr. Jefferson nor his label have looked back. 30 years later, the label has 14 Grammy Awards, 88 Grammy nominations and a host of industry awards to its credit, as well as an international reputation for excellence and diversity. The artists that recorded on labels affiliated with Concord span an immense musical range, from Mel Tormé and Keely Smith, to renowned jazz pianists Marian McPartland, Chick Corea, and Dave Brubeck, to musicians of equal stature in Latin Jazz, Salsa, Afro-Cuban and Brazilian music, notably the great percussionist and bandleader Tito Puente, pianist and bandleader Eddie Palmieri, and vibraphonist Cal Tjader.
Concord's success is the result of a particular management style that demands enthusiasm for the music the label puts out and that respects tradition without allowing the business to be limited by it. Concord began as a way to record the music that Carl Jefferson loved, and according to Concord's president, Glen Barros, Concord remains guided by the principle that the label should record only the music that its people like. Barros says, "Not every one is going to love every recording we make, of course, but generally, we have to love the music we record in order to do our best to support that music in the marketplace."
Concord's present scope is substantially broader than it was during Carl Jefferson's era. In 1995, Jefferson was terminally ill, and to assure Concord's transition after his death, he asked Barros to succeed him. In doing so, Jefferson was clear that he did not want his personal taste to dictate Concord's future. "I was lucky enough to spend a few days with Carl -unfortunately his last few days - talking about Concord's future," Barros recalls. "Carl told me that the last thing I should do was run Concord the way I thought he would want. He told me to use my own judgment. I love jazz and always have, but I had broader musical interests than Carl. I thought that Concord's future lay in recording a greater spectrum of music. I told him so, and he encouraged me to follow that path if it felt right."
Today, Concord remains committed to vocal and instrumental jazz, but the company views its mission as providing music for adults in many genres. "We don't try to serve teens and younger listeners, although we'd love for them to discover our music," Barros explains. "So, for example, while we are interested in pop, our focus is adult-oriented pop. That's really nothing new for us. You can look at the decision to sign Rosemary Clooney, who was always thought of more as a popular singer than a jazz singer, in 1977 as essentially having the same goal as signing Barry Manilow in 2001."
The creation and maintenance of Concord's eclectic catalogue requires sophisticated management decisions, taking into account both musical and commercial factors. As Barros put it, "We recognize that different genres have different commercial potential, and we make decisions that reflect that. We remain committed to recording a wide range of music, and our experience is that the types of music we record build the audience for one another, again because all the music we record is oriented toward adults."
Within any one genre, Concord continues to adhere to the standards of excellence it has always had. As Barros put it, "Our A&R principle in each genre is to find artists who we think are great and to let them do their thing." It follows that there is no one thing that Barros identifies as Concord's greatest accomplishment. "What I am proudest of," Barros said, "is the mix of wonderful music that Concord offers."
Concord remains committed to its eclectic approach despite a business environment beset by ongoing change and difficult economics, an environment that Barros characterizes as "crazy". "To begin with," Barros explains, "CD sales figures were down 3% in 2001, 11% in 2002 and are on track to fall about 8% in 2003. That means reduced and less varied inventories at the store level. But at the same time, we know that an adult's decision to buy 2 of every 3 CDs is made in the store. Adults typically go into a store not knowing exactly what they're going to buy or to buy one CD, and then end up buying 2 or 3. So distribution is one of the keys to sales, but distribution is very hard to maintain given the continual inventory reconfiguration at the retail level."
Meanwhile, using radio to build an audience for a new artist or recording has also become more challenging, in part because of media convergence, the tendency of more and more stations to be owned by fewer and fewer entities. "The days of being able to break a recording locally are over," Barros says. As to distribution of music on the web, Barros says that he is "encouraged by the success of the Apple iTunes web based music service. Obviously the problems with illegal file sharing have to be dealt with, and they will be. In the long run, I think that web based music distribution is very encouraging, especially for jazz."
Barros sums up the daily challenge at Concord as an ongoing effort "to balance the concerns of art and commerce." Evidence of Concord's success in striking that balance is available in several forms, all of which are part of the celebration of Concord's 30th birthday. With regard to new music, there is the Concord Records 30th Anniversary 2003 New Music Sampler, with offerings that span Concord's full range of instrumental and vocal jazz and pop. Historical perspective can be found in the Concords Record 30th Anniversary Box Set, which is scheduled to go on sale this month, and covers the range of the more than 1,000 recordings in the Concord catalogue, from those first Ellis/Pass sessions recorded by Carl Jefferson to vocalist Curtis Stigers' Sacred Heart. And later this year, there will a 10-15 city concert tour and a Concord Records night at this year's Montreux Jazz Festival, which will be recorded and released as a DVD and CD in the fall.
Visit Concord on the web at www.concordrecords.com