Jazz at Lincoln Center and Sony Music Team Up for Blue Engine Records
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Jazz at Lincoln Center has shelves upon shelves of recordings from concerts it has presented since its founding in 1987, including a studio recording featuring the pianist Chick Corea, a musical Mass with a gospel choir written for the 200th anniversary of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York and concerts with the saxophonists Sherman Irby and Ted Nash.
Now, that organization, together with Sony Music Entertainment, is bringing that archive, as well as new studio and live recordings, to the public through the creation of its own label, Blue Engine Records, to be announced on Tuesday.
“In jazz, recordings are your identity,” said Wynton Marsalis, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s managing and artistic director. “So the identity of our institution has not been available — unless we’re live.”
Jazz at Lincoln Center will release the recordings as CDs and digital downloads and to streaming music services, with a few titles in vinyl format, through an exclusive agreement with RED Distribution, a division of Sony Music, for distribution in the United States and overseas. RED’s ’stache media, a marketing company, will provide publicity, branding and social media support. The financial arrangements of the deal were not disclosed.
“It’s the legendary and iconic company of Jazz at Lincoln Center,” said Bob Morelli, RED’s president. “Sony RED is a fairly eclectic company; I’m not limited to rock or pop or hip-hop.”
In an age of music services like Spotify and a crowded marketplace, skeptics might wonder about the prospects for a new record label, let alone one devoted to a classic form like jazz. The financial upside is likely to be limited and the field could prove competitive, given that several jazz clubs also have their own labels. But Sony said the deal holds potential.
“There is a significant market for jazz,” Mr. Morelli said. “I don’t see this becoming Madonna, where Wynton’s going to do halftime at the Super Bowl, but virtually anything is possible.”
Blue Engine Records represents only the latest effort by Jazz at Lincoln Center to serve existing jazz fans and to expose new audiences to the music beyond its New York stages in the Time Warner Center, as it has with webcasts; a new radio show, “Jazz Night in America” (produced with NPR Music and WBGO); a video web series on its own YouTube channel, Facebook page and jazz.org; and a growing library of over 600 performance videos available free through Jazz at Lincoln Center’s education portal.
The recording project is the baby of Mr. Marsalis, who has conceived and developed each year’s programming over the last 28 years. “I picked almost every song we played at every concert,” he said.
Comprising mostly performances by Mr. Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, the organization’s R. Theodore Ammon Archives and Music Library has grown to include thousands of songs from hundreds of concerts.
The company is also announcing a 12-city “Blue Engine Tour” beginning Sunday with a first-time performance at the Breckenridge Music Festival.
As part of the tour, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Mr. Marsalis will appear in six summer music festivals, including Jazz Aspen Snowmass’s 25th anniversary season, where the band will be joined by the vocalist René Marie, and Tanglewood’s 75th-anniversary season. For its first-time appearance at the Caramoor Jazz Festival, the band will be joined by the singer Cécile McLorin Salvant.
The Blue Engine recordings will be rolled out over 15 years, starting with about six releases a year. “You start small — you figure out how to serve the audience and our mission,” Mr. Marsalis said. “We wouldn’t want to rush things.”
That said, he added that the company had “80 viables” ready to go as soon as they’re mixed. Blue Engine will start with the most recent recordings and move backward in time. The releases will not necessarily consist of an entire concert; they may include the seven or eight best songs, Mr. Marsalis said.
The recordings will feature outside artists, as well as the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. The orchestra has released previous albums but in a piecemeal fashion.
Blue Engine will be operated as part of Jazz at Lincoln Center’s brand and audience development department, which is managed by Gabrielle Armand.
RED specializes in digital and physical sales and marketing, as well as radio promotion and product development for more than 60 independent record labels, as well as artists from Sony-owned labels and Sony joint ventures with Descendant Records, Ultra Records, Red Bow Records and RED Associated Labels.
“Our mission is to distribute and sell and to brand the label imprint,” Mr. Morelli said. “But simultaneously it’s to sell stuff, to do as much as we can. We’re going to be as aggressive as we can.”
The first release from Blue Engine, “Live in Cuba,” featuring Mr. Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, will be released on Aug. 21 (and is available for pre-order online). Recorded over three nights at the Mella Theater in Havana in October 2010, “Live in Cuba” explores the connections between American jazz and Afro-Cuban music, from bebop to bolero.
Jazz at Lincoln Center said it was now regularly connected to one million people through Facebook, website visits and email lists and Mr. Marsalis said he looked forward to reaching many more with Blue Engine.
“Anyone who’s interested in having a relationship with us can have a clear idea of who we are and what we do,” he said. “Our music is about freedom and bringing people together through swing.”
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