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Origin Records: Creating Opportunities and Community

Jakob Baekgaard By

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AAJ: What is your role when it comes to the music you release? You are musicians yourselves. How does that influence the label? I'm also thinking about how you look at the role as a producer?

JB: For the most part, I'm thinking about the flow from project to project, month to month. Trying to keep track of the types of artists and music and how they'll effect the different parties who have interest in what we do. When we add a new artist, we're bringing their audience and sphere of influence into "the club," so I want to see how that intersects with the other artists surrounding that project and how we can leverage promotion and interest between them all. Being musicians in this case gives us a direct route to getting a sense of who an artist is, where they fit into the greater landscape, and how their career and musical path might affect our overall dynamic.

I'm less interested in the idea of producing an artist's particular album than I am in watching the recording careers of many over time, and how they intersect and develop. Them relating to us on this other level too makes getting things moving so much easier than a standard label / artist relationship. Hopefully, over time, we can see some sort of arc with interesting additions of audience, media notice, or whatever. Just like with all of our music careers, it's the idea of movement and the possibility of new opportunities that keeps us engaged.

AAJ: You are also involved with a jazz festival: Ballard Jazz Festival. Could you tell about this and the other activities that you do that are connected to the label? What do you do to spread the word about the music?

MJ: For us it mainly comes down to doing things that enable us to make music. We were given an opportunity to start a jazz festival in 2003 and we have managed to build it into an annual four-day festival which featured a number of Northwest area jazz musicians as well as some well-known headliners.

We have also produced concerts for other festivals as well, organized concerts and tours for Origin artists as well as other jazz artists passing through the Northwest region.

JB: Again, 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, and the festival developed in the same sort of way. We're in our 16th year of doing the 4-day fest and it serves multiple purposes for us. It keeps us involved with our own scene, which can be easy to ignore as we're focusing on an international audience for the label. It's great to engage an audience face-to-face, and to focus on artists who don't necessarily get the headlining spots they deserve. Besides about 80 Northwest artists every year, we've had Gary Bartz, Sonny Fortune, Lee Konitz, Mike Stern, Brian Blade, Clarence Penn, Joe Locke, Lew Soloff, and many others. Our secret sauce is great after-parties!

Beyond that, we've always had a presence at JazzWeek, JazzAhead, MIDEM, JazzCongess, IAJE, JEN, and other gatherings over the last 18 years, and individually, each of us have been on the boards of the Recording Academy (Grammys), local jazz societies, etc... We also took over a monthly print jazz magazine in Seattle for several years. Discovering that was a LOT of work, it slowly morphed into a website, Seattle Jazz Scene, that continues today. Mostly, we try to stay involved -as a label and individually -with other presenting organizations, musicians, clubs, radio, press, and the rest, to keep things moving

MJ: A number of years ago I started the Origin Records Podcast which featured our new releases in a radio show format. That led to the opportunity to do an annual Origin Records Holiday Special on KNKX 88.5fm, our local jazz station here in Seattle.

The thing that unifies all of these activities is doing whatever it takes to make gigs happen. Looking around the country you find these pockets of communities where jazz musicians are making the scene happen within their own community and that is inspiring.

AAJ: What are your ambitions for the future? Are you optimistic when it comes to the future of jazz?

JB: I never have any doubts about the music and its health, there's always a steady flow of creative people creating. I'm not very hopeful though about the business of music, but then again, this has never been an easy racket! So we'll just forge on and see where it takes us. I think as long as the focus is providing outlets and building community for people who love the music, SOMETHING worthwhile will come of it, and that'll have to be good enough for us.

MJ: With all the changes in the music industry in the past decade there are still incredible jazz artists who are creating music that needs to be heard. We always find a way to make it work so I'm confident we will continue to do that in the future. Jazz has always been a small niche market. But as life becomes more and more hectic and digital-based, I try to remind people of the importance of art both recorded and live. If you are a jazz fan it is important to support those who are creating the music. This isn't just about Origin, this is about the entire community. Go out and hear live music and support your local jazz venue. Support the artists you like by buying a CD at the gig. It is up to all of us to make sure the scene survives.

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