Perhaps no musical genre has benefited more from reissues of older material and CD technology than jazz. Artists both famous and obscure and LPs long, long out of print have found new life in recent years.
The vast vaults at Columbia Records have in particular yielded much, including the recent box sets Duke Ellington: The Complete Columbia Studio Albums Collection 1951-1958 (9 CDs) and Charlie Christian: The Genius of the Electric Guitar (4 CDs).
Michael Brooks and Michael Cuscana produced both sets, the latest in a series which has also given new life to the works of Charles Mingus, Stanley Clarke, Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith.
Brooks tells Art Attack about the Ellington and Christian sets, his experiences working under legendary producer John Hammond and what Christian might have done had he not died tragically young at the age of 25.
Art Attack: First, I know you got into the business working for Hammond. What was he like?
Brooks: John Hammond hired me in 1971. He was, at times, infuriating to work for. Vague, capricious and often arrogant. He was also kind, generous and very supportive in a totally anonymous way. There wasn't a month went by when some musician, down on his luck, would drop by to see John, and they never went away empty-handed. After I stopped working for him, people like Jerry Wexler and Nat Hentoff would call me up, saying how John had sung my praises.
But John was a victim of his own sheltered upbringing. He was generally disliked at Columbia, because he didn't know how to play the corporate game. If someone questioned his artistic judgment, he simply went over their heads, even going as high as William Paley himself, whom he had known since the early 1930s. More »