Jazz record labels make things happen, and although notions of what a record company are there to do vary enormously nowadays, they still count.

In recent years the tide has changed with the digital revolution and artist empowerment, and even since the last survey here in November, a bunch of important new labels, or reactivated ones, are making a real difference in pushing the music forward, connecting with fans and building the sector.

Digital-only releases, for instance, the latest Andrew McCormack trio album through Edition, are becoming more commonplace, but remain the exception to the rule. The vinyl-only label Gearbox, though, has begun to make its unique presence felt. What goes around…

…comes around, and watch out for the return of Verve records in the UK, with new A&R in the late-spring, a year after the UK office was closed down. It comes at a time when Blue Note and Verve will come under the same roof for the first time, “great ships coming in to dock", as the label chief at Universal has put it. 

Label activity

Prog-jazz inclined, artists include Redivider, ZoiD, and Thought-Fox.

Sax force-of-nature Tommy Smith’s label, back with a bang and In The Spirit of Duke

Alex Wilson records
A burgeoning label catalogue topped by a fine new trio release from the leading latin-jazz pianist of his generation

Lyte records
Drummer David Lyttle’s forward thinking label. Artists include teenage jazz guitar sensation Andreas Varady

House of Legends was a big hit for Courtney Pine’s label in 2012 topping the Jazzwise Album of the Year critics’ poll

Martin Speake’s label, Polar Bear-meets-Ellington at last!

Part of Sony Classical: Bill Frisell, Dhafer Youssef, John Medeski, and Michel Camilo are on the roster. No website yet.

There is a UK placeholder website for the famed record company founded by Norman Granz. But there are few details so far, and the Universal-owned label won’t comment on the new signings. Check back for the first news when the publicity button is finally pressed. Last year before the label closed vocals starlet Natalie Duncan, among others, was signed.

Vinyl-only, artists include hard bop purist Simon Spillett, and the great Kenny Wheeler.       MB

Report: Stephen Graham

 Diatribe artist ZoiD, top


There must be a dream factory somewhere, a place where crooners are manufactured. Well there definitely is a crooner style and sound among new Britjazz singers, and it usually involves a suit, a sharp haircut and a knowing look. Alexander Stewart and Theo Jackson are just two of the latest to emerge, and ex-West End theatre singer Anthony Strong follows quickly on from these Manchester and London jazz stars in the making. A crooner and piano player, he has the suit of course, and the hair. With the trace of his own shadow on the wall Strong stands almost but not quite the rebel on a sofa on the cover of Stepping Out (Naïve **1/2). There’s a strong cast of players on this album with bass duties shared by Tom Farmer and Calum Gourlay; and former Jamie Cullum drummer Sebastiaan de Krom and Matt Skelton the sticksmen involved, on a selection of the 14 tracks here. Guitarist Chris Allard completes the core band, with guests Aussie trumpeter James Morrison, saxophonists Brandon Allen and Nigel Hitchcock, with still more players in the horn section and strings as well. I really didn’t warm to the rinky-dinky way the horns have been recorded (it’s just the audio style incidentally not the playing which is perfectly fine), but more than this Strong really doesn’t make his presence felt. The song choices are good, although you can’t really go wrong with ‘Witchcraft’, ‘Too Darn Hot’ and ‘My Ship’, yet the album sounds as if it’s going through the motions. Strong’s voice is like a younger, more bashful, Jamie Cullum and owes a debt to Harry Connick Jr; and it’s clearly too early to talk about an individual sound. Dream factories are all very well, but no one can create raw excitement on demand, and that’s an element Stepping Out could do with. MB
Stephen Graham 

Anthony Strong above



Imagine coming across a tape, languishing in a drawer, by a giant of jazz. Unheard for more than three decades. Too unknown even to be properly forgotten.

Bassist Don Thompson made such a discovery.

And now At Home, a lost recording George Shearing and the ex-Paul Desmond sideman made together in Shearing’s New York apartment, emerges at last.

Shearing’s widow the former-singer Ellie Shearing is issuing the album on a new label called JazzKnight on 15 April.

Interest in Sir George is at a high at the moment two years since the great Battersea man’s passing with the launch of The Shearing Hour, an early evening piano hour at the Pizza Express Jazz Club.

There’s also a strong indication that Universal will step into the fray some time after May to reissue tracks from the storied Capitol years, languishing in the recently acquired EMI vaults.

Canadian Thompson, a musical partner of Shearing’s on such albums as Live at the Cafe Carlyle, played the January 1983 created tape to Ellie Shearing after a memorial concert in Toronto.

Lady Shearing says she liked what she heard. “I brought it back to New York," she says in publicity material, “and took it to Jim Czak, who is the chief engineer of his own recording studio. I wanted to hear this CD on the big speakers in his studio. Mike Renzi [a late-period Peggy Lee accompanist], a fabulous jazz pianist in his own right, also came by. Well, we sat listening to the entire recording without saying a word. When the last note had died away, there was silence. Jim spoke first. ‘Ellie, I couldn’t have recorded this better here in the studio.’ Mike then added: ‘This has got to be heard’."

Look out for more on At Home, which features duo tracks and four solo numbers, later in the week on Marlbank. Tracks are thought to include ‘I Cover the Waterfront’, ‘Can’t We Be Friends’, ‘Laura’, and ‘Beautiful Love’. MB

An earlier version of ‘Laura’ performed by George Shearing to listen to for now: and a version of ‘Beautiful Love’ also previously issued:

George Shearing, top


So festivals based on album titles. What’s to think? Well, I’m in favour although, clearly, some album titles would not quite work. 20 Jazz Funk Greats might not be the best choice to be perfectly frank. Throbbing Gristle fans aren’t necessarily heartland jazz fans. Or at all. But can you imagine the chaos? And a festival themed around Peter Brötzmanns Machine Gun might be a bit intense.

Brilliant Corners though works, and if you noticed the earlier post today about festivals, its first running as a festival later this month bristles with some great artist choices. 

The album Brilliant Corners itself has just five tracks: the title track clocking in modestly at just under eight minutes followed by the A side epic ‘Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba Lues-Are’; with ‘Pannonica’, named after the jazz baroness of course; ‘I Surrender Dear’; and jam session favourite, ‘Bemsha Swing’, completing the music. The album’s producer Orrin Keepnews recalls the album in this fascinating video, a link to which is below. MB


Brilliant Corners 21-23 March
With Liane Carroll, David Lyttle, Mark Lockheart’s Ellington In Anticipation, Steve Davis, and Alexander Hawkins to perform at this new festival inspired by a classic Monk album.

Gateshead jazz festival 5-7 April
Centred at the Sage, Soweto Kinch, Lighthouse, Christine Tobin, Ruby Turner and Louis Moholo-Moholo/Alexander Hawkins are Tyneside bound this year.

Cheltenham jazz festival 1-6 May
Dionne Warwick, Van Morrison, Laura Mvula, Polar Bear, Gary Burton, Dave Douglas, and Mike Gibbs are set to appear in the lively old regency spa town.

Love Supreme, 5-7 July
New outdoor festival in Sussex, Bryan Ferry, Chic, Gregory Porter, Michael Kiwanuka, Jools Holland, Courtney Pine, Robert Glasper, Neil Cowley Trio and Portico Quartet feature.

Swanage jazz festival 12-14 July
Dorset bound are Kit Downes Quintet, Jean Toussaint, Gilad Atzmon, and Karen Street at the long established jazz gathering.

Manchester jazz festival 26 July-3 August
One of the most innovative jazz festivals in the country, with a strong regional and artistic identity. Worth waiting for the line-up to be announced in the spring.

Brecon jazz festival 9-11 August
Acker Bilk, Courtney Pine, Gilad Atzmon, Roller Trio, John Surman and more in the Powys market town for the biggest jazz gathering in Wales, now reborn.

Scarborough jazz festival 27-29 September
Kicking the sands from their shoes in Yorkshire are Courtney Pine, Kyle Eastwood, Ian Shaw, Beats & Pieces and more this year.

Cork jazz festival 25-29 Oct
Line-up should be available in September.

London jazz festival 15-24 November
The biggest of the UK jazz festivals, celebrating its 21st year in 2013. MB

Gregory Porter, Courtney Pine and Portico Quartet top


Jarringly miscued at time, of all the sometimes lamentably misinformed reaction to Dancing on the Edge, which tonight has an extra programme, a quirky set of fictional interviews with the band conducted by Stanley (Matthew Goode), the journalist modelled on Spike Hughes), the only writer who really understood the essence of this Poliakoff work as television, writing even as he did at the half way point, was Clive James. What a lot of people missed, but not James, who picks up on a then and now comparison about society and prejudice, is that Poliakoff isn’t interested in some sort of churning momentum. And even if you thought episodes dragged (I think the third was most guilty in this respect), the characters were given depth and the actors did the writing justice although I thought Julian’s portrayal could have been handled better as it wasn’t clear if he was a chinless wonder, or just cruel. Maybe he was both. Poliakoff does leave you hanging at times and that’s why I think the series worked as a whole.  

Anyway, a lyricist as well as a television reviewer of genius James, had this to say, which went to the heart of the matter:

‘Languid or not in its writing and direction, however – Mr Poliakoff is in charge of both departments the show’s treatment of race prejudice is a proof that British culture has come a long way. Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford, both of them theoretically advanced, casually took it for granted that a social acceptance for black entertainers was a sure sign of national decadence.

Times have changed, although one thing will probably never change. As long as a British series is up for sale to the Americans, two people of different races, even if they are as beautiful as Janet Montgomery and Chiwetel Ejiofor, will never be allowed to go to bed together without a carefully interposed sheet.

Mind you, if the couple were both of the same race, the sheet would still be there. That’s the way the Americans want it, so they must have it. Poor them, though: did they ever deserve something as wonderful as jazz? It was 1969 before President Nixon honoured Duke Ellington with the Medal of Freedom, and yet jazz was recognized as a miracle forty years previously by the future Duke of Windsor, in almost all other respects a total idiot.’ 


Tune in for the interviews with the band on BBC2 at 10.30 MB