Running a jazz record label has never been for the faint-hearted. Recently a number of major jazz labels have cut back on the volume of new jazz releases, dropping jazz artists while substituting singer/songwriters, cabaret singers and other pop-influenced performers trying to increase sales volume. Several established independents have also suffered, cutting back new releases and staff to become one-man operations. Fortunately there are businessmen like Denver resident Graham Carter, who have both a love of jazz and a willingness to invest the resources necessary to launch a new label. A Denver native and University of Colorado alum who spent 20 years in hi-tech telecommunications before leaving in the midst of the industry downturn in 2001, Carter explains his career switch: "I have always been a huge jazz fan and felt that I could produce a series of straight-ahead recordings that would showcase some of the more established jazz stars that the record labels were largely ignoring. I also wanted to get into movie production, so I decided to establish Jazzed Media in 2002. I wanted a name that would not tie me to just CDs."
His first project taught him how to be a producer. "I attended a Jack Sheldon concert that featured Phil Urso. I felt a CD with Phil would be fun - he was local, it would be easy to put together. He was very excited about recording after a long layoff. I thought that a salute to Chet Baker would work, as Phil spent many years with him and also served as one of his arrangers." Pairing Urso with trumpeter Carl Saunders, who Carter considered a "major trumpeter and not a Chet Baker clone", yielded the desired chemistry for Carter's debut as a producer.
He wanted to record Saunders again and then lightening struck. "I realized that Phil Woods had the same lyrical sound, so I contacted him; Phil was very interested. I suggested a salute to Henry Mancini, as I felt the his writing fit the sound of both Phil and Carl. We selected several songs from the Peter Gunn
soundtrack albums and an obscure favorite of mine, 'Soldier in the Rain'. I hired several great arrangers, including the late Gordon Brisker, Jackson Stock, Jeff Jenkins [the session's pianist] and Carl contributed a few charts. We recorded the album here in Denver with a terrific local rhythm section: pianist Jeff Jenkins, bassist Ken Walker and drummer Paul Romaine. The resulting album is my personal favorite of everything I've done to date [nearly 30 CDs]."
His first meeting with Phil Woods bore additional fruit, Carter relates: "During the recording of the Mancini album, Phil told me how much he was enjoying the project and that if I had any other ideas for an album he would love to do it. We discussed another album of a different composer's tunes and he mentioned Quincy Jones. I knew of Phil's long term history with Quincy so I jumped at the idea. Because the Denver altitude affected his breathing, Phil asked to record back home in the Poconos, where he could use his standard rhythm section [Steve Gilmore and Bill Goodwin] and quintet members Bill Charlap and Brian Lynch. Phil provided the arrangements, except 'The Pawnbroker', which Brian arranged. Concurrent to putting together the album I was contacted by a Denver director, Rich Lerner. Rich was looking for someone to partner with to produce jazz films, which was exactly what I wanted to move into, so we met and hit it off right away. I proposed a documentary to Phil to be made during the recording of the Quincy CD and he approved. Rich and I went out to the Poconos in 2004 and recorded and filmed the session. Then we spent three days over at Phil's house as I interviewed him."
One of Carter's best hires was recording engineer Rod Nicas. "I met Rod at one of Ken Poston's events back in 1999. Rod works as an engineer for an LA hi-tech satellite company, but he was a recording engineer for Albert Marx of Discovery Records years ago. Rod has either made suggestions on the mix and mastering or performed these duties on many of my CDs."
In addition to working with veteran jazz artists, Jazzed Media has unveiled previously unissued historical recordings and worked with up-and-coming artists. Don Menza, Bill Holman, Terry Gibbs, several more Phil Woods' sessions and unreleased material featuring Irene Kral and Jackie & Roy have earned critics' praise. Phil Woods' liner notes for Denise Donatelli's In the Company of Friends
stated "'Graham Carter has done it again! I am biased because I work for the company, but believe me, that man is a warrior for good music and this is good, no, great music!" Carter enthusiastically states, "That kind of summarizes my view in that I feel this is a mission to produce quality jazz that will stand the test of time."
This still young label has also been honored internationally. "My Bill Holman Band Live
CD was a 2006 Grammy nominee for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Recording. The Phil Woods A Life In E Flat
DVD won a Telly Award and a Videographer Award of Excellence. Ira Gitler awarded it 4 stars in Down Beat."
Jazzed Media's owner is quite confident in his ability to achieve top notch results, though he isn't afraid to disagree with musicians. "Any good producer has to be able to say 'No'. The jazz world is a music business, with business an equal part to the music. If you want to be totally idealistic as a musician that's great, but there are consequences to that view. You must remember you are providing entertainment and you should understand your audience. We have all been to jazz clubs where the musicians are playing for themselves, playing multiple solo choruses and the audience is looking at their watches and talking to each other. The musicians are not connecting to the audience. A CD is no different, in fact, it's even harder. You have two minutes to connect with someone on the radio or away they go." Fortunately, artists who work with Carter are seasoned professionals who don't have inflated egos and are used to producing great performances with a minimum of takes.
Carter is now working on a Bud Shank documentary entitled Against the Tide
. Additional projects on the horizon include upcoming releases featuring Mel Martin with Benny Carter, Bud Shank & Bill Mays, Phil Woods and a previously unissued date by Irene Kral. He states, "I would like to release a live recording of The Woody Herman Orchestra at Bop City in 1950, along with other rare Herman material. Getting acceptable fidelity from an acetate recording of a radio broadcast offers a challenge, though I have complete faith in Rod Nicas' abilities. I have one of the largest collections of Woody Herman live recordings in the world and could release many interesting things over time. However, they must receive Tom Littlefield's [Woody Herman's grandson] approval".
Jazzed Media Reviews @ AAJ.