Saturday, November 8, 2014

Commodore Records and CrossoverMedia

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

What follows is intended to provide you with a “then and now” perspective on music reproduction and media distribution, or, what a difference nearly 100 years make!

Stay with this one as it is an example of how quickly things can change in just a few generations.

In Reading Jazz: A Gathering of Autobiography, Reportage, and Criticism from 1919 to Now, editor Robert Gottlieb has included excerpts from an extensive interview of Milt Gabler conducted by the esteemed Jazz writer and historian Dan Morgenstern that was included as part of Charlie Lourie and Michael Cuscuna’s huge project of reissuing the entire catalogue of Gabler’s Commodore Records, “a unique piece of Jazz history.”

In the interview, Milt Gabler [MG] recounts the following [paraphrased in places]:

“Q: You were born in New York City?

MG: That's right [1911]. I was born in Harlem, 114th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue, 169 St. Nicholas Ave.

Q: Let's start with the shop. It was your father's shop, but it wasn't a record store until you got involved in it, right?

MG: … My father's store was on Third Avenue between 41st and 42nd streets at that time. He had a radio and electrical store, a supply shop. Originally he was a hardware man, and when electrical stuff came in, he took that in. Then at the end of World War I, my Uncle Sid, my mother's younger brother, talked him into putting in radio parts and stuff like that, and they opened their radio department.

Later, a store became available between Lex and Third Avenue on the downtown side of the street, at 144 East 42nd Street, a little nine-foot store. Sid talked my dad into opening a radio shop exclusively on 42nd Street, to be nearer to Grand Central and get the flow of traffic when people walked to the Third and Second Avenue El. They had elevated trains in those years, although the Lexington Avenue was below ground.

Radio was coming in by '26 and '27, especially ham radios. Everybody built their own sets in those years. You bought kits, or you bought parts. You got these radio magazines and learned how to put together a crystal set or a one-tube set. And we sold batteries and aerial wire and all that kind of stuff.

I, of course, went with Sid to the 42nd Street store, and would wait on customers. Acetone speakers came out . . . Cone speakers were invented in those years, where you would get, like a wooden frame and you would stretch airplane cloth that they used on the wings of the airplanes in 1918, like the Wright Brothers and all. You stretched it over this square frame. They had magnetic coil and stuff with a stylus coming out of it, and a gimmick for putting the hole in the cloth, and then tightening on with a thumb screw, and pulling it back. Then you bought this stuff that kids used to sniff later, the glue, and you poured it on the cloth and it would shrink and become taut, and you would have a cone. Now they're made out of paper, but then you did it with this airplane cloth. And we sold all those kits and everything. It had a better sound the little magnetic thing, like a more sensitive earphone in your telephone. Those were the first loudspeakers with a cone on them, a cone diaphragm.

Anyway, I had one of those cone speakers up over the door transom. We used to tune in the radio stations, whatever was on—I don't remember the call letters. Of course, it was before the Red and the Blue Networks. But you did have Schenectady and you had what's now NBC and you had WOR. If it was music playing, some people walked in and asked if I sold phonograph records. I said "No, it's a radio store." Because they heard the music. After a while, there were quite frequent requests for phonograph records. So I told my father, "Pop, I'm getting calls for records in the store and we ought to take in records." He said, "Well, if you're getting calls, get the Yellow Pages [they had Yellow Pages in those years too] and look up the phonograph record companies" . . . Because at home, we had always had a crank phonograph, a Columbia Graphinola that my father bought in 1917 or 1918. So I was familiar with the records of the day, the humorous records, the cantorial records, opera records, and classical records that he used to play.

So I called up and I got the Columbia salesman. He said, "The salesman will come down." So the Columbia man came in and the Brunswick salesman came in. Victor wouldn't send anybody down because two blocks away from us there was a franchise. In the early days, around the time of World War I, or when Caruso was so big, you got exclusive dealerships on records. Even Columbia and Victor . . . If you had Columbia, you didn't have Victor records. If you had Victor they were almighty. They wouldn't let you stock any other label. And if you got that franchise, you had a good shop. So they still had that policy—1926 probably was the tail end of it. We had to wait until the dealer closed up a couple of blocks away. As soon as he went out of business, I called them and we got Victor Records. But it was a couple of years after I had the others. ….

MG: The Depression came right after radio hit big. Because as soon as they invented cone speakers, and electronic recording and all that stuff, things went . . . Electronically, the sound was much better than the old acoustical diaphragms on the old phonographs that we used to wind up and play. Although RCA or Victor had the Orthophonic, with a great air chamber in it and all, it couldn't compare to the electric sound that you got by playing a record. You see, they invented the phonograph pickup. So about this time, people could play records through their radio speaker rather than play them acoustically through air chambers.

And the Depression hit at that time, and people didn't have the money to buy records. People were listening to radio.

Actually, I may have been the first teacher to get my customers to get deep into collecting. It was an evolution for me. People found they could come into my store, and I would tell them about a new Louis Armstrong or a Duke Ellington record, that it was out. By musicians coming in, I found out the names of people that played on records. I would say "Who played that great trombone solo on that?" You soon found out, in the '20s, that it was Jack Teagarden or young Benny Goodman on those records. So that's what we would talk about.

Our name in the phone book was Commodore Radio Corporation, 144 E. 42nd Street. The telephone company was very efficient in those years. They called up and said, "We're getting calls for a Commodore Music Shop, and the Commodore Radio Corp. is listed at that address. Why don't you buy a listing for Commodore Music Shop in the phone book so people will be able to find you?" It was obviously a great idea, so we paid for the extra listing. The record part of it kept growing. Every week records would come out. So we changed the name from the Commodore Radio Corp. to the Commodore Music Shop. The record department got so big, we got rid of the radios, we got rid of all the sporting goods and tricks and novelties, etc.” [pp. 214-216, 219]

Milt would go on to form Commodore Records on which he recorded some of the great Early Jazz musicians such as Lester Young, Pee Wee Russell and Billie Holiday and sell these recordings through the shop, which brings us full circle to the Mosaic Reissues on both LP and CD.

The information about the Milt Gabler’s early years at his family electrical, radio and records stores and how they led to the formation of Commodore’s Records was what the world of music reproduction and distribution was like during the early decades of the 20th century.

Today’s standard for how music is made and made available to those who wish to purchase it is best exemplified by Crossover Media whose representative, Amanda Bloom, contacted me recently on behalf of four of the artist they represent and asked about my interest in reviewing their recordings on JazzProfiles.

When I said that I was interested and to please send me the CD’s, she gently redirected my attention to the fact that it would be quicker and more thorough if she could send me links to these artists “Pages” on which I could access and download Mp3 files for each of the recordings I had indicated a willingness to review PLUS - each Artist Page contained - Media Tracking [in what states and on what stations excerpts from the CD have been played - Track Listings [all of the tracks on the CD;sample the music] - tour dates [past and upcoming] - press releases - artist biography - videos of the artist performing music from the CD kk- stories that have been written about the artist or the new CD or both - Twitter, Facebook and YouTube feeds all by clicking on them.

All of this information was available at a glance with one mouse click after bringing up a browser, putting in a link and reviewing the appropriate page.

[I should clarify that while samples are available, the full Mp3 files for each track on a recording must be purchased].

I had expressed interested in Somi, a new vocalist from Nigeria, tenor and soprano saxophonist Branford Marsalis latest effort which he recorded at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, trumpeter Orbert Davis recreation of the famous Sketches of Spain recording by Miles Davis and Gil Evans with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Chamber Ensemble, and anthology of interpretations entitled “Red Hot Bach.

In the comfort of your own living room [or wherever your computer is situated], you can click on the following links and each in turn will bring you a world of information on each of these artists and each of these recordings.

Just like that!

Given the pace of development explained in the narrative involving Milt Gabler’s Commodore Records, the astoundingly fast method that Crossover provides for coming into contact with the artist and their music is like something out of Samuel Beckett and The Theater of The Absurd.

By way of example, if you click on the link below this graphics of Somi, you will find a wealth of detailed information about the artist on her Crossover Media page.

Branford Marsalis has a new recording which features his performances at San Francisco’s famed Grace Cathedral. Want to know more? Just click on the link below the cover art.

The details of Orbert Davis’ stunning reinterpretation of the classic Miles Davis - Gil Evans collaboration on the iconic Columbia recording entitled Skecthes of Spain are one click away via this link:

Interested in listening to the eternal music of J.S. Bach in different musical settings? A click on the following link while bring you a whole host of them.

As it pertains to Jazz, the choice of “Crossover” is a particularly apt name for a media distribution firm because from its formative days in New Orleans’ Congo Square, Jazz has been crossing African rhythms with European harmonies and incorporating melodic influences from French, Spanish and Creole cultures that were still reflective in the Crescent City at the turn of the 20th century.

When Jazz moved up the Mississippi River via riverboat, the diverse urban cultures of Memphis, St. Louis and Chicago all played their part in shaping the music. The railroad helped Jazz “crossover” into New York in the East, Kansas City in the Midwest and Los Angeles and San Francisco bringing yet more cultural diversity into the music.

Since its inception, Jazz has been influenced by cross-cultural elements that have expanded it in new directions - melodically, harmonically, rhythmically and texturally [sonority]. Most of these cross-cultural influences have traditionally been national in origin.

Today’s influences are more international as modern day information and communication system bring all of the World’s cultures closer together.

If you are curious about what Jazz today might sound like, spend some time visiting the various artists pages on Crossover media’s website.

Many examples of the music’s latest manifestations are just a click away thanks to the audio-visual files and folders made possible by the Crossover Media team of savvy marketers and customer-friendly techies. Musical artists wholly or in combination have never been better served.

I wonder what Milt Gabler would have made of it all?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave your comments here. Thank you.