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Declarations Of Independents

Billboard, 01.11.03
Chris Morris

SAVOY ON THE GO: When Savoy Records kick-started itself again in 2001 (Declarations of Independents, Billboard, April 13, 2001), the focus was on a fresh slate of catalog reissues from the venerable jazz label.

Beginning in May, RED-distributed Savoy hit the market with a brace of titles from its formidable vaults, including packages top-lining Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Lester Young, and Billy Eckstine.

The company-a wholly owned U.S. subsidiary of Columbia Music Entertainment, formerly Nippon Columbia-is continuing to emphasize its catalog-based efforts with the acquisition of 32 Records, the jazz reissue line that includes the holdings of Muse Records and Landmark Records.

But Savoy is also shooting for the attention of contemporary jazz consumers and upper-demo listeners with the signings of vocalists Andy Bey and Carol Welsman and saxophonists James Moody, Hubert Laws, and Mark Turner. The company is also making its foray into the pop marketplace with the inking of Joan Armatrading, whose debut for the label is expected in March.

Savoy president Steve Vining says the label "had been negotiating for some time" before acquiring the firm's assets. The label, founded in the mid-'90s by producer Joel Dorn and his partner Robert Miller, had folded in bankruptcy.

In snapping up 32, Savoy gains the superior masters of Muse, formerly operated by longtime jazz exec Joe Fields, and Landmark, founded by notable producer Orrin Keepnews. Grant Green, Pat Martino, Woody Shaw, Bobby Hutcherson, Kenny Burrell, and Donald Byrd were among those labels' artists rereleased by 32. Savoy has purchased some 400 album masters in the deal.

The first steps in mining that catalog will be the marketing of expanded versions of the Rainy Afternoon series, one of the most popular jazz anthologies in recent memory.

"We're moving it to a two-CD set," Vining says. "We're trying to make it a more considerable value for the consumer."

Priced at $12.98, the first three Rainy Afternoon twofers will drop this month, followed by further flights in March and April. Some '60s-vintage tracks from the Savoy catalog will be included among the Muse and Landmark selections on the three packages due in April, according to Vining.

In early May, Savoy will begin reissuing individual 32 titles, at the rate of seven to 10 albums per month. Vining says, "There are 50-60 solid releases we want to get out before Christmas next year."

Of the new jazz signings, the executive says, "There's a real opportunity for an independent right now . . . It's hard for [the majors] to deal with [the jazz market]. There's a whole different financial situation that comes into play.

"At a minimum, we'll make some really nice records, and we may hit with one," he adds. "If the majors can't figure out how to make a business out of it, that's OK. I can."

Vining suggests that Armatrading-an upper-demo-skewed artist with a successful major-label track record-is only the first signing of her kind due at Savoy.

"We want a fairly broad-based collection of artists who appeal to adults," Vining says. "There will be more people like Joan coming to us."