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Orrin Keepnews: Classic Producer of Classics

R.J. DeLuke By

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"What we did with the club scene when it was flourishing was bitch about it mainly, says Keepnews in his typical forthright style. "But the fact of the matter is when you look at it now, the club scene was an essential part of the dissemination and development of the music. There is no easy way for an artist to get new exposure. Having somebody make a record and have that record get heard and get appreciated and get bought—that's not a natural sensible way for artists to develop.

He adds that nightlife in the United States in general has changed. "If everybody had always stayed home with the television set and the computer, there's a lot we would have missed out on, he notes. "I'd sure be a lot happier if there was a lot more club activity in the world, in terms of the recognition and development of new talent. And it is a problem. It definitely is inhibiting the development of the next round of talent. Yes, there's a lot more academic attention being paid to jazz. It's not the same thing.

He adds, after pause for thought, "I guess what I'm saying is that it's dependent on people like me to be more creative in our ways of finding and developing talent. Then he ads with a laugh, "I think I've become to damn old to get into that rat race again.

Despite the self-effacing comment, Keepnews admits he has some irons in the fire still, projects he doesn't want to speak about yet. He's leery of some young musician getting plaudits that may be too big and to live up to early on, simply because the Keepnews name is attached to the project. "Unfortunately, my name has been associated with a lot of valuable people. That's not unfortunate; it's what I'm proudest of. But unfortunate in the terms of anything I want to do starting yesterday, today and tomorrow. I'm not trying to be cute about it. I just feel that it's protectively necessary to be kind of mysterious about what I hope to be working with.

At 84, why is he still working at it? His accomplishments are many.

"Working on a certain kind of reissue project is a very gratifying thing, he says of projects like The Keepnews Collection. "The knowledge that at least a reasonable number of people find continuing validity in what I had done, have been doing for a long time, was doing a long time ago, I appreciate the hell out of that kind of recognition.

But with all that, "I haven't figured out any way to stop listening. And if you keep listening, chances are you're going to hear some things worth hearing. At least I hope so.

So in the future? "I just plan to keep on trying to be myself, laughs Orrin Keepnews, an American classic. And he has the last laugh.

Selected Discography from The Keepnews Collection

Flora Purim, Butterfly Dreams (Milestone, 1973)
Joe Henderson, Power to the People! (Milestone, 1969)
Cannonball Adderley, Cannonball Adderley Quintet in San Francisco (Riverside, 1959)
Chet Baker, Chet (Riverside, 1959)
Kenny Dorham, Jazz Contrasts (Riverside, 1957)

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