Siegfried Loch: 50 Years on the Music-Making Scene

R.J. DeLuke By

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With a half-century in the music recording business, Siegfried Loch, known to friends and associates as Siggi, has had a huge impact on the jazz music scene in Europe. Jazz isn't the only thing he's been involved in as a producer over all those years, but having his own jazz label—ACT Music, based in Munich, Germany—was always his dream. It's a vision he brought to fruition in 1992, resulting in more than 250 recordings that have received accolades in Europe and well as Grammy nominations in the United States.

The label has brought opportunity and exposure to a great many musicians, many in Scandinavia and Germany, but not exclusively so. While he has produced American jazz men on occasion—Yusef Lateef, Tim Hagans, Joe Pass, David Binney, Terri Lyne Carrington, among others—Loch's focus is on discovering new talent and fostering the careers of the people he's recorded over the years. For American jazz fans, the biggest name to come from the ACT stable was the trio of pianist Esbjorn Svensson, known as e.s.t. That outstanding group, many believe, was headed for global stardom if not for the tragic scuba diving accident that claimed Svensson's life in 2008. That group found its home and voice at ACT.

Loch has used ties he made in his years of association with American companies like Warner Brothers to establish himself, but he's also foraged for talent and has come up with an intriguing array of artists and styles for ACT. He says many of the recordings he produced were done based on original concepts developed in cooperation with the artists. But he also lets them ply their trade, in many cases, with minimal intrusion, preferring to let musicians have things their own way—even if it isn't pleasant to his ears. That's something musicians anywhere would relish.

He seems to have been on the music scene from his early days, and even had, for a time, a jazz group in which he was the drummer after he saw The Beatles perform during their famous embryonic stage at a nightclub in Hamburg, Germany, before the band's meteoric rise.

His label surfaced at a time when recorded music in jazz was being questioned; some say it was stagnant, filled with young musicians who may or may not have merited recording contracts. Many in the critical world were being accused of being to stodgy, too tied to the tradition. But ACT made an immediate splash with Jazzpana (1992), a flamenco-influenced recording arranged by Arif Mardin and—mostly—by Vince Mendoza, then relatively unknown. The recording received two Grammy nominations.

The label grew to its current status of high respect and acclaim. Loch's not a survivor of that period, or these times; he is one of the doers, one of the warriors. Surviving implies being knocked down, and neither ACT, nor Loch himself, has experienced that. Warriors wind their own way through the woods with strength, fortitude and even stealth. In 1998, Loch was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the German Association of Record Reviewers.

He had started in the industry as a salesman with the Import Service of EMI in 1960, but soon, in 1962, he was producer and label manager for Philips, producing projects including albums by George Gruntz and rock albums by Jerry Lee Lewis and Spencer Davis, among others. From 1967 to 1970, he was founding managing director of Liberty/United Artists Records and Metric Music Publishing in Munich, then became founding managing director of WEA Music Hamburg (later Warner Music Germany) and MUZ Music Publishing Munich. In 1975, he was made vice-president of WEA International.

He was already building a roster of German artists. In fact, from 1975 to 1982 he was chairman of the German Record Industry Association.

All the while, the idea of his own label was brewing in his mind. But circumstances, particularly jobs that he could not pass up, kept him from fulfilling the dream (even though he came up with the name ACT in 1962). As he moved around, he became president of WEA Europe Inc. in London and in 1989, a music production company—ACT Music+Vision in Berlin. It was not yet a record label but it soon would be.

Since 1992 ACT, which places a strong emphasis on artists from Scandinavia, has produced fine artists such as Nils Landgren, Ulf Wakenius and Lars Danielsson. Singers are also part of the tapestry, among them the sweet and supple voices of Viktoria Tolstoy and Rigmor Gustafsson.

Loch spoke recently with All About Jazz about his career and it's best to let him fill in the blanks of his illustrious life in music. The casual conversation with the fascinating and genial Loch occurred not long before a ceremony in which he was about to be knighted by King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden for his importance in Swedish culture via recording so many of its fine artists (which took place March 8, 2010).

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