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Retrieval Records: Treasures Lost and Found

Nathan Holaway By

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"The memory of things gone is important to a jazz musician. Things like old folks singing in the moonlight in the back yard on a hot night or something said long ago."Louis Armstrong

"You hear about the Duke Ellingtons, the Jimmie Luncefords, and the Fletcher Hendersons, but people sometimes forget that jazz was not only built in the minds of the great ones, but on the backs of the ordinary ones."Cab Calloway

Those two quotes resonate strongly with the subject matter of this article. Believe it or not, there are many jazz fans out there in the world who really do appreciate and love classic, traditional, "hot" jazz music. Even in the age of digital technology, there are hundreds of blogs out in cyberspace dedicated to early jazz music. So, why is it that when a seasoned jazz fan goes to a website dedicated to jazz music, it's often impossible to find much information on A.J. Piron, Adrian Rollini, Harry Reser, or Fess Williams? Is it simple oversight? Well, more than likely it boils down to a lack of interest by either the journalist or the heads of the site in question. Most would rather just turn a blind eye to this music and report at length about the 80th boxset reissue from trumpeter Miles Davis—great though Davis is—perhaps being re-issued for the 14th time.

This attitude is in contrast to the one prevailing at All About Jazz. The folks at here are truly living up to their name, and blazing forward not only with a new website design, but broader content. By encouraging coverage of this ignored area of the idiom, the site is truly giving a comprehensive view of the entire spectrum of jazz. So, let the record stand that AAJ is the only place in cyberspace where you can find articles on trumpeter Dave Douglas as well as the Georgians.

One of the finest examples of a record label offering some of the most comprehensive sides to artists of long ago is the Retrieval division of Challenge Records. Retrieval Records' disclaimer states that they took over the Fountain catalogue, founded in 1971 by Ron Jewson and Norman Stevens, later joined by John R.T. Davies. It was Davies who is responsible for all of the restorations you hear at Retrieval, even from the very beginning. The label respects the quality and the provenance of the recordings: the listener will find that nothing has been added or omitted. If you think it's difficult to convince websites to cover content on these artists, you can only imagine the difficulty associated with asking a record company to pour money into restoration / remastering projects of hundreds of 78s by artists who are virtually invisible on the musical landscape.

These classic artists are not close to the popularity of a Kanye West, Beyonce or even saxophonist Chris Potter, guitarist Bill Frisell or Radiohead. This does not mean that their effort and output isn't great—just merely hidden. Sometimes a purse holder to these companies grew up with classic jazz being played in their house, and they feel a nostalgic need to help fight the good fight. Sometimes the person in charge is a musician and actually knows the degree of importance these artists hold to the entire scope of jazz. Either way, what Retrieval has in their catalog is truly a labor of love, and below is a general overview of just a few of the many wonderful titles that they offer, guaranteed to make you want to sport a fedora and sip on a gin fizz.

Piron's New Orleans Orchestra

Piron's New Orleans Orchestra featuring Lorenzo Tio Jr.

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