Out Of The Blue, out of print
Someone ought to get a big stick and swing it at the heads of Blue Note's power team.

The label's long and venerable recording history in the world of jazz is well documented and well deserved. But someone needs to inform the executive suite that venerability carries with it certain responsibilities, and one of those responsibilities is an approach to the stewardship of artists' careers that includes maintenance of an accessible catalogue.

Whew! Now that I've gotten that off my chest, I hasten to assure readers that I'm not nearly as angry as the foregoing implies, because my personal music library is larded with Blue Note recordings that feature artists I'd never encountered until I picked up their performances on serial whims. And, because my whims were guided by the correct notion that I'd never go wrong with Blue Note, I acquired several dozen recordings I'd never have otherwise heard. From my side of the bargain, the artists acquired a fan they'd otherwise not have had. All this was made possible by Blue Note's sensible brokerage.

What irritates me is that lately I've had a run of bad luck in my continual effort to get jazz in front of young people. That is to say, during the past six weeks I've recommended a variety of recordings as indispensable to several youths I know, only to find that the recordings are out of print.

No, not all these recordings were on Blue Note, and my criticism here could be applied in a scattershot way to any label. But Blue Note is not "any" label, damn it.

Cases in point: Canadian pianist Renee Rosnes and Out Of The Blue.

On a sunny day in 1991, I paid a lunch-hour visit to my favorite record shop and found a cassette tape sale in full swing. On the bargain rack in front of me were at least four dozen Blue Note titles going for 50 cents (U.S.) apiece. The manager of this store -- part of a national chain -- told me, "Nobody around here buys jazz, but headquarters requires us to carry them anyway. Every once in a while, we have a sale to clear the shelves." I was late getting back to the newsroom that day, and when I lugged a large shopping bag full of tapes home later in the evening, my wife gave me up as a hopeless case and went to bed without me. I spent the night and most of the next two days listening to jazz from artists, many of them new to me, most of them on Blue Note, two of whom were Renee Rosnes and Out Of The Blue.

The lady who retired alone isn't my wife anymore, but Renee Rosnes and OOTB are still in my library and both consistently reward repeated listenings.

"Renee Rosnes" [Blue Note, 1988], the pianist's debut album, is a never-ending delight, its weaker cuts weak only in the context of greatness. And, besides, she's backed up by heavy hitters like Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Don Alias, with contributions from Branford Marsalis on both soprano and tenor saxophones. Any debut recording that includes Thelonious Monk's "Bright Mississippi" already has lured me through the gate.

That Rosnes drew support from the likes of Shorter and Hancock is no surprise, given that her dues-paying years included stints in sea-cruise liner lounges, Canadian radio gigs and hotel fern-bar venues. During the period beginning in 1985, when she moved to New York, her talent took her into recording studios and live performances with some big, big names with talents to match: Joe Henderson, J.J. Johnson, Jon Faddis and James Moody, to name only a few.

But here my story must include some cross-pollination, because Rosnes also was a member of the aforementioned Out Of The Blue.

OOTB was assembled in 1984 as a showcase for some of the younger musicians in the Blue Note stable, of whom Rosnes eventually became one. By its very nature, the group had a shifting roster that included players of the caliber of Kenny Garrett and Ralph Peterson, many of whom went on to bigger careers. Before expiring in 1989, OOTB released only four recordings, two of which -- 1985's "Out Of The Blue" and 1986's "Live At Mt. Fuji" -- rode home in that shopping bag with me on that happy day in 1991.
At the time, I'd heard of neither Rosnes nor OOTB, and the three recordings that represented them jointly and severally in my lucky tape trove were the best of the lesser-knowns I acquired that day. Each time I hear any of these recordings, I am refreshed by the downright, well, freshness that these musicians bring to bear in extending the bop wing of the great jazz cathedral.

For the record, of the six albums I know that Rosnes cut for Blue Note, only 1999's "Art & Soul" remains in print in the United States. But if you can get your hands on "As We Are Now" [1997], get all your fingers around it and hug it to your breast until you get it home.

Alas, my most recent research indicates that none of the three recordings in my lucky find of 1991 are in print in the U.S. So I find myself in possession of half the recorded output of OOTB and the diamond-bright debut album of Renee Rosnes, and no way to turn people on to them without having a big listening party -- for which I am presently ill-equipped -- or bootlegging the tapes -- of which I do not approve, unless it's for archival purposes.

Hence my rant about Blue Note.

Perhaps this is the place to insert a lecture to music consumers that, given the stern economics of the musical marketplace, the label isn't to blame, because it is natural for a recording company to drop certain unprofitable items from their catalogues in order to sustain others that, I admit, deserve sustenance.

But, as a jazz evangelist, I'd never do that. Nah.

SkyJazz Note: Renee Rosnes has a web page at www.jazzcorner.com/rosnes that offers a means to acquire some of her harder-to-get recordings.