'I don't record musicians that I think I can make a lot of money on. When I like a musician and I think that he is a real honest artist, in that sense, I record him and I keep recording him.'
This week, I start profiling a handful of indie labels I think are superior to most of the massive amounts of titles being released each week. I think one week last year I counted more than fifty releases on tap. That is saturating an already small market so most listeners have no clue what to buy. So I will put in my two cents for your hard-earned stock option dollars. You can thank me later. Criss Cross Jazz and its founder Gerry Teekens are no nonsense. It is straight, no chaser jazz and that is how I like my jazz, neat. After you read this one on one, you can take a gander at my personal picks from the label's worthy catalog. The interview, as always is brought to you in stereo, unedited and in his own words.
All About Jazz: Let's start from the beginning.
Gerry Teekens: It started a long time ago because I started listening to jazz when I was about fourteen years old, Dixieland and then I started playing myself. I am a drummer. I started playing myself when I was seventeen. It went from Dixieland to Errol Garner and Peterson (Oscar Peterson). So I heard that kind of music. I played in bands like that. Then came bebop.
AAJ: Is that when your interest peaked?
GT: Well, I was always interested in music, from the beginning on because I really liked it, the rhythm and the whole soul feel of it.
AAJ: Is there another genre of music that has that soulful feel of jazz?
GT: No. I mean, jazz had such an impact on me and I am so serious about it that I am listening to other stuff sometimes, but I am a perfectionist and you can only do one thing well. So I don't dive into other music seriously because there is only one life.
AAJ: When did you start Criss Cross Jazz?
GT: I started the label in 1981.
AAJ: You are coming on Criss Cross' 20-year anniversary.
GT: Yes, it was because I had all these idols. I used to play with a couple of guitar players in Holland, very good guitar players. I was a guitar freak also. Jimmy (Jimmy Raney) was one of my heroes and I got hold of his address and then I got in contact with him and I flew him over. I had him here for about three months and I lined up a whole tour for him all over Europe. I think forty-one concert during that period. The year was 1976. He came back in '77 and many years after until 1983 or '84. He was here for the last time. And I kept recording him. I also brought over Konitz, Lee Konitz, who was living in London at that time. I also, during the same period, I got the address of Warne Marsh and I managed to bring a band together, to form a band of Warne Marsh, Lee Konitz, Peter Ind, who was the bassist for Lennie Tristano for a long time. Lee and Warne hadn't played for at least ten or fifteen years together. That was the first time that they played together again and so it was a big success. The concert was in Amsterdam and even journalists from Paris came over. That was my second thing and then I kept bringing over musicians like Warne Marsh and Teddy Edwards. I was a college teacher by that time and all these guys played at my school. Dexter (Dexter Gordon) played there, Johnny Griffin, a whole bunch of them. And then in 1981, I had a whole tour with Jim Raney for about a month and then I decided to make a record at the end of the tour and so that is how it started.
AAJ: What did you teach?
GT: I was teaching German, Germanistic languages as a matter of fact. I played the drums in a band in an American officer's club in Germany for three years.
AAJ: When did you make the shift from vinyl to the CD format?
GT: I had thirty-nine records on vinyl and then I started releasing both vinyl and CDs at 36 and then when it got to 39, I started releasing only CDs.
AAJ: It must have been a struggle to keep the label going initially.
GT: When you have one record, nobody is interested because it doesn't mean any profits for people if they import one record and try to sell it. But the Raney record was kind of popular then because it was a very good record. I had a lot of connections in the jazz world, so I could sell it. Then soon after that, the second one with the Kirk Lightsey Trio, which was in fact the rhythm section for Dexter Gordon and then I recorded Johnny Coles, who played with Mingus, in a quartet. Then I recorded Warne Marsh with Hank Jones and Mel Lewis and George Mraz, so that is how it started.
AAJ: The Warne Marsh records are a staple of the label.
GT: Yes, my whole idea was recording Warne with different rhythm sections because he always used to play with people from the Tristano school, so I recorded Warne with Hank Jones and Mel and then a record with Chet Baker. We did a ballads album ( A Ballad Album ) with Lou Levy and then another one with Barry Harris ( Back Home ), totally different schools.
AAJ: Has the vision for the label changed at all?
GT: No, I record the music for the sake of the music. I don't record musicians that I think I can make a lot of money on. When I like a musician and I think that he is a real honest artist, in that sense, I record him and I keep recording him. Hardly any musician that is on my label makes only one record. I keep recording them either as sidemen, which is the policy, then they have a record as a leader and another record as a leader. Like John Swana, for instance, he did about six records for me and I used the trumpet player on Eric Alexander's record, Chris Potter's record, and so forth and so forth.
AAJ: If you were a scout for the majors, you would be recruiting for the Yankees, because Criss Cross has been the first record for Chris Potter, Eric Alexander, Peter Bernstein, Mark Turner, and Kenny Garrett.
GT: Peter is still here. I just record the musicians that I think are a great talent.
AAJ: How often do you go into New York to hear the talent?
GT: I am there twice or three times a year, in May and beginning of June and always in December.
AAJ: You record every time you are in New York?
AAJ: How many records is Criss Cross Jazz releasing per year?
GT: It just depends. I used to go in December only in the beginning. I did sixteen, eighteen dates in a row. It is a lot of work. I have my own engineer. I started out at Rudy Van Gelder's, well, as a matter of fact, I started here in Holland, like the Jim Raney and Kirk Lightsey and the Clifford Jordan was here with Junior Cook. I don't like to record existing bands because there is always a musician in a band that can be replaced by a better one. When I get in contact with a musician for the first time, we talk a lot on the phone and I know what he is up to and he knows what I like. I propose a rhythm section and if he likes it and it is also important to not take two stars that don't have a hook up. Famous bass players and famous drummers, you put them together and it doesn't coincide. It doesn't match. I know what drummer fits in a certain context and same about the bassist. These are the rhythm sections that I use and rhythm sections have a lot of priority on my records. I have to have a real burning drummer and a great bassist. That is the basis of the orchestra. That is the art. That's the blood.
AAJ: Who has that burning swing?
GT: The bassist who recorded forty records is Peter Washington, who is a great bassist. He is the Paul Chambers of the label. I also like Chris McBride and John Webber and Dennis Irwin and Scott Colley. If you look at the label, you see what bass players I like. And the drummers, that is very, very important. My soundman, who is from the Netherlands, he has a great sound and that is what I go for.
AAJ: Let's touch on some of your latest releases.
GT: I had five in January as a matter of fact, the street date was February. The first one was a session that I did in '94, with Brad Mehldau, Mark Turner, Peter Bernstein, Larry Grenadier, and Leon Parker.
AAJ: Good band.
GT: A great session, beautiful. On the basis of that, the last thing we played on that session was a duet between Mark Turner and Brad Mehldau and I liked that so much because Mark Turner is a Warne Marsh admirer and so am I. He reminds me so much of Warne Marsh. At the end of the session, after the duet they played, I said that we should do a ballad album because the duets thing was a ballad. And so four days later, we did a ballad album and for the contrast, I took a second tenor, Tad Shull, who is kind of a Don Byas tenor player. He recorded with me before in The Tenor Triangle. That record is coming out this month. Mark Turner, Tad Shull, two tenors and it is only ballads with Kevin Hays, Larry Grenadier, and Billy Drummond. And what else did I do, a Steve Davis Sextet with Steve Nelson and Peter Bernstein and David Hazeltine. There was a Ryan Kisor Quartet with John Webber and Willie Jones. I did a record introducing Jimmy Greene.
AAJ: He is now on RCA Victor.
GT: Yeah, I know, but I recorded this guy three years ago. And Jimmy Greene plays here with John Swana, Steve Davis, who is Chick now, Aaron Goldberg, who is with Joshua Redman, and Eric McPherson, who is Jackie McLean's drummer. There is a record that I made with Jim Rotondi Sextet, which is the same combination as One for All.
AAJ: Eric Alexander's collective.
GT: Yes, and we have five new ones. In fact, in two weeks, I will have 10 new records on the market.
AAJ: How extensive is the Criss Cross Jazz catalog?
GT: There will be 186. I will be back probably in May, beginning of June and definitely in December.
AAJ: And how is the sales volume?
GT: It depends. Sometime it is better in the States, sometimes in Europe, and sometimes in Japan. I am not complaining. Jazz is always, especially my label, it is pure jazz. I don't make any concessions. Musicians have to know what they are doing. I have a tenor player named Walt Weiskopf that writes all his own music. He can just do it. I don't tell them what to do. They are all responsible players and so they know what to do.