Siegfried Loch: 50 Years on the Music-Making Scene
SL: When I finally set up the ACT label, I first went back and started with a project that was instrumental in getting my first job as a jazz label manager. That was a recording by Miles Davis, Sketches of Spain (Columbia, 1960) with Gil Evans. I had developed an interest in Spanish music, in particular flamenco. I felt that this would be the ideal project to start my own label. And in fact, I did.
e.s.t., from left: Magnus Öström, Esbjörn Svensson, Dan Berglund
I met with Vince Mendoza, who in 1992 was a virtually unknown character. He agreed to write the scores with Arif Mardin, who was much more known and popular then, but he didn't have the time to write all the music. So most of it was done by Vince Mendoza and only one suite of the three pieces was written by Arif Mardin for this project called Jazzpana.
That was based on the idea of a big band with jazz musicians. Except Sketches of Spain was really an all-American project with some flamenco taste or flair, but it wasn't really flamenco music, My idea was to take real, actual Spanish flamenco musicians, Spanish jazz musicians, American jazz musicianssuch as Peter Erskine, Al Di Meola and Steve Khanand have a big band behind them. That's what we did and that was the first record I produced and released in 1992 on the ACT label.
I was fortunate it was up for two Grammy nominations. That was not a bad start.
AAJ: That made a splash here, for sure. You stayed with that flamenco theme with The Art of Flamenco (ACT, 1993).
AAJ: It was an official label at that point?
SL: Yes, it became an official label in 1992. Before, I had a production company. I was living in London then, 1988. I wanted run the jazz thing. I had a couple of friends and associates who wanted to run on a second leg, an avant-garde rock production for Berlin but that didn't work out. It was a complete mess after a year. I afforded it all and laid back, took a long breath and decided no finance from third parties, no partners and only music that I like, and only recordings that I can personally finance. Do what I think is right and nothing else. That's exactly what I did when I started in 1992. Then it became a real jazz label. Before it was a production company with a production credit. The records were released on Polydor and whatever.
AAJ: So 1992 was the realization of what you had been thinking about for many, many years?
SL: Exactly. Looking back, the only thing I can say is that I should have done it at least 10 years before, but it's alright. I was mature then and I was financially independent, which is good to start something like this and go on this endeavor.
When we started, it was just the year when the record business really started to go down the drain. We were lucky because the company was growing against the trend for almost 20 years, 15 years. But now, of course, we are feeling the problems of the industry, like everybody else.
AAJ: In those early years, how did you go about selecting musicians for the label?
SL: Purely by my own personal taste. I was never interested in signing established names. We made a couple of records with some established names, but that was really people I knew from the past, like Eddie Harris. Yusef Lateef I knew all the way back to the '60s when he was playing with Cannonball Adderley. These were friends where I took some projects on.
But the artists that I signed as exclusive artists to the label were all completely unknown; I built them from scratch. That's what I think is the most interesting part of this kind of workyou find new talent and you try to find a niche audience for their music. That's really what this business should be all about, rather than investing into people that are already on their way up or stealing artists from other labels and all that rubbish, which I, of course, had done as an executive with Warner for almost 20 years. I didn't want to continue this with my own label.
AAJ: You've pretty much stayed with European artists.
SL: Yeah, except now we've signed Vijay Iyer. It's also A question of, since I don't live in the States, I don't have the same kind of inroad to the action and the new scene as I have here. I only know what comes over here from America, artists that are somewhat already established. I don't really know what's going on with the new jazz in America.
Also, I don't have the means to really promote records in America the way I'm able to do it over here. That's why I decided I want to reflect on my label the artists that I live with, which is Europe.
AAJ: There's an emphasis on Scandinavia and Germany.