Interview with John Jack owner of Cadillac Records in London June 14, 2007Posted by wallofsound in David Murray, Jazz, Music Industry.
At the end of May 2007 I had the opportunity to talk to John Jack, long time London-based jazz activist and co-owner of Cadillac records. I went to interview him because Cadillac released two David Murray records in the 1970s. The first, Conceptual Saxophone, was made from tapes of a Murray solo concert recorded in Paris, and two other parts of the recording were released on a French and an Italian label. The second, The London Concert, was based on a recording of a Murray Quartet concert organised by John at the Collegiate Theatre in London. Our conversation roamed far and wide into the history and business of British jazz, and I’ve extracted some of the issues that relate to Murray’s early career if you’re interested in reading them.
We started by discussing the culture of jazz at that time in London, and John talked about the issue of continuing a commitment to new forms of jazz coming out of the US. Although in a period of rapid change as a music, European fans had tended to be split between those who had more commitment to ‘trad’ jazz, and those who supported bop and post-bop music. We then talked about the main venues and record labels that supported modern jazz in London, and how he came to be involved as a promoter and record company owner. Finally we discussed how he came to release the two Murray records.
How well known would those black players, New York-based musicians, the new musicians, have been known in London, Britain at the time?
There was a small pool, and it hasn’t expanded really. Take an interesting label like Silk Heart, doesn’t sell a light over here, and it’s full of interesting music. By and large they don’t get the sales that less interesting bands achieve. They don’t get the hype and the pressure underneath them that. When you see what you can do if you spend the money.
It must have been quite a challenge, then, to put on the [Murray] concert?
Could you give me some of the background?
It came out of the Jazz Centre … It’s origins were in 67-68, when Ronnie [Scott’s club] moved out of Gerrard Street to Frith Street we were left with the rump of the lease, and after a while, being the great man that he was, [he] said: “we’ve still got the lease; let’s do things”. After a while, quite by accident really, it fell onto my shoulders to be the custodian of it. I had it for its last eighteen months. It closed on my birthday … Out of that we said we’ve got to have somewhere for the guys to play. By then we had a strong pool of people: we’ve got Mike Westbrook, McGregor, and all these guys, we’ve got a strong nucleus of people frankly playing [in ‘the Old Place’] to half a dozen people (except on closing night when they queued all down the street).
[So after the club’s demise we thought] We’ve got to go on, to get somewhere new to play. By then the Arts Council stepped in, we said we need money, but they said we can only do this if you have some sort of organisation to do it. So, Charlie Fox, Brian Blane, erm, John Fordham; a small group of us got together an initial committee. Now what do we do next. Find a venue. So we were looking around at various premises. We had high hopes: find a venue and get funding for it. We didn’t. From previous connections, long standing connections, in the 100 Club, I went to see Roger, and said it’s standing empty Monday nights can I have it to put things on. He said ok. So we get that as a starting point. It gave us one base. The committee gradually evolved. In the end there was about 12 of us on that committee … We’re starting to get it together, get a bit of money from people [The] first concert venture we did was the series … there were six, maybe eight concerts at the Conway Hall which included Ronnie Scott, Sandy Brown did one, Graham Collier, Westy [Mike Westbrook] …
Did you get a good audience?
We gradually expanded with the JCS in the Country Club … [We] pioneered many venues. Hazel [Miller] was an important part of it, managing the Brotherhood [of Breadth] and the Ogun group in partnership with her husband Harry Miller. That’s why we were very close together.
Were you running Cadillac at this time?
That started it, Westy [Mike Westbrook] and I started it in 1973.
We had done some things with RCA … and then we had some tapes that RCA didn’t want to put out. So we said all right, we’ll do it ourselves. It struggled a bit, but then (..) So then you’ve got a record, what you going to do? You’ve got to sell it, haven’t you. Prior, long prior to the Old Place – late 50s, beginning of the sixties – I was contriving a living wandering around, put this package together as wandering salesman. And the only way to make it half way viable we gota all these small labels. 77 was closely involved; Melodisc, I was closely involved with. Jazz Collector. Half a dozen or so labels which we used to sell as a going thing to record shops all over the country. So we knew the basic idea how to do it. And with my long involvement with Melodisc and 77 I knew who to go to with pressings, and my old mate at Melodisc, he helped me with credit at pressing plants like that. To get the first ones going.
So suddenly you are a record company and record distributor. By then, at the same time Ogun was just beginning, Graham Collier’s Mosaic label was starting. At one stage, by the mid-70s there must have been a dozen or more quite active, musician-owned labels. Mostly, not all, London based.
Over the years the distribution side is gradually taken hold, taken precedent over the production side. We’re not very productive these days. It was rich time.
How strong were your links with Paris, or Milan, other European scenes? Did it tend to be very insular in Britian?
I was fairly strong link with Paris, via Jef Gilson [who runs Palm records] he used to sell stuff for me in France. And Ogun had very strong links there. Touring, with Elton Dean and people. Without the continent it [the London modern Jazz scene] wouldn’t be what it is. The support [in the European continent] was much stronger and it still is much better in many ways.
For all jazz, or particularly the newer music?
Better for the Old Place generation. Thanks to the amount of work that Ogun and Hazel [Miller] and so on. The tours and things that they hustled up. … The Soft machine were doing good business there: Italy, Germany, France. [John] Surman, of course, moved to the continent quite early on. That gave him a foundation that he would never have got here. There was a little, for a while Harry [Miller] and [others] they had a brief involvement with the London Contemporary Ballet people. But no one over here was adopted on the scale that the Paris Opera House did with Surman. Which gave them [British musicians who moved to continental Europe] a chance to develop.
The [continental] audience always seems to be less class based. When it breaks down to it look at the media here, look at the listings: rock and pop gigs, opera gigs, ballet gigs , and then a couple of line left, oh stick in Ronnie Scott’s and Pizza Express as our token jazz. It doesn’t alter you know. This whole thing after all these years it hasn’t moved forward. A ballet company, a team of poets they can work to an audience of 20 or 30. Oh that’s ok, that’s art. But if a jazz act doesn’t pay for itself. Oh we can’t have them again.
How would Kunle [Mwanga (Murray’s manager)] have known to come to you with the tapes from the Paris concert?
It would have been … initially Val Wilmer would have brought him down to me. I imagine Val probably had met him in New York, I suspect. And Jef Gilson [who released another third of the Paris concert on his Palm label] would have directed him towards me as well.
Because he’d made quite a name for himself in New York at the time, hadn’t he? Putting on a lot of things.
How many of the Yellow [Conceptual Saxophone] album did you press up?
I might have been brave enough to press up a 1000.
How many have you got left?
A box or two. I sell 1 or 2 a year if I’m lucky.
I’ve been meaning to get in touch with Jef [Gilson] to see if we can’t reunite the three parts if we can get in touch with the Italian person. If he hasn’t disappeared. And repackage it as the complete concert.
Having said that, having sat on the tapes [for the London Concert] all these years, and having had lots of approaches from the Japanese to release. They took a lot of the LP. And I keep saying “no I don’t want to sell it”. Then when we dug it out we found there was nearly a half an hour extra material. We packaged it up and all that. I have to say it has not rushed away.
I should tell you I imported a copy from the US, because I didn’t know you were still in business and selling copies here. It was only when I read the sleeve notes I saw the re-release was the same label.
We lost our main Japanese distributor. It that hadn’t happened we would have sold them by now.
How many did you do of the [London Concert] CD?
500 or a 1000.
Was that the same number as the original LP?
Yes I think I was optimistic enough to think I’d get through that number quite quickly. Because the double LP continued to be in demand. So you recreate the double LP, and you give them all that extra material, extra music, and whose excited?
A small handful of the devoted.
Did you buy the tapes for the yellow album [Conceptual Saxophone] outright?
Yes I bought those from Kunle [Mwanga].
And of course you set the recording up for the London Concert yourself, didn’t you?
Had you done gigs at the Collegiate before?
We’d done quite a few before.
Who would you have featured?
A mixture of things [American and British bands].
What capacity was the theatre?
500 or so.
How full would it have been for David Murray?
Not full to capacity, but nearly.
That suggest lots of people had heard about Murray by that point.
How would people have heard about the gig?
There was the JCS mailing list, we didn’t spend a lot on advertising, but the listing magazines like Time Out, and Melody Maker at that time were supportive. It would get fair coverage. More so than you might now. But you could recon on finding three or four hundred people for an event like that.
How did you organise the recording of Murray on that night, then?
Money and good words. I raked up the money for at that stage the overall Cadillac music was not wildly profitable, but it was viable. The thousand pound I needed for that was raise-able.
Whether it would make money, it wasn’t that important.
It was something you really wanted to do?
To document it it, or to make the record?
Well, to make records. I like doing. No ulterior motives. No longterm motives. Really, I think just I just thought This man is making some good music let’s try and capture it. Let’s keep it.
And how did you arrange the business matters between you? Because he [Murray] wasn’t signed to any record company. Was it a one off deal for that recording?
Yeh, You’re doing a concert, some money on top if I can record it if that’s ok? Most of us work on word of mouth and knowing each other. And trust.
That would have been a one-off fee, rather than a royalty?
Yes. There will be some form of a contract between us.
He would have seen it as a good promotion would he?
I don’t know if Dave would even see it in quite that sort of way it’s just here’s another chunk of money I’m gonna get … Much of it, particularly at that time was sort of, in some ways live for the moment. Just have a good time. Some people were more calculating than others, but for many of us it’s just a day-to-day musicians life. Some opportunity comes up (.) let’s not haggle too much over it. Of course that is how some people do get burnt. Taking anything that comes along; and then regretting it afterwards. To best as I am aware David and I have never fallen out at all, or had any difficulties. They were all nice guys.
Did you ever sense you were booking a New York band? Because looking at the progress he made through Europe over a year the band changed, a lot of the players in it were actually living in Europe at that time. You had Johnny Dyani [South African bass player resident in Europe], but he didn’t play [with Murray at that time] in London. But he was on the Black Saint recording session [for Interboogiology] that followed. He went to Milan and recorded, didn’t he?
Yes, Johnny and the others, of course they was exiles [from South Africa]. Johnny didn’t ever settle anywhere for long. He spent a lot of time in Scandinavia. … People came and went backwards and forwards all the time. Clifford Jarvis was almost resident here.
Johnny seemed to have a major influence on David Murray, though. They played together only a few times yet when he [Dyani] died he [Murray] produced several albums and tracks in tribute to him. Did you ever know anything about that?
I knew Johnny. I knew all the South African team. They were part and parcel of the Old Place. They were always involved in the Anti-Apartheid movement. Our paths crossed many times. They were almost family, really. What with with Hazel’s husband. Harry [Miller] being South African we were all together. I didn’t always find Johnny the easiest person to get on with, but then he was still a very young man, and he’d had a difficult life. Dudu [Pukwana] and I were close. Too close at times.
… It was a privilege to have known them. That whole Old Place it did a certain amount of damage to me for a while, but it was a stroke of great fortune. I came back from an evening course, and Doug who had been running it had disappeared, and Pete [King] said: “here John, you’ve got a club. You look after it. You get on with it. Here’s the keys. Do what you want with it.” And they paid the rent and we got on with it. Not many people get that kind of luck.
That’s quite a privilege isn’t it?
Like the privilege of knowing Ronnie [Scott]. Another tragic figure. His skill as a musician is often overlooked. He was a great saxophonist. In some ways possibly more underrated by himself than anyone else. A lovely man.
John, you’ve been so generous with your time. Thank you.
It’s been a pleasure, but I should try and make something of the day.