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My mentors: Joe Fields

July 27th, 2009

Jazz recording entrepreneur Joe Fields
Joe Fields

I’ve been posting quite a few of the records I produced or engineered at the beginning of my career, and lately in particular, the Muse jazz records. Which has gotten me thinking about the incredibly important role Muse Records founder Joe Fields didn’t mean to play in my work life.

Somehow or other I ended up in Joe’s office (above the West 71st Street Bagel Nosh) in 1976 asking for a gig “producing” records (like I even knew what that was). Joe, in his always enthusiastic way, happily gave me an immediate assignment (I think it was the first Linc Chamberland LP), and for the next three or four years I was a willing student in his unintended record business class.

(For those who won’t read the Wikipedia entry,  Joe started Muse inj the early-70s after a long stint at Buddah Records where he started an in-house jazz label Cobblestone. It was a label of jazz “blowing” sessions, meaning it was primarily mainstream jazz artists who’d come in the studio and in two union sessions –six hours– record enough material for a complete album. Muse Records was among the last of its breed, in a day where the most revered mainstreamers had gone corporate. The result was an unparalleled 20+ year archive of jazz in America from 1972-1995. And Joe continues to add to the legacy with HighNote Records.)

I won’t bore you with all the things I got out of those “lessons,” but suffice it to say that Joe had forgotten more than I would ever know. How to pick an artist? How to promote? What to ignore? How to negotiate? What’s important, what’s not? When’s a good time to take a chance? Who was Juggy Murray? What was ‘producing’ anyhow?

A few of my Muse Records productions
Hank Jones > 'Bop Redux Hank Jones > Groovin' High Willis Jackson - In The Alley Willis Jackson > The Gator Horn Willis Jackson Jaki Byard Linc Chamberland > A Place Within Harold Ousley Walter Bishop Jr. > Hot House Don Patterson > Movin' Up! Dom Salvador Joe Chambers > Double Exposure  Carlos Garnett harvest+2 Junior Cook > Good Cookin' Eric Kloss > Now Together blank square blank square blank square

Joe introduced me to the real world. Without him I never would’ve gotten to work with 24 track recording, or get to meet the legendary Rudy Van Gelder. To say nothing of the artists like Hank Jones, Willis Jackson, Jaki Byard, or the others. And, he didn’t mean to change my musical tastes –I’m sure it was of no consequence to him whatsoever– but I walked in dedicated avant gardist and walked out a lifelong soul jazz devotee. (Soul jazz didn’t only sell better and longer, but was a lot more fun.)

There was a lot of history in Joe that I just soaked up and it was always fun dropping by the office just to listen to him on the telephone, working it with an artist, a studio, or maybe a distributor or radio station. Things that were second nature to him were golden to my uneducated ears, and I just couldn’t get enough. My only complaint is that I wanted more. More projects, more time, and more money. Mainly more projects, because they were just so much fun. But, I was going broke on the $250 a record he was paying me, though I now know if he paid me anything more he would’ve gone out of business. Lesson #1, being a survivor in the independent record business is never easy, and probably requires you to disappoint almost everyone wanting a better payday.

It was at a disastrous Muse session in Brooklyn that I called my friend, Muse liner note writer, and future partner Alan Goodman to come and help me figure out whether to stop trying to make a living at record producing and try my hand in the then revolution of cable television. You know who won.

Working with Muse Records was a once in a lifetime, unforgetable experience. Not all the records I worked on for Joe were wonderful. And some were beyond fantastic, truly world class. But, no matter the project, it was a rare privilege Joe Fields allowed me.

Joe was, and continues to be, a generous man. Thanks guy, I couldn’t be a producer without you.

Muse Records LP label