Lester Koenig founded the jazz label, Contemporary Records, in Los Angeles in 1951. It was known for seminal recordings embodying the West Coast sound, but also released recordings by jazz artists known throughout the world. Under his leadership, Contemporary recorded such artists as Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Art Farmer, Benny Golson, the Curtis Counce Group featuring Harold Land, Jack Sheldon, Carl Perkins and Frank Butler; also Ben Webster, Miles Davis, Benny Carter, Chet Baker, Art Pepper, Phineas Newborn, Woody Shaw, Shelly Manne, Hampton Hawes, Barney Kessell and Leroy Vinnegar.
Les maintained extremely high audio standards. In 1956 he hired Roy DuNann from Capitol Records, who, out of the label’s shipping room turned studio, turned out some of the best sounding records of the 50s and 60s using German and Austrian condenser microphones that produced very high output of these microphones, especially close-in on jazz musicians’ dynamic playing. DuNann would achieve his signature sound for the label, a crisp, clear and balanced without distortion or unpleasant “peak presence” by keeping his microphone setups very simple, generally one per musician, and he avoided the use of pre-amplifiers.
In the mid 1960s the company fell into relative limbo, but limited new recordings were made in the late 1970s including a series of albums by Art Pepper recorded at the Village Vanguard in New York. After Koenig’s death in 1977, his son, John ran the label for seven years and continued the legacy producing albums by George Cables, Joe Henderson, Bobby Hutcherson and Chico Hamilton to name a few.
Fantasy Records purchased the Contemporary label and catalogue in 1984 but not before ushering in a number of major figures in the music business such as Nesuhi Ertegun, who went on to exec at Atlantic Records, and writers Nat Hentoff and Leonard Feather among others.
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Wynton Kelly was born December 2, 1931 in Jamaica but grew up in Brooklyn, New York from age four when his parents emigrated to the United States. He started playing piano professionally as a teenager in R&B groups led by Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, then went on to work with Lee Abrams, Cecil Payne, Dinah Washington and Dizzy Gillespie.
Kelly recorded fourteen titles for Blue Note with a trio in 1951, worked with Dinah Washington, Dizzy Gillespie, and Lester Young during 1951-1952 followed by serving in the military. After his discharge he again worked with Washington, Charles Mingus and the Dizzy Gillespie big band but he would be most famous for his stint in the late 50s with the Miles Davis Quintet from 1959 – 63 and was part of the seminal “Kind Of Blue” replacing Bill Evans on “Freddie Freeloader”, along with notable albums “At The Blackhawk” and “Someday My Prince Will Come”. He would later replace Tommy Flanagan on the “Naima” on Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”.
Wynton left Davis in 1963 and took the rest of the rhythm section bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb with him to form his trio. He recorded as a leader for Blue Note, Riverside, Vee-Jay, Verve and Milestone.
Pianist Wynton Kelly passed away on April 12, 1971 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada of an epileptic seizure. At 39, he was one of the most prolific sideman pianists of his era, performing on scores of jazz albums and a superb accompanist and distinctive soloist who would decades later influence a new generation of jazz pianists.
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Hadley Caliman was born December 1, 1932 in Los Angeles, California. While at Jefferson High School he studied with his fellow classmates trumpeter Art Farmer and saxophonist Dexter Gordon, and was known in the Central Avenue corridor as “Little Dex”. It was here during the 50s and by the 60s where he primarily gigged and the tenor was soon seen playing with Mongo Santamaria, the Gerald Wilson Big Band, Willie Bobo and Don Ellis and was briefly a member of a jazz-rock fusion group led by Ray Draper.
By the Seventies Hadley had moved to San Francisco and was performing and/or recording with Joe Henderson, Nancy Wilson, Carlos Santana, Joe Pass, Hampton Hawes, Bobby Hutcherson, Flora Purim, Elvin Jones, Freddie Hubbard, Jon Hendricks, Earl Andreza, Phoebe Snow and Patrice Rushen among others. He later moved to Seattle, Washington where he had been on the faculty of the Cornish College of the Arts and a featured soloist with the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra.
Though one can hear Coltrane’s influence in his playing, it never overshadowed the earlier West coast bop or the myriad of musical genres he played that created his modern jazz sound. Tenor saxophonist and flautist Hadley Caliman passed away on September 8, 2010 at age 78 in Seattle, Washington where he had been an active player leading both a quartet and quintet.
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Jack Sheldon was born November 30, 1931 in Jacksonville, Florida became a professional trumpet player at the age of thirteen. It was during his teen years he moved to Los Angeles and subsequently joined the air force playing in military bands in Texas and California. He first gained recognition as part of the West Coast jazz movement in the 1950s performing and recording with Art Pepper, Gerry Mulligan and Curtis Counce.
Sheldon played the trumpet, sang, performed and was the sidekick and comedic foil on the Merv Griffin show. During the sixties he ventured further into television as an actor on such shows as Dragnet, The Girl With Something Extra, the Cara Williams Show and Run Buddy Run. He was also the voice used for “Conjunction Junction” and “I’m Just A Bill” on Schoolhouse Rock. He voice later appeared on such sitcoms as The Simpsons and Family Guy.
He has played with Jimmy Guiffre, Herb Geller, Mel Torme, Wardell Gray, Helen Humes, Gary Burton, June Christy, Rosemary Clooney and the big bands of Stan Kenton, Bill Berry, Tom Kubis and Benny Goodman.
Jack performed the trumpet solo for the theme song “The Shadow Of Your Smile” on the soundtrack of the 1965 movie, The Sandpiper, appeared in the Oscar-nominated documentary “Let’s Get Lost” about the life of fellow jazz trumpeter Chet Baker, performed a trumpet solo in the Coppola film “One From The Heart”, appeared as an ill-fated trumpeter in Radioland Murders, and is the subject of an award winning feature documentary, “Trying to Get God: The Jazz Odyssey of Jack Sheldon”. He continues to be an active performer of the bebop and cool jazz schools.
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Nesuhi Ertegun was born November 26, 1917 in Istanbul, Turkey, moving to Washington, DC when his father was appointed Ambassador to the United States in 1935. From an early age, Nesuhi’s primary musical interest was jazz, having attended concerts in Europe. While at the Turkish Embassy he also promoted jazz concerts during 1941-44.
After his father’s death in 1944, Ertegun stayed in the U.S., moved to California, got married and established the Crescent record label. He purchased Jazz Man Records and issued traditional jazz recordings producing classic Kid Ory revival recordings plus sessions with Pete Daily and Turk Murphy. He went on to work with Contemporary Records and Imperial Records developing their jazz catalog for the later.
In 1955, he was preparing to work for Imperial Records to develop their jazz record line and develop a catalog of LPs. However, his younger brother Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler persuaded him to become a partner in Atlantic Records over the jazz and LP department.
As a producer he worked with John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Ray Charles, Chris Connor, the Drifters, Bobby Darin, Roberta Flack and numerous others while being first recruiting songwriters and producers Leiber and Stoller. He went on to establish WEA International venturing into Latin-American rockers and other world music groups and remained at the helm until his retirement in 1987.
Nesuhi Ertegun, writer, editor, producer, educator, art collector and soccer promoter died on July 15, 1989, at the age of 71, due to complications following cancer surgery. He was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, awarded the Grammy Trustees Award for lifetime achievement, the National Soccer Hall of Fame and had the Nesuhi Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame at Jazz at Lincoln Center dedicated to him.