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Origin Records: Creating Opportunities and Community

Origin Records: Creating Opportunities and Community
Jakob Baekgaard By

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Being musicians first and foremost, the urge to find opportunities outside of the comfort zone and to always say 'yes' is, for better or worse, in our DNA. The label is the most obvious result of that. —John Bishop
Being a jazz musician sometimes seems like a life ruled by jungle law. Everyone fights for gigs and puts out music on "labels" with only one artist. However, it doesn't have to be this way. Origin Records is an example of a modern artist driven label that has grown through collaboration and community. As Matt Jorgensen, one half of the team behind the label says: "If you want to be a part of it, you have to 'be a part of it.' You need to hang out, help out, lend a hand, support other artists. We are looking for artists who are out there trying to make something happen in their own community and want to be a part of what we do with Origin/OA2."

The people behind Seattle's finest jazz label, John Bishop and Jorgensen, think like artists because they are artists. They are drummers and musicians with many talents, one of them is to embrace new opportunities. Through the years, this has led to a podcast, a website, a magazine, a festival and, not least, a label that continues to expand in spite of the dire situation of independent jazz labels.

Some people might have given up along the way, but instead Bishop and Jorgensen have the ability and energy to find an extra gear. Part of their success is the emphasis on collective thinking. The ethos of Origin is that success is something that is built together and not only individually. Many steps have been taken to build the successful label it is today.

All About Jazz: Growing up, what kind of labels did you admire, and which labels do you consider kindred spirits now?

John Bishop: Back in the '70s when I started consuming a LOT of music, the main thing I was interested in were the artists, and they could come from anywhere. Certainly though, a few labels jumped out where I didn't need to care who I was listening to, it was going to be great and it would define a certain school that I'd obviously need to study. Impulse, Blue Note, ECM, each had a look, sound and feel that would pull you in and commit you to the aesthetic while exposing you to new stuff. Others were CTI, Horizon, Riverside, Atlantic, Owl, Artists House, and so many others. The beauty then was that a label could afford to take chances on artists or projects that weren't an easy sell and more fully reflect the different shades of the music without worrying about their audience wandering off. Now that most labels need to see results from every investment, I'm probably most sucked in by the labels who present a complete experience, through packaging, information, liner notes, etc.

Matt Jorgensen: I moved from Seattle to New York City in 1992 to attend the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. Walking home from school I would pass by a small record store, as in LPs, and they would stock a bunch of the reissued Blue Note, Riverside, Prestige and Fantasy records. This was when LPs were still cheap, so I bought a bunch my first year in New York. That was a bulk of my early jazz history education, listening to the records, looking at the covers—proper LP covers, reading the liner notes, checking out who played on what records.

For labels now, I would consider all of them kindred spirits. It is tough with the current market, but there is no shortage of good music that needs to get out.

AAJ: When did you form the label and was there any particular reason why it happened?

MJ: I'll let John describe the "origin" story of the label ... but for me, John Bishop was my drum teacher when I was 15 up until I left for New York when I was 19. We always kept in touch and he told me he was starting a record label with the four records he had played on and also did the graphic design. This would have been late 1997 or early-1998. I told him I was fooling around making websites and the label should have a website. I also had a project that was recorded, and we were in the process of releasing, so I traded creating a website for releasing the CD which was the recording "Hi-Fi" by RadioAction, my group at the time. I have been hanging around since!

JB: In the early '90s, I got a computer and started experimenting with graphics for music projects I was a part of. Posters, cassette covers, and ads quickly morphed into regularly doing CD covers and organizing production and logistics for my own things or for acquaintances. In 1997, there were several recordings ready at the same time that I played on, produced and designed, and it just made sense to come up with a "label" for them to be associated with. I knew there'd be more projects coming along, but in no way thought it would go much beyond that homegrown type thing. Within a month, there was a review of those CDs in Earshot Jazz magazine that announced a "new label" with a look and a sound. Realizing it wasn't a huge step to start organizing better for a more involved thing, I slowly started researching what I was missing out on as far as setting up a business, distribution possibilities, and all that goes along with being a real entity.

I had been in touch with Matt, who had moved to New York. He was messing with web page development and offered to put something together for the label. At this point, it seemed the main benefits that would come out of this work were that we'd have a good outlet for our music and we'd further develop my design/production business and Matt's web services -at a time when both were much more involved processes -knowing they were of value to other artists. The idea that we were a fully functioning label with possibilities in the bigger world was a ways off, but it began to pick up steam quickly and turned into regular work.

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