Jazz, Rhythm & Jews: Free Your Market and Your Ass Will Follow
We all know that American music is our greatest contribution to world art, and that when we say Cosmo-American music, we might as well say African American music. There's also country music, which is related more to certain European folk styles. But country music never conquered the world in the way other American forms did, including rock, jazz, rhythm & blues, soul, and various sub-genres.
Awhile back I read what currently stands as the best biography of the Beatles, in which the author makes the point that in England in the early 1960s, there were only four record companies, including EMI, with whom they eventually signed, but just barely. Part of the fascination of the Beatles' story is the incredible confluence of luck, timing and unique personalities that made it all come together, whereas in hindsight it all seems so inevitable: how could such talented people not succeed in the music business?
But that's exactly the point: in socialist England the music business couldn't have been more different than in America, where there were also a few major labels, e.g., Columbia and RCA, but dozens, if not hundreds, of independents. And virtually all of the most innovative music in America -- including jazz, rock, and blues -- came from the independent labels that initially catered to tiny but underserved audiences -- often the owner himself, who just wanted to hear the kind of music he loved.
In the UK, as is the case in any top-down, command economy, the system was run by elites at the top. Therefore, the music business was very much a supply side enterprise: elites decided who they would sign and what they wanted you to hear. If they didn't hear any potential in the Beatles, then too bad for you. At the time the Beatles auditioned for George Martin at EMI, they had already been rejected by the other three, so if Martin hadn't taken a chance on them, that would have been it.
But in America it was different. Because of our free market, anyone could start a record company and record anyone they wanted. Plus, in England there were only a handful of radio stations, and again, elites dictated what could be heard on them. Even when they finally began mixing in some rock in the 1960s, it often wasn't what the people wanted to hear. Thus the emergence of Pirate Radio in the UK, whereby the Forbidden Music was broadcast from ships in international waters. Socialism always creates black markets, and this is a perfect instance.
Of particular interest is that in America, nearly all of the legendary independents were owned by Jews, to such an extent that no one would have ever heard most of this timeless music if not for the Jewish businessmen who made it possible to hear it.
It's really quite astounding when you start to compile a list of the great Jewish-owned independent labels. For example, for any connoisseur of modern jazz, the name Blue Note has a kind of magical mystique. It might be my choice for the greatest American label. It was started on a shoestring in 1939 by a German Jewish emigré, Alfred Lion (later joined by his childhood friend and partner, Francis Wolff: Lion and Wolff. Heh). And although it cranked out classic after classic, for most of its existence it barely broke even. Every once in awhile they would produce a surprise "hit" that would rescue the company from financial collapse. And a "hit" in jazz is very different from what we think of as a hit in popular music, by an order of magnitude, but at least it produced enough revenue to keep going.
In Bob's vaunted record collection, I am quite sure that I have more Blue Notes than any other label. In fact, I would be embarrassed to count how many, but I'm sure it's well over 100, probably over 200. Which is another critical point: there is no other label that produced as many great albums. Usually, in any kind of popular music, there are a couple of hits on an album, surrounded by a lot of dreck. But in the case of Blue Note, there are hundreds of albums that are great from start to finish by truly innovative artists whose names you probably wouldn't recognize unless you are Jack. (I might add that they also produced beautifully artistic album covers, often featuring the great photography of Francis Wolff. A number of his photos hang on my walls.)
All of the other great jazz labels were owned by Jews: for example, Riverside by Orrin Keepnews, Prestige by Bob Weinstock, Contemporary by Lester Koenig, Verve by Norman Granz, Commodore by Milt Gabler (who I think was Billy Crystal's uncle. UPDATE: confirmed: Billy Crystal Presents: The Milt Gabler Story -- listen to the samples and check out the incredible diversity).
It's the same with blues. By far the greatest blues label was Chess Records, started by Leonard Chess in 1947. It was the home of such legends as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter, and Etta James, but it also spawned such rock & roll founders as Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley. Truly: no Jews, no blues. And no blues, no Stones, just for starters (nor Yardbirds, Animals, Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac, and all the other British groups that were influenced by Chess).
In fact, in the beginning, the only goal of the Rolling Stones was to imitate their heroes and make records that sounded like they came from Chess (they actually had several recording sessions at the Chess studios in Chicago in '64-'65). In one of their early television appearances, they only agreed to perform on condition that Howlin' Wolf would be on the program, just so they could hear him. The idea of the menacing Wolf performing before a bunch of teenagers is positively surreal, but here it is. Notice how innocent and enthusiastic the Stones appeared; note also the size of Wolf's hands. Someone once said that shaking hands with him was like placing your hand in a catcher's mitt:
There's a film based on the story of Chess, called Cadillac Records. I have no idea if it's any good, but here is Beyonce as Etta James, singing her classic At Last. Not as good as the original, but pretty impressive:
The greatest soul and R & B label was Atlantic, which was founded in 1947 by Ahmet Ertegün (who was actually Turkish) and Herb Abramson, later joined by another Jewish partner in 1953, Jerry Wexler. The roster of Atlantic artists is mind-boggling: Ray Charles (when he was truly great, i.e., the 1950s), Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, the Drifters, Big Joe Turner. They also distributed and sometimes produced Stax artists such as Otis Redding, Booker T & the MGs, Sam & Dave, and many others.
Another important label was Specialty, owned by Art Rupe (Goldberg), and home of Little Richard and the early Sam Cooke. Or how about King Records, owned by Syd Nathan? If their only artist were James Brown, that would be enough to cement their legend.
So, the question is, why the Jews? I just so happen to be reading a fascinating little book called Capitalism and the Jews, which, although it doesn't get into their entreprenurial success in the music business, does try to explain why Jews are so extraordinarily good at capitalism. Unfortunately, we're almost out of time, but one of the points Muller makes is that Jewish success at capitalism is one of the strongest arguments against the left, because they prove that it is cultural values that determine success, not "greed," or luck, or "privilege" (one could say the same of Asian Americans, Cubans, and Armenians). This helps to explain the anti-Semitism of the left, because hatred of capitalism is usually tied in with hatred of Jews.
But Muller has another chapter on the curious phenomenon of Jewish leftists. Why would so many Jews perversely embrace the left when capitalism has been so good to them (and vice versa)? Like I said, out of time. To be continued.