Label Spotlight

JaZt Tapes
By Ken Waxman

What started as a retirement hobby creating CD-Rs for selected musician friends, has over the past couple of years led to the creation of a thriving, professional outlet for improvisers to get their music to the public. The outlet is label JaZt Tapes, which in fact deals only with CD-Rs not tapes. Located in Norrkoping, Sweden, over the last little while JaZt Tapes has released 20 limited runs CD-Rs featuring live performances from, among others, tenor saxophonist Abdelhaï Bennani, multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter, guitarist/pianist Jeffrey Hayden Shurdut and bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten. Still the genesis and subsequent growth of JaZt Tapes calls for a new definition of the terms “retirement” and “hobby”.

JaZt Tapes’ only employee is Jan Ström. A successful Swedish businessman, Ström founded and ran the Ayler Records label from 2000 to 2009, releasing 200 CDs over the years. Turning over the imprint to Paris-based Stéphane Berland, Ström, who has been a jazz follower for more than half as century “retired” until New York-based Shurdat, who is also an artist, was scheduled to display his paintings in a local gallery. Besides performing at the opening, Shurdut, who had recorded frequently for Ayler in the past, suggested that Ström duplicate a few copies of an unreleased tape of a trio session to distribute at the opening. Others were made available for sale, and soon Ström was back in the record business.

“This music comes from the lowest places and some of the highest you can ever imagine; unfortunately, it’s what’s at eye level that people mainly see”, notes NYC-based Shurdat. “But Janis that one out of the 200 kimberlite pipes that finds diamonds. Jan has, and will always have, this skill in him. So whether the initiative [for JaZt Tapes] is me, or him, I’m glad it’s getting done.”

Essentially Ström duplicates about 100 copies of each release on his computer, which when coupled with cover art work, become professional-looking CD-R packages musicians can distribute to whom they wish. If the music is to be copyright, he handles the task and sometimes pays for the registration himself, although copyright remains with each musician. And although Ström supplies the CD-Rs to the artists any sales realized goes to the players. >>

“I’m sure many artists could also manufacture their own discs and they could also take over that work from me any time,” he adds, “but JaZt Tapes artists are happy with me.” So happy in fact that major stylists such as Howard, bassist William Parker and others are featured on JaZt Tapes, with proper arrangements made before the project appears with the leader, or Howard’s case with his estate.

Adds Storm: “Artists are, of course, proud of their music and feel it should be known. Most of the time though, many have recordings which for some reason haven’t found the proper label to release them.” That’s where JaZt Tapes comes into the picture. A JaZt Tapes release can be used for promotion or even as a “demo” to interest other labels with direct income possibilities. Since the artists retain all rights, any JaZt Tapes session could also in time become a full-fledged CD on a bigger imprint.

Recalls Strom: “The heavy work with Ayler was administration, so letting young Stéphane Berland keep the released catalogue going [from Paris base] was the correct decision for me at the time. The JaZt Tapes Project is something else. No admin work regarding money is involved and I can be in touch with the music I always listen to anyways.”

Why release a session on JaZt Tapes? For a start as Strom says: “The artists have complete say about the music they want to show the world. I never give an opinion on the music.”

“My relationship with Jan is based on reciprocal trust” notes Bennani, the French-Moroccan saxophonist who has been recording since 1986 and has released sessions on four other imprints in the past. “Very few labels produce live recordings and when they do, they want to be part of the creation from the beginning. But with JaZt Tapes records are made before any editing and the result is a complete and faithful audio copy of the original master, well shaped, with a readable booklet and Jan’s fantastic photos.”

All JaZt Tapes releases so far have been then result of Strom’s contacts. “I can’t manage too big a catalogue,” he admits. Meanwhile the main exposure for the existing releases is as a section on Strom’s own Web site. “The site is basically concerned with my sessionography of the [late alto saxophonist] Jimmy Lyons, which I’ve been working on since the ‘80s. I want people to visit this site so Jimmy will be remembered. To place the JaZt Tapes catalogue there may make some people who never heard of Jimmy interested in him as well.”

Notes Shurdat: “Writers have approached the music on JaZt Tapes, and are giving the label some deserved attention. At least I know someone is listening. Going to larger labels? I'm not sure what that means. If you think ‘bigger is better’ go to McDonald’s.”

JaZt Tapes has just released a disc with pianist Eric Zinmann, drummer Syd Smart and cellist Glynis Lomon collaborating with trumpeter Ted Daniel. Shurdat has more releases planned, as does Bennani, including one featuring Alan Silva on orchestral synthesizer.

Half-joking and half-serious Strom maintains: “The project is my hobby. Some guys play golf. I prefer to plays jazz records.”

—For The New York City Jazz Record February 2014