Thursday, January 10, 2013

OKeh’s revival is more than OK

Record labels come and go. In the case of one historic imprint, they come back with new purpose. And it is not the first time for OKeh Records.

The OKeh label, founded in 1918, had a reputation in its early years as the home of so-called ”race records.” Its 1920 hit, Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues,” is often credited as the first blues record. OKeh also released historic early recordings by Louis Armstrong, King Oliver and Duke Ellington in its heyday.

The label shifted to the pop field in the 1950s, soul music in the 1960s and, after two dormant decades, re-emerged as a blues label in the mid-1990s.

Now the corporate parent, Sony Masterworks, is reviving OKeh for contemporary jazz artists with an adventurous spirit. Its first new release on April 9 will feature pianist John Medeski. Other recordings are coming from guitarist Bill Frisell’s Big Sur Quintet and a collaboration between saxophonist David Sanborn and pianist Bob James.

Sony Classical consultant Wulf Müller concveived of the label relaunch. He said he wants to “build a home for jazz and jazz related music of the highest quality, no matter what its origins are.” OKeh’s new mantra ties the record label to “Global Expressions in Jazz.” Müller said he hopes to create a label that will define the present and future of the music we call jazz."

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