Germany’s jazz label landscape is colourful and the music industry diverse, in spite of the ongoing economic crisis. There are a number of reasons for this. For one thing, most music companies are one-person enterprises or employ only a small team, who indulge in their passion for music to the point of self-exploitation.
Another factor is Germany’s federal system - with support from broadcast productions, among other things - that tends to encourage decentralised organisation and activity. But above all, Germany – along with the USA, Japan, Scandinavia and France – is one of the world’s leading outlet markets and concert areas for jazz. Internationally prominent musicians mix with the local scenes on stopovers or when they do productions in renowned studios such as Bauer Studios in Ludwigsburg or Walter Quintus in Zerkall in the Eifel area.
In the course of the past decades, the four major companies Universal Music Group, Sony BMG, Warner Music Group and EMI have almost completely withdrawn from the national label landscape. They only sign up German artists such as Jessica Gall, Lyambiko (Sony BMG) or Till Brönner (Universal) in exceptional cases. But they play an important role in catalogue marketing, as in the case of the Black Forest label MPS (1968 – 1983), whose comprehensive, jazz-rock oriented repertoire is edited by Universal Classics & Jazz.
ACT Music & Vision
The Munich label ACT was founded in 1992 by Siegfried Loch, the former Warner Brothers European director. It primarily focuses on the European and Scandinavian scene, but series such as „Young German Jazz“ with artists such as Michael Wollny and Matthias Schriefl cover the German scene. In summer 2009, around 235 titles were available from ACT. The label’s best-known artists are Esbjörn Svensson and Nils Landgren.
ECM Records was started in 1969 in Munich by Manfred Eicher as a platform for contemporary jazz. It rapidly developed into an international platform that set industry standards with recordings by artists such as Keith Jarrett and Jan Garbarek. Starting in 1984, ECM New Series has also covered classical and experimental music. Around 1000 publications are available, but although German artists such as Julia Hülsmann make up a part of the label’s repertoire, they are not its mainstay.
In 1971, Horst Weber and Matthias Winkelmann produced an album together with the pianist Mal Waldron. This cooperation resulted in the founding of Enja Records, headquartered in Munich, in 1972. Enja established itself as an independent jazz label for modern mainstream and moderate avant-garde with artists such as Abdullah Ibrahim and Atilla Zoller. In 1986, Horst Weber withdrew from the company and started his own label, continued under the leadership of Werner Aldinger (Enja Weber/Yellow Bird). Enja records has issued a total of about 700 albums and includes numerous German artists in its repertoire, from Rabih Abou-Khalil to Florian Weber.
Several jazz labels are grouped under the umbrella of Cologne’s "Deutschen Media Productions GmbH & Co Kg,“ among them Between The Lines (founded 1999, 46 titles), but above all Double Moon (founded 1998, 91 albums) under the leadership of Volker Dueck, with a clear focus on young German jazz. First and foremost, the series „Next Generation,“ in cooperation with the magazine Jazz Thing, has been of decisive importance for the current scene from Cyminology to Max Frankl.
Skip Records has existed since 1999, under the leadership of the former Minor Music jazz label manager Bernd Skibbe. Located in Hamburg, the label covers high-quality mainstream, has issued approximately 100 albums, and counts Omar Sosa, Peter Fessler and the Tingvall Trio among its most important artists.
Traumton provides a home for unconventional jazz projects from Urban Fusion à la Johnny La Marama, to Michael Schiefel’s experimental jazz and Christian Zehnder’s overtone singing. Started in 1992 in Berlin under the leadership of the bass player Stephanie Marcus, this label has now issued about 120 jazz-oriented albums without limiting itself to any one particular stylistic direction.
Winter & Winter
Winter & Winter arose in 1995 out of the ruins of JMT, a label with which the producer Stefan Winter had documented the New York scene since the mid-`80’s. The label profiled with distinctive art design and unusual projects such as Uri Caine’s Mahler interpretations, as a melting pot for trans-stylistic crossover from classical music to jazz and so called audio films, which make use of authentic background-noise sound spaces.
The spectrum of jazz labels in Germany is by no means exhausted here. Firms such as Compost Records, FMP, Herzog Records, Intuition/Tuition, Jardis Records, Jazzhausmusic, Jazz4ever, Jazz'n'Arts, Minor Music, Ozella, Pirouet Records and Rodenstein Records among others are all active with German artists in their programmes.