I`d been shopping in Soul Jazz for a couple of years. This was before it became a successful record label. Before it moved to Broadwick Street and morphed into Sounds Of The Universe. Back when it was hidden off Beak Street, on Ingrestre Place. At the counter, the always up, always friendly, and super-talented Willis was drawing a blank with the list of records I was asking for.
“If we haven’t got what you’re looking for, your best bet is Gerald. Do you know Gerald, Gerald Short? He’s got a stall in Camden, called Jazzman.”
I didn’t know Gerald, and to be honest at that point in my vinyl obsession the idea of interacting with an actual record-dealer – rather than shyly skulking about a shop – was vaguely terrifying. My ignorance would be obvious immediately. Plus I might end up spending a fortune. I didn’t, and still, don’t, know anything about Jazz. Other than what I like. I was simply hearing tunes on pirate radio and trying to find them. Before the internet, before digital, the only way I could be sure of hearing these pieces of music again, was to physically own them.
Then came Jazzman the label, which gave this fake Be-Bop chicken an easy way out / in. Their releases were, and continue to be, an education. Beginning with a series of AA-sided 45s. I bought them all on sight. From Soul Jazz, and Release The Groove. Sometimes Gilles might have given them a pump on his Sunday evening Kiss FM show, but often I handed over my cash without having any idea what they were. All I knew was that Gerald had endorsed them, and, consequently, somewhere they either were, or were about to become, a Jazz Dance classic. For the price of a 7” you could pick up amazing “double-headers”.
Lorez Alexandria’s Send In The Clowns paired with Letta Mbulu`s What Is Wrong With Groovin?
Esther Williams` Last Night Changed It All with Tommie Young’s Hit & Run Lover.
Lemuria`s Hunk Of Heaven with Terea`s Pretty Bird!
I was DJing regularly at The Medicine Bar on Upper Street. It was the bar-manager there who tipped me off to where Soul Jazz was. While my DJ partner, affectionately dubbed The Lizard, played fresh Garage imports, from The Time Is Right on Chapel Street Market, I`d break up his 4 / 4 with Loft bootlegs, from Mr. Bongo, Rare Groove from Reckless, and Gerald`s Jazz 45s. We ended up doing a monthly residency, stood in front of that portrait of a young Muhammad Ali, for nearly a decade.
Jazzman expanded. Splintered. There were off-shoots. Funk 45, Jukebox Jams, Popcorn, Soul7 and Titty Shakers. Each specialized, but linked in their uncovering of R&B-based gems. Stark Reality was started for new music. Then there were compilations, repro LPs, and bespoke reissues of “Holy Grails”. The championing of both British Jazz, and Spiritual, more esoteric, recordings from around the globe.
With in excess of three hundred releases, and that’s not counting those off-shoots, the label is an incredible resource. This year Jazzman celebrates its 20th anniversary. I did ask Gerald what they had planned. He was evasive, but already we’ve seen the release of five albums by The Don Rendell / Ian Carr Quintet, Spiritual Jazz Volume 9, and Infinite Spirit Music’s Live Without Fear. On the immediate horizon is a collaboration with Texan label, Fable, which will see the reissue of rare albums by Steam Heat, Starcrost, and Forty Seven Times Its Own Weight.
Where are you from, and where are you based?
I’m originally from Teeside, and after twenty years in London the company is now based in Henley.
How and when did you first get into collecting records?
As a teenager in the ’80s, it was a normal thing in those days to go out with your mates at the weekend and just buy records. Unlike most of my mates, I didn’t stop. I still buy records each and every day.
How and when did you first get into Jazz?
This will have been the mid-’80s when I started at Coventry Uni. A new experience and fresh faces brought about a new direction in music instead of the same old. Someone played me a tape of ‘the jazz dance craze that was happening in London’, it was Nina Simone, Oscar Brown Jr etc… I was hooked!
Were you going out dancing? Were you going to places like The WAG, or Electric Ballroom? Which DJs would have influenced you?
After Coventry I moved to London ostensibly because that was where the music was. I went to Dingwalls and the Electric Ballroom, etc., and took in the sounds as played by Gilles Peterson, Russ Dewberry, Patrick Forge, Kevin Beadle, and others.
Were you listening to pirate radio?
Yes I’d listen to the Rare Groove shows, but I have no idea now what stations they were.
When you first started out, where were you buying your records?
Soul Jazz when they were in Camden were great (now Sounds of the Universe in Soho). Also Mole Jazz in Kings Cross, Dobells & Rays Jazz both in Covent Garden and Honest Jons in Notting Hill. There were also a few less well-known shops such as Blue Monk in Wood Green, as well as loads of small less-specialized record shops dotted all over the place, and that’s not to mention hundreds of mail order outlets, record fairs, private dealers etc. There were many sources for records.
Were you already an avid collector before Jazz?
Not really, I was only a student so I didn’t have much money to spend on records, but I did what I could.
How, why and when did you start sourcing records to sell?
There were so many sources for the records I wanted, I thought I’d give it a go myself. It can’t be that difficult, can it? Just fly to the US and drive around looking for record shops using the local yellow pages as a guide. So I did just that. First time I went I borrowed $1000 from a friend and also borrowed my dad’s car – he lives out there. I drove to St Louis and spent the lot, staying on peoples floors as I’d rather spend my money on records than a motel. Then I hauled the boxes home as excess baggage, since freight was too expensive. Later I did choose the freight option – the whole lot got stolen and has never been recovered. It still pains me to this day knowing what was in there and how much $$$ it cost.
Where were you traveling to source vinyl?
Everywhere in the US apart from the Pacific NW states.
When did you start the stall in Camden?
Not sure exactly, but it will have been in the early ’90s.
How long did the stall run for?
Just over ten years I think.
What made you decide to start the label?
Records were getting scarce, and if demand exceeds supply, prices get so high that a lot of people miss out entirely. So a reissue label makes perfect sense. There were a lot of bootlegs about, but I wanted no part of that. I thought there must be a way of doing it legit. Starting from scratch with no idea how the music business worked was not easy. There was no internet; I can’t emphasize how easy the internet has made this business.
How about all the “spin-offs”. Funk 45, Jukebox Jams, Popcorn, Soul 7?
They’re all labels to promote various genres of music that are more specialized.
What’s your relationship with Fryers, and Athens Of The North? I always assumed these were Jazzman affiliated labels.
(Euan) Fryer worked with me from very early on. He helped set up the website and propelled us into the digital age. He started the Fryers subsidiary label while he was with us, but he’s since left to form Athens Of The North.
Can you tell me more about Stark Reality?
This was a sub-label that was formed to introduce new recordings from upcoming artists like Little Barrie, the Soul Destroyers and others. The idea was to release music on 7″ that had been deeply influenced by Funk / Jazz of the past.
Cherrystones released music on the label. When I interviewed him a few years back he told me that he used to also source music for you. Was this vinyl to sell or tunes to license?
Both, in fact he’s still at it – watch out for a release by Amirtha Kidambi Elder Ones coming soon!
As a DJ do you find yourself playing all over the globe? Are there any venues or parties that you play regularly?
I’ve cut down DJing a lot in recent years but in the past I have played in most European countries as well as Japan, the US, and Australia.
When you travel, do you still go “digging”? Do you still have a “wants list”? Do you still buy a lot of vinyl for personal use?
Yes, of course, that’s what I do! I’m always buying, whether online or in a real shop, though the latter doesn’t happen much these days. Most shops put their best stuff online. I don’t have a “want list”, just an open ear and open mind.
Can you tell me more about the two decade long mission to reissue the Don Rendell / Ian Carr Quintet records? Where did you first hear these records, and what made you persist for so long in your aim to make them available again?
When you have an idea sometimes it comes to the forefront of your mind and you act on it immediately. Other times it ruminates and might take a little longer to come to fruition. Sometimes certain circumstances have to prevail and the stars have to be aligned just so for the seed to germinate, even thought it’s been dormant for decades. This is exactly what happened here.
How hard has been to keep the label going for twenty years?
It’s been up and down as you can imagine but on the whole I wouldn’t have swapped running this business for anything else.
When was the most difficult time?
There have been a few. Distributor going bust leaving a £30k hole in the accounts wasn’t much fun. That complete shipment of LPs from the US getting stolen left me in tears. Prosecuting an employee who stole over £100k of stock was grim.
Gerald, along with everything else you’ve always championed British Jazz, Nat Birchall and Greg Foat being obvious examples. I was wondering what do make of the apparent current explosion of Jazz in the UK, and London in particular. Labels like 22a, acts and artists such as Tenderlonious, Ruby Rushton, Nubyia Garcia, Mansur Brown, Maisha, Chip Wickham, Matthew Halsall`s Gondwana collective. The modern mutant sounds of On The Corner. What is your take on all this? Why now? Did it ever really go away?
Jazz never did go away. It’s always been around. Maybe not on record, but it’s always been around in the form of local gigs, school and college bands, or even just private rehearsals. So yes it’s great to see that recordings are now taking place and more people are taking notice. Jazz isn’t ‘Pop’ music that you just get into benignly, it’s something you have to seek out, and I suspect the algorithms and connections made through social media and the internet in general help to push this. That said, DJ Gilles Peterson is probably the number one source of promotion. His enthusiasm and keen ear is behind many of the artists you mention.
In preparing to talk to Gerald I dug out all my old purchases. Quickly strung them together and realized what an eclectic amalgam this, his, Jazz was, is. Boogaloo, Funk, pioneering electronics, Library Music, Lovers Rock, Show tunes, and every shade of Soul. Listened to in one sitting they sure pack a punch of pure righteous joy.
Aaron Neville – Hercules
The Deirdre Wilson Tabac – I Can`t Keep From Crying Sometimes
Lorez Alexandria – Send In The Clowns
France Gall – Zozoi
Harold Wales – Rendezvous With The Sun
Charmaine Burnette – Am I The Same Girl
Keith Mansfield – Morning Broadway
Kathleen Emery – Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child
Tolbert – I’ve Got It
Eddie Warner – Devils Anvil
Roger Webb Sound – Grey Sigh
Pete Rodriguez – I Like It Like That
Asha Puthli – Right Down Here
Hilton Felton – Tell Her Love Has Felt The Need
Terea – Pretty Bird
Astra Nova Orchestra – Soul Sleeper
Alan Moorhouse – Soul Skimmer
Trinkas – Remember Me
Ricardo Marrero – Babalonia
Willie Wright – Right On For The Darkness
Barbara Mason – You Better Stop It
Esther Williams – Last Night Changed It All
IRP3 – Tema De Soninha
Ray & His Court – Soul Freedom
Tickled Pink – Reach Out
Marlena Shaw – Lets Wade In The Water
Mark Capanni – I Believe In Miracles
Sandi & Matues – The World Part 1
Lemuria – Hunk Of Heaven
Dolly Gilmore – Sweet Sweet Baby
Freddy Cole – Brother Where Are You
Sadaka – You Make The Sunshine
Har Percussion Group – Welcome To The Party
Jef Gilson – Modality For Mimi
Milton Wright – Keep It Up
Tommy Stewart – Bump And Hustle Music
Gettysburg Address – Baby True
Alan Parker & Madeline Bell – Thats What Friends Are For
Dee Felice Trio – Nightingale
Fred Johnson – A Child Runs Free
Triste Janeiro – In The Garden
Letta Mbulu – What Is Wrong With Groovin?
Nina Simone – Save Me
Heliocentrics – Winters Song
Etta James – Somethings Got A Hold On Me