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ARSCLIST  March 2015

ARSCLIST March 2015

Subject:

RIP Orrin Keepnews

From:

Tom Fine <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 3 Mar 2015 07:44:36 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

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text/plain (53 lines)

Here's Marc Myers' appreciation of Orrin Keepnews:
http://www.jazzwax.com/2015/03/orrin-keepnews-1923-2015.html

Riverside was run on a shoestring (and in fact even that shoestring was the result of financial 
maneuvers that unwound after Bill Grauer died, and suddenly there was no shoe or string). One deal 
Keepnews made, which resulted in many very good-sounding recordings in the mid and late 50s, was get 
Hazard "Buzz" Reeves to give him a cut rate on an engineer and one of Reeves' studios if Riverside
block-booked overnight sessions. He could then get his musicians in the studio after they finished a 
club date or a late meal. He got generally very good performances, especially from the erratic 
Thelonious Monk. So, his method worked. Reeves was a modern, long-established high-quality studio, 
so Riverside records of this era tend to sound better than what was coming out of Rudy Van Gelder's 
parents' house. Reeves was more akin to Radio Recorders in Hollywood, and having access to a studio 
like that was a coup for a little indie jazz label operating on a shoestring. In the stereo era, 
Keepnews moved on to Plaza Sound, and continued to produce excellent-sounding jazz recordings.

Also interesting about Riverside ... Bill Grauer was a racing car nut. He produced a series of 
albums documenting various Formula One races, including early stereo "wowzer, Marge, that's a car 
race from Seebring zooming across our living room" records. This niche was of course highly mockable 
by those who mocked stereophony and audiophiles in general. Grauer's answer was to produce the
ultimate mocking record, Peter Ustinov's "The Grand Prix of Gibralter."

One other tidbit. Keepnews and Grauer were first and foremost record collectors. They got their 
start in the record business by writing and editing a magazine, The Record Changer (later sold to 
Nehushi Ertugun of Altantic Records jazz fame). One of their feature articles
early on lambasted the major labels for keeping old hot-jazz titles in the vault and enabling 
crappy-sounding pirate discs in the marketplace, in the case of RCA doing special-markets pressing 
for the pirates! RCA was impressed enough to hire Keepnews and Grauer to go into their vaults and 
put together a series of twelve 10" LPs, "The RCA Victor Encyclopedia of Recorded Jazz." The records 
were chock full of material from the Victor vaults, with front and back of the jackets full of 
detailed annotation. They later made a deal for the old Gennett recordings, and put out a 4-LP set 
"The Riverside History of Jazz," which is a very unique take on the topic since they had no access 
to the Victor or Columbia vaults. Grauer and Keepnews also had collected a large archive of 
jazz-related photographs, and published an excellent illustrated history of jazz up through the 
bebop era. With Monk, Cannonball Adderley and Wes Montgomery, Keepnews helped write the next 
chapters.

Keepnews was old and a good bit deaf when Concord Music Group bought Fantasy Group and asked him to 
pick his favorite Riverside recordings for the Orrin Keepnews Edition reissues. To his credit, 
Keepnews trusted remastering engineer Joe Tarantino, and very good-sounding CDs resulted.

One man's opinions ... Monk's Riverside records, particularly the small-group recordings, are his 
best. He was at his most musical then. The Wes Montgomery albums are excellent, showcasing a unique 
talent. The Cannonball Adderley recordings for Riverside are superb, with Cannonball able to strike 
out in his own musical directions. He got more R&B-ish at Capitol, but I think he displayed a wider 
range of playing on Riverside. I'm not a Bill Evans nut, but the albums recorded at the Village 
Vanguard set the bar high forever on what I call "piano trio" jazz. It was very different from what 
Oscar Peterson had popularized in the 50s, and different again from what Ahamad Jamal was doing. 
There were many other great Riverside titles. One of note is "A Child's Introduction to Jazz," 
narrated by Cannonball Adderley:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkORhAHXJ3o

-- Tom Fine

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