Running a jazz record label has never been for the faint-hearted. Recently a number of major jazz labels have cut back on the volume of new jazz releases, dropping jazz artists while substituting singer/songwriters, cabaret singers and other pop-influenced performers trying to increase sales volume. Several established independents have also suffered, cutting back new releases and staff to become one-man operations. Fortunately there are businessmen like Denver resident Graham Carter, who have both a love of jazz and a willingness to invest the resources necessary to launch a new label. A Denver native and University of Colorado alum who spent 20 years in hi-tech telecommunications before leaving in the midst of the industry downturn in 2001, Carter explains his career switch: "I have always been a huge jazz fan and felt that I could produce a series of straight-ahead recordings that would showcase some of the more established jazz stars that the record labels were largely ignoring. I also wanted to get into movie production, so I decided to establish Jazzed Media in 2002. I wanted a name that would not tie me to just CDs."
His first project taught him how to be a producer. "I attended a Jack Sheldon concert that featured Phil Urso. I felt a CD with Phil would be fun - he was local, it would be easy to put together. He was very excited about recording after a long layoff. I thought that a salute to Chet Baker would work, as Phil spent many years with him and also served as one of his arrangers." Pairing Urso with trumpeter Carl Saunders, who Carter considered a "major trumpeter and not a Chet Baker clone", yielded the desired chemistry for Carter's debut as a producer.
He wanted to record Saunders again and then lightening struck. "I realized that Phil Woods had the same lyrical sound, so I contacted him; Phil was very interested. I suggested a salute to Henry Mancini, as I felt the his writing fit the sound of both Phil and Carl. We selected several songs from the Peter Gunn soundtrack albums and an obscure favorite of mine, 'Soldier in the Rain'. I hired several great arrangers, including the late Gordon Brisker, Jackson Stock, Jeff Jenkins [the session's pianist] and Carl contributed a few charts. We recorded the album here in Denver with a terrific local rhythm section: pianist Jeff Jenkins, bassist Ken Walker and drummer Paul Romaine. The resulting album is my personal favorite of everything I've done to date [nearly 30 CDs]."
His first meeting with Phil Woods bore additional fruit, Carter relates: "During the recording of the Mancini album, Phil told me how much he was enjoying the project and that if I had any other ideas for an album he would love to do it. We discussed another album of a different composer's tunes and he mentioned Quincy Jones. I knew of Phil's long term history with Quincy so I jumped at the idea. Because the Denver altitude affected his breathing, Phil asked to record back home in the Poconos, where he could use his standard rhythm section [Steve Gilmore and Bill Goodwin] and quintet members Bill Charlap and Brian Lynch. Phil provided the arrangements, except 'The Pawnbroker', which Brian arranged. Concurrent to putting together the album I was contacted by a Denver director, Rich Lerner. Rich was looking for someone to partner with to produce jazz films, which was exactly what I wanted to move into, so we met and hit it off right away. I proposed a documentary to Phil to be made during the recording of the Quincy CD and he approved. Rich and I went out to the Poconos in 2004 and recorded and filmed the session. Then we spent three days over at Phil's house as I interviewed him."
One of Carter's best hires was recording engineer Rod Nicas. "I met Rod at one of Ken Poston's events back in 1999. Rod works as an engineer for an LA hi-tech satellite company, but he was a recording engineer for Albert Marx of Discovery Records years ago. Rod has either made suggestions on the mix and mastering or performed these duties on many of my CDs."
In addition to working with veteran jazz artists, Jazzed Media has unveiled previously unissued historical recordings and worked with up-and-coming artists. Don Menza, Bill Holman, Terry Gibbs, several more Phil Woods' sessions and unreleased material featuring Irene Kral and Jackie & Roy have earned critics' praise. Phil Woods' liner notes for Denise Donatelli's In the Company of Friends stated "'Graham Carter has done it again! I am biased because I work for the company, but believe me, that man is a warrior for good music and this is good, no, great music!" Carter enthusiastically states, "That kind of summarizes my view in that I feel this is a mission to produce quality jazz that will stand the test of time."