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Published: 2001/06/20
by Bob Makin

Joel Dorn: Lenny, Albert and Meyer Would Be Proud

Jazz producer-record executive Joel Dorn's favorite Jews are Meyer
Lansky, Albert Einstein and Lenny Bruce. Take those initials, mix 'em up and it spells Label M, the veteran jazzster's new venture. The new set up is like an archive of jam band inspiration, most of which
Dorn produced in the '60s and '70s. It includes Les McCann's soul funk,
Rahsaan Roland

Kirk's psychedelic space jazz, Charles Mingus' compositional genius, Eddie
Harris' deep electric grooves and Yusef Lateef's spiritual funk. The combined
results have had a huge impact on the likes of Karl Denson, Soulive, Medeski
Martin and Wood, Ulu, Galactic, Fred Jacob's Jazz Odyssey, Steve Kimock and
Derek Trucks.

Dorn's also in the process of unearthing "live" bootleg tapes and
releasing them on CD from many of jazz's greatest artists, including Stan
Getz, Freddie Hubbard, Sonny Stitt, Ray Bryant and Buddy Rich. As the Dick
Latvala of the jazz audience, the legendary producer is hoping to turn a new
generation of fans within the jam scene and beyond onto its jazz roots.
Mainly a reissue and archive label, Dorn's M also has signed Ornette
Coleman guitarist James "Blood" Ulmer, acclaimed percussionist Leon Parker
and John Kruth, a multi-string player of jazz and roots music. With 40 years
of credits, including Roberta Flack, Bette Midler, The Neville Brothers, The
Allman Brothers and most recently the hot, young diva Jane Monheit, Dorn's
apparently still got it. It was a treat to talk to him about it. For more
info, visit

*I was just checking out this 'Heavy Flute' compilation when you called. I see
you've got Hubert Laws on here, which was the first artist you produced in
1961 for Atlantic Records.*

Yes, 'The Laws of Jazz.' It meant a lot to me to work on that record. I
had been contacting Atlantic since 10th grade when I finally got the chance
to do it. I would tell them who they should be signing and what they should
be doing with their records. I finally got a deal with Nesuhi Ertegun. It was
a dream come true. But the deal was to find someone who had never made a
record before. He said, 'I want you to show me that you can make a record,
but I also want you to show me that you can spot talent.'

*You've produced a number of artists who've had a major impact on the jam band
scene: Les McCann, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Charles Mingus, Eddie Harris, Yusef
Lateef. They've influenced Karl Denson, Soulive, MMW, Ulu, Galactic, Fred
Jacob's Jazz Odyssey, Steve Kimock and Derek Trucks. Are you familiar with these jam

Everyone whom the guys I worked with years ago influenced directly or
indirectly has interested me. It always interests me that people who've never
heard of Hank Crawford or David "Fathead" Newman are big David Sanborn fans.
They don't realize that he indirectly influenced them. The same thing
happened with Eddie Harris and Les McCann, influential guys to the whole
groove scene back then. On Jane Monheit's album, there's a tenor player named
Joel Frahm. He played two or three Eddie Harris licks in the middle of a solo
like he owned them.

I saw Karl Denson. We tried to do a deal with him, but he signed with
Blue Note. What I was interested in doing, he was not interested in doing. I
wanted to make a new album, and they had one that they already had made that
they wanted to put out.

How does it feel to have produced influential work that lives on?

It feels good. I always tried to do work with people that I thought had
real substance, that was not just for the moment. People whose work was going
to live. It doesn't always happen that way. There's certain kind of people
whose work resurfaces 10, 20, 30 years later. It reaffirms that we were right
when we were making those records, but more importantly, the music lives on.
Les McCann has been sampled by Mobb Deep. Eugene McDaniels has been sampled
by The Beastie Boys. They might not have been selling like I had wished but
something happens, and all of a sudden, people are getting their props and it
starts to sell. The exciting thing that's always fascinated me is that
something from 35 years ago, out of the blue, shows up on the radar again.
Some kid who's into what's happening now, digs into his mother's or father's
or aunt's record collection for whatever reason.

My youngest son is an electronic artist who goes by the name Mocean
Worker. His real name is Adam. I always had a big vinyl collection and he
would go diggin' in the crates. He'd stay in the basement till 2 or 3 in the
morning in junior high school and come upstairs with a Grant Green cut. I'd
say, 'Shouldn't you be listening to New Kids on the Block?' But he'd pick out
these basslines of Paul Chambers with Miles or a John Patton foot pattern.
And he'd say, 'I want to sample this.' That would blow me away. And it's like
that with kids all over the world. All the old guys are suddenly hip because
the kids are cherry pickin' records. It feels good for guys like Les and
Fathead because it reaffirms what we all believed back then about them. It
reaffirms it for them.

*Have you heard Karl Denson's cover of 'Captain Buckles,' the title track of
the album by David "Fathead" Newman you recently reissued?*

No, but he has a Latin number that just blew me away. It's what they used
to call a jukebox record, only there ain't no jukeboxes anymore.

*Comment on how you've been getting reissue material and the 'bootleg' live
stuff from folks like the Left Bank Jazz Society out for a new generation of
jazz fans.*

Well, the Left Bank Jazz Society started in Baltimore in the early '60s.
One the members, Vernon Welsh, recorded with a home setup almost all
of the concerts they had from the mid-'60s to '70s. I heard about it and
chased it down in the mid-'80s. They didn't want to talk because of clearance
and legalities. But I just kept annoying them on a fairly regular basis. When
I left 32 Records, while I was figuring out what I was going to do next, I
talked them into doing a deal. We've released six live things so far and
they've done very well. At the end, I hope to get 15 albums out of 350 tapes.
The trick is to get a combination of great performance and sound. Most times
you get one or the other but not both. But it's the beginning of documenting
that era of musicians, audiences and time. It's a spectacular feeling to find
a good one, like Freddie Hubbard and Jimmy Heath. You go digging. You just go
underground. It'd doesn't mean you'll find anything, but when you do, it's

*Comment on what interested you about Eugene McDaniel's 'Headless Heroes of
the Apocalypse' album, then and now.*

I had an interest in Gene because I knew him from his pop-hit days with
'Hundred Pounds of Clay,' 'Chip Chip' and 'Tower of Strength. He had a run of
hit singles. Then he came to play in this Philly jazz club, and I saw this
whole other side of him. He was doing a lot of original compositions. When I
signed Les to Atlantic, he did one of Gene's songs, 'Compared To What.' It
was a gigantic hit. A version by Roberta Flack is on her first album. I was
interested in recording Gene because his political songs were not out of tune
with the times. It was socially-inspired protest music. We could have made
something a little more accessible and commercial, but we felt like we were
making two intense, personal records.

'Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse' has a phenomenal cult following,
especially in England. Why do things surface where they do? Because people
can relate to them. It's no joke. I've gotten dozens of calls from England.
We'll see what happens. He's an extremely talented guy, a great singer and
performer and a fantastic songwriter with plenty of substance.

*How are you approaching Label M differently from the two previous labels you
started, Night and 32 Records?*

Night was strictly live releases. 32 Records was a combination of ideas.
I wanted to do compilations but couldn't get it done any place else. It
worked out well. But with M, I've built it up so that I can do live records
and compilations. I can do a boxset or two here and there, but it's mainly
reissues. And with the compilations, we're taking it to another level. We did
the lifestyle thing with 'Jazz for a Rainy Afternoon' and the markets
saturated with that now. There's a whole new generation of compilations
coming. I'm anxious to see the response. And there'll be lots of live
music. Rather than rant and rave in the liner notes about how great this
stuff was, we can give examples of the time and place of the jazz club scene
from the mid '50s to '70s. We've got a lot of live tapes of people like Buddy
Rich and Stan Getz. People will get a sense of what it was like in those
clubs because that circuit is gone now. It's a document of a place in time
that old guys like will always rave about. We've got the Left Bank Society
and private tapes of musicians.

*It's fascinating to me how much taping happens now within the jam scene the
way it did in the jazz scene, particularly by Dean Benedetti, who recorded
Charlie Parker the way Deadheads taped the Dead and Phish Phans tape Phish.*

They really do that too. With Benedetti, he got Bird. He was not
interested in the ensemble. He got Bird.

What excites me about a lot of these live albums is that it wasn't like
there was a sound truck there. It was just guys playing gigs in Baltimore and
someone would come up and say, 'Would you mind if I tape this set for our
archive?' They knew they were never going to release it so no one was
thinking of making a live album. With a live album, you play two sets on
Friday and Saturday and you play the same set four times to get a take. It's
tricky. But when guys didn't think about recording, they just played. You get
a regular set. It's the real thing. So now we're getting a real view, a
window into that world. What a big difference not have the pressure of having
a live record, just guys playing. Mark Twain had a great line about the
difference between lightning and a lightning bug. Well, with this, it's
knowing when the tape machine is on versus when they didn't know.

*The active artists on your roster are Leon Parker, John Kruth and James
"Blood" Ulmer. What interests you most about each of them and how do you
think their records captured that?*

John Kruth works for us. He wrote the bio of Rahsaan. He's a big Rahsaan
freak. He's like family.

With Leon, we were supposed to make an album for Epic, but we had a
falling out. But he called me a year ago and said, 'Let's go in.' It's an
absolutely unique record. He's a most supremely talented young musician who's
unto himself.

With Blood, he had this idea to make an old-time blues album. So he made
a demo. He grew up around those blues: real blues, traditional blues.
We'll see how they do. We may do follow ups, they may lead to other new
acts. The possibility is out there.

*Comment on working with Jane Monheit, what you think of her beyond-her-years

I swore I'd never go in the studio with another chick singer again. I
heard her tape and didn't especially like it. I didn't hear what I wanted to
hear. But her manager called and asked me to check it out live and within 10
seconds into the first song, I knew she had it. Whatever it is, she's got it.
The first record ("Never Never Land"), she was there with the musicians
(Ron Carter, David "Fathead" Newman, Bucky Pizzarelli, Lewis Nash, Kenny
Barron, Hank Crawford). The second record ("Come Dream with Me"), the
musicians were there with her. It was a big difference, her growth from the
first record. It was a helluva debut for 22 years old. I threw her in with
Hall of Famers and she held her own. The second record, the musicians were
more contemporaries although she was still the youngest person on the record.
I was stunned how much she grew in less than a year. And she's an easy person
to work with. I really enjoyed myself. To many times I've gotten involved in
diva lunacy, but what a pleasure it was to work with her.

Jane is someone who is so young but so evolved, so mature, that's just
the way she sings. I first heard her when she was 21 and she was singing
sophisticated songs, like 'Detour Ahead.' A singer has to be 40 to understand
those lyrics, but she's not. She has a gift. Forget about the great voice.
There's a million people who have great voices. That's not a big deal. It's
what you do with that gift that is a big deal. She knows what to do with it.

Will you work with her again?

As long as she wants me to work with her. I don't want to work with an
artist where I have to say, 'Why not sing it like this?' I've worked with
Rahsaan, The Neville Brothers, Bette Midler, Leon Parker, Yusef Lateef. I
worked with them because of what they are, real talent. My job is to capture
them properly and hopefully compliment them, do something that makes what
they do even better on record. If I do that, then I did my job. I just have
to turn the mike on and make it so somebody great can do what they do.
Sometimes setting the right vibe is all you have to do.

What do you remember most about producing The Allman Brothers?

Duane Allman and I were buddies. He was a Rahsaan freak. He loved jazz in
general. He and King Curtis and I would hang out. I had wanted to get Rahsaan
to record with Duane, but it never worked out. Anyway, Tommy Dowd, their
producer, was stuck in Florida and the Allmans had come to New York to
record. He asked would I mind if I doing the session for the 'Idlewild South'
record. I think Duane was one of the great white blues players. He had big
ears and he was a good guy.

*What a loss that he didn't get work with Rahsaan. It's like the album that
never was between Hendrix and Miles Davis.*

I tell ya', everybody talks about Hendrix working with Miles, but Hendrix
in the last year of his life was a Rahsaan junkie. They were going to do
something, but it never worked out. There's an existing tape of them in
London together, but it's terrible quality. But Hendrix was into Rahsaan and
I think he would have worked with him before Miles. ###

Bob Makin has covered the jam since 1988 and has been a jazz fan since he was
in the womb 37 years ago. Jam bands and jazz acts can send him information at and material to PO Box 6600, Bridgewater, NJ 08807.

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