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Origin Records: Creating Opportunities and Community

Jakob Baekgaard By

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AAJ: Could you tell about your sub-labels? When did you start them and how do they complement each other?

JB: The labels all come from basically the same place. We got to a point around 2002 where we were just putting out too much music to have one label make sense, so we went the route of most labels in creating sibling outlets. With dozens of artists on each label now, many having done multiple albums, there is a subtle difference in the vibe of Origin and OA2, but I'd never be able to articulate what that difference is. It's constantly adjusting too as I'm balancing the flow of each label to themselves and to each other as projects come along.

MJ: Continuing with what John Bishop said ... OA2 really had an immediate impact and took on a life of its own. There are times when OA2 outperforms Origin with radio airplay or sales. So it is really nice to have two distinct yet similar labels. And I would also like to state here in print that I was the one who came up with the OA2 name!

AAJ: How do you find your artists? What kind of artists are you looking for?

MJ: I think mostly artists find us. John and I are both drummers, so a majority of the artists are people we already know and people we have relationships with, or else, friends of friends. It is a community.

Sometimes when I'm out on tour I get asked to talk at schools about the music business, about Origin and The Ballard Jazz Festival, the jazz festival John and I started in 2003. And what I always come back to when speaking with young musicians is instilling in them that this "business" of jazz is a community. 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.

JB: When we started, it was a circle of about 30 artists from the Northwest who I had known for years and were the core of the sound and personality of the music I had been playing. Matt's circle of relationships was growing at the same time back in New York and through the younger players he knew from Seattle who were getting their careers together in different places. Word-of-mouth and recommendations from artists already in the "club" creates an effect that I really enjoy as we see a web spread in communities around the country with, say, one artist from Chicago gradually turning into 50 from there. Having over 300 artists from different scenes now, creates a great, wide-spread camaraderie, making road trips a very good time!

As a young musician, seeing the very clear distinctions between the music coming out of San Francisco, Chicago, L.A., Dallas, was exciting to experience when I traveled between them or heard recordings that clearly reflected their environments. That's something I'm thinking of as another one of those complementary angles when programing releases -the sounds of those scenes and their relationships with audience and media -and what we focus on when we look at the catalog and what a selection of recordings might represent. We also receive plenty of submissions from others who I meet at Jazz conferences or who just send something to us. Mostly it's a feeling of how they'll fit with what we already have project and musician-wise, and if they'd be a great compliment or foil. Either's good!

AAJ: Could you talk about some of the key artists and albums that have been important in terms of shaping the development of the label?

MJ: This question has caused me to go back and scroll through lots and lots of album covers on the website. In the early years we were just trying to figure out the process of manufacturing and releasing records.

JB: With close to 600 releases now, there are a LOT of projects and moments that stand out as being pivotal to me. Off the top of my head though, getting a sort of affirmation that we're on the right track from older, established players always felt like a marker that things were progressing properly. Don Lanphere did his first record with Fats Navarro in 1948 and then came onboard with us almost 50 years later, recording the final five recordings of his life. His belief in me and what we were doing was huge in those early years and it gave us a lot of confidence that we were offering something beneficial to the scene.

MJ: Don Lanphere was an important part of the Northwest scene, but also someone with an established name throughout the industry so I remember that felt like Origin was a "real" label now. That happened again with Hadley Caliman who was in Seattle for the last part of his career but was important to a lot of people.

JB: Doing multiple records with Jessica Williams, Hal Galper, Hadley Caliman, Benny Powell and others, has been very inspiring and gratifying and is one of those things that can keep you going when many other aspects of the business don't make much sense. Doing multiple projects with really active, pivotal players like Bobby Broom, Joe Locke, George Colligan, Sam Yahel, and some others, opens up many doors, many that we can't assess in the moment, but realization of their impact usually unfolds over several years.

MJ: I remember Sam Yahel's Truth and Beauty was a big deal as it included Joshua Redman and Brian Blade. And that record is a good example of the Origin concept where that record came about from my relationship with Sam which goes back to my college days.

Chicago saxophonist Brad Wheeler put out a recording called The Future Was Yesterday and that established us almost immediately in the Chicago scene. Bobby Broom did a record shortly thereafter and it followed with a bunch of artists after that.

JB: Being around for 20 years too, there are players who came onboard straight out of college and now have a track record and are busy creating opportunities for other musicians. Matt Jorgensen, Chad McCullough, Christopher Icasiano, Jeff Baker, are all artists who've put together some great records while creating labels, concert series, tours, festivals, and generally supporting all artists they come in contact with. To me, having some role in inspiring those kinds of activities is what ultimately defines success as a label. Anybody can make a record, but creating a scene? That's an accomplishment!

AAJ: You are located in Seattle. Is it important to you to have an identity as a Seattle label and how would you characterize Seattle's jazz scene and sound?

MJ: The Seattle music scene has always been eclectic, and I think that is well represented in the early years of Origin and OA2. Looking back on the early recordings by John and I, Thomas Marriott, Rick Mandyck, Mark Taylor, New Stories, Jeff Johnson and Hans Teuber, that was the music you would hear at the clubs nightly in Seattle. As the label grew it expanded to include artists from around the world and naturally the sound has changed, but the source of all of this were the artists that John and I were friends with and performed with.

JB: I'm afraid I don't have much choice for the Seattle branding. Diving head first into the scene when I was 22, the players and sounds of Seattle are my life-blood so it's impossible to escape. Still vivid is the 1981 concert I heard my first night in town with Art Lande, Gary Peacock, Jerry Granelli, Jim Knapp, Denney Goodhew, and Dave Peterson. They all taught at Cornish College of the Arts and were pivotal in inspiring the next generations of Seattle musicians and others who moved on to define many movements in jazz over the last 30 years. At the same time, Floyd Standifer, Ernestine Anderson, Bill Ramsey, Hadley Caliman, Buddy Catlett, Julian Priester and others who played with Quincy Jones, Basie, Herbie, Louis, were playing around every night, adding a "blue-collar" component—both in musicians being ready to do yeoman's work on any gig that came up, and a solid, hard-swinging foundation underlying our sound. The high level of musicianship, mentorship, variety, and general hanging that was the norm around here is the keystone to what the jazz life is to me.

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