Jazz Labels Collaborate on Relief Effort


Jon Batiste delivers a vocal-and-piano version of “Sweet Lorraine” on the Relief album.

(Photo: Justin French)

The word unprecedented was a mainstay of 2020 conversations, and for mostly negative reasons. But the pandemic also produced a historic first among jazz recording labels, as Blue Note Records, Concord Music Group, Mack Avenue Music Group, Nonesuch Records, the Verve Label Group and Warner Music Group collaborated to release the nine-track Relief: A Benefit For Jazz Foundation Of America’s Musicians’ Emergency Fund compilation album.

“It was this time of great panic, fear, anxiety, uncertainty,” recalled Joseph Petrucelli, Jazz Foundation of America executive director, reflecting back to March 2020. “The labels’ wanting to partner with JFA was enormously reassuring and stabilizing for the foundation.” JFA initially set up a COVID-19 Musicians’ Emergency Fund, and the aforementioned labels “were just hugely important in generating the seed funding,” he said.

“Then the idea came from Denny [Stilwell, president of Mack Avenue Records], ‘What if we did a benefit album, where every label was able to donate a meaningful track or two from our rosters and create an unprecedented cooperation and collaboration?’ And it all started from there,” said Jamie Krents, executive vice president of Verve and Impulse!

“Geoffrey Menin deserves a lot of credit for helping put this together,” Stilwell deferred. A media and entertainment lawyer and a JFA board member, Menin “was the guy who helped put together a very simple legal framework to make all this work for everyone much easier. The labels donate the profits, the artists were donating their royalties and the writers were donating mechanicals.”

“The closest precedent that I could think of for this kind of partnership was when Universal and Sony — Verve and Columbia, basically — collaborated on the soundtracks to the Ken Burns Jazz documentary,” Krents noted.

“There’s no question we all have our own businesses that we have to tend to,” Stilwell said. “At the same time, there was a sense of camaraderie, because we’re all part of the same community. And this was a blow to our community.”

“It actually created a nice sense of camaraderie. We’ll always be competitors, in theory,” Krents pointed out. “But it has allowed us to get to know each other a little better outside of the normal context. And maybe it set the table to do other such things in the future — a volume two, perhaps.”

Due to supply chain and vinyl manufacturing issues, the two-LP version of Relief was delayed. But both vinyl and CD are available now, as well as streaming options.

Relief is also available as a special Vinyl Me Please aqua-colored release. The online store and record club pressed 1,000 numbered copies.

Available now at store.jazzfoundation.org, the compilation manages to encapsulate the many moods of the lockdown era. The program opens with “back to who,” a duo track from IRMA and LEO (Esperanza Spalding and Leo Genovese).

“They kick it off with the sense of agitation and anxiety and energy that’s been very familiar throughout the pandemic,” Petrucelli observed. Recorded asynchronously, it’s one of four solo or duo tracks along with Jon Batiste’s vocal-and-piano version of “Sweet Lorraine,” Cécile McLorin Salvant’s “Easy Come, Easy Go Blues” and a “2020 Version” of Hiromi’s “Green Tea Farm.”

“Those all evoke the intimacy of home recordings or home livestreams that people did” during lockdown,” Petrucelli pointed out.

Christian McBride’s “Brother Malcom” and Charles Lloyd & Kindred Spirits’ interpretation of “Lift Every Voice And Sing” both “speak to the George Floyd protests against the racist violence in the country,” Petrucelli said. Kenny Garrett’s “Joe Hen’s Waltz” and Joshua Redman’s “Facts” (with bandmates Ron Miles, Scott Colley and Brian Blade from 2018’s Still Dreaming album) were two of the album’s four digital singles.

The live Lloyd recording and also the closing track, Jimmy Heath’s “Gingerbread Boy” (as performed by its composer in a supergroup with Herbie Hancock, Wallace Roney, Buster Williams and Albert “Tootie” Heath at JFA’s 2014 A Great Night in Harlem gala), “take us to that live-performance setting that everyone was missing earlier in the pandemic,” Petrucelli said. With Heath’s passing in January 2020 and Roney being an early victim of COVID-19 in late March 2020, Petrucelli said he “gets chills thinking about it.”

Reflecting on the project, Stilwell concluded, “It’s one of those things where the universe just kind of makes things happen when you’re trying to do the right thing.” DB

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