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Todd Barkan: Continuation and Augmentation

Wayne Zade By

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Todd Barkan has been one of the most important and versatile producers of jazz concerts and records around the globe for almost 30 years. The list of artists whose projects he has produced reads like a veritable Who's Who of jazz. Barkan has managed many artists, including the Boys Choir of Harlem, Chico O'Farrill and Freddy Cole, has been working since 2001 as artistic administrator for Jazz at Lincoln Center, where he has been Programming Director of Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola since 2004." Barkan also ran 32 Records in New York at the turn of the decade and, perhaps, more importantly, the legendary Keystone Korner jazz club in San Francisco for over a decade (1972-1983), where he first met Tetsuo Hara, his now longtime Japanese record label associate and owner of Venus Records. Here, Barkan speaks about the great deal of work he's done for Japanese record labels like Venus.
Todd Barkan
All About Jazz: Todd, you have had a long association with Venus Records and its owner Tetsuo Hara in Japan. How did you begin your association with jazz in Japan?
Todd Barkan: Over my whole professional career, I've produced over 800 records, and a lot of those recordings have been done for Japan. I've done quite a few, obviously, in the United States, I've done some for European companies. I've done some projects for artists themselves, and for tiny little boutique labels. But I am quite sure that the largest amount of my record production work has been done for Japan.

I started working with Mr. Hara through Alfa Records. We worked together on some of the most historic recordings I've ever produced, and those are the 16 CDs of Bill Evans, recorded live at Keystone Korner in San Francisco just before he died. We worked together on the first volume, which contains eight full CDs and is called Consecration (JVC Japan, 2002). The second volume I worked on myself at Fantasy Records/Milestone: The Last Waltz (Milestone, 2000). Mr. Hara was the main man who worked on that set of recordings with me, and he did some tremendously dedicated work on the first eight CDs of Bill Evans material—that's where our working relationship began. So he and I are joined through Keystone Korner and Bill Evans and Consecration. That's how our relationship was "consecrated." We have known each other for about 20 years now, and I work with him on the production of all the Venus recordings that are made in New York.

AAJ: Are the recordings made mostly in New York?

TB: I would say that a majority of Venus Records are made in New York City, but Mr. Hara also travels to Italy and other countries in Europe to make recordings and even does some recording in Japan.

AAJ: Have you traveled to Japan?

TB: I have been to Japan quite a few times, perhaps a couple of dozen times since the 1970s. Over the years, I've had some good relationships with Japanese associates. I started working with contacts there in the '70s when I had the Keystone Korner, in San Francisco. My involvement in Japan reached a peak in the very early '90s. From '91 to '94, I was working on a club called Keystone Korner Tokyo.The name and trademark of Keystone Korner were franchised, and I was booking a club and working on a club that actually had a Japanese owner. [The owner] which was a Japanese record company known as Alfa Records, for which I had produced albums. My work in Japan continued periodically throughout the '90s. I haven't really been traveling to Japan much since then.

AAJ: When you travel to Japan, do you go mostly to Tokyo, or do you travel around the country?

TB: Almost always just to Tokyo, because that's where my work has been. I have been on a couple of tours. I road-managed the final Japanese tour of Gerry Mulligan and his quartet—that was a great experience. I toured a little bit around Japan with Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache Band. I've been to Kyoto, Kobe, Nagoya, Fukuoka, Sapporo—all major cities.

AAJ: Do you find the support of jazz pretty consistent throughout Japan?

TB: Yeah. All over Japan.

AAJ: There are great clubs all over?

TB: Well, there are some clubs. Or "jazz societies." Most of the jazz clubs are in Tokyo. There are a few in Osaka, in Fukuoka, and Nagoya. Then there are little jazz bars, bars where jazz is played all the time, where you can go and request CDs and LPs.

AAJ: Oh, coffeehouses.

TB: Coffeehouses, right. Jazz coffeehouses.

AAJ At the Keystone Korner Tokyo, did you employ American jazz players, or Japanese players, or both?

TB: We programmed only American jazz players. I also programmed a jazz club in Oakland that was called Keystone Korner Yoshi's, in '92 and '93. So I would sometimes hire groups that would play both these clubs, Keystone Korner Tokyo and Keystone Korner Yoshi's in Oakland. I continue to work with many of these musicians to this very day, at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York, where I've been the Programming Director since 2004.

AAJ Who are some of the musicians you've worked with?

TB: Cedar Walton, Kenny Burrell, Bobby Hutcherson, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Marlena Shaw, Little Jimmy Scott, Ernestine Anderson, Paquito D'Rivera, Randy Weston, Freddy Cole, Kenny Barron, Buster Williams, Mulgrew Miller, Frank Wess, Eddie Henderson, Ron Carter, just to name a few.

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