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Local artists buy Delmark Records

One of the oldest independent jazz and blues label is taken over by Julia A Miller and Elbio Barilari

Delmark Records, the 65 year old Chicago based label that issued the first recordings by members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, was sold on 1 May to local artists and educators Julia A Miller and Elbio Barilari. The couple, both co-leaders of the improvisatory electro-acoustic ensemble Volcano Radar, and professors at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and University of Illinois at Chicago respectively, have ambitious plans including new releases, multiple forms of distribution, and community projects.

Delmark was founded and run by record producer Bob Koester. Between 1966 and 1969 the label issued Roscoe Mitchell's Sound, Joseph Jarman's Song For, Anthony Braxton's Three Compositions Of The New Jazz and For Alto, and Muhal Richard Abrams' Levels And Degrees Of Light. In 1965 the label had an unexpected success with Junior Wells's Chicago Blues Band debut album Hoodoo Man Blues. An early collaboration with guitarist Buddy Guy, contractual negotiations meant that Guy was initially credited as Friendly Chap. Prior to Hoodoo Man Blues, Delmark focused on traditional jazz and new albums by re-discovered veterans during the 1960s blues revival.

Koester, who also owned and operated the Jazz Record Mart as a retail outlet and income source for Delmark, was often executive producer of Delmark albums. Chuck Nessa was responsible for the initial AACM recordings and eventually launched Nessa Records. Similarly, Delmark employee Bruce Iglauer launched his own blues label Alligator Records.

Delmark has sustained decades of documentation of Chicago's avant garde improvisers and mainstream jazz players. Other artists include Rob Mazurek's Exploding Star Ensemble, Kahil El'Zabar's Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, Ernest Dawkins, Josh Berman, Nicole Mitchell, Jason Adasiewicz, Jeff Parker, Jason Stein, and Jim Baker. It kept recordings blues too, and has reissued classic titles acquired from defunct companies such as Pearl, Apollo and Sackville, some dating back to the 1920s. All making for an entire back catalogue and inventory that is estimated at 160,000 CDs, LPs and DVDs. Miller and Barilari have signed a long-term lease with right of first refusal to purchase on the label's headquarters, a one-story warehouse with a recording studio. Veteran producer and engineer Steve Wagner is remaining as its manager.

This year they plan to issue music by their own band with reeds player Paquito D'Rivera, an album featuring guitarist Fareed Haque, and previously unreleased Sun Ra recordings. They'll host a booth at the Chicago Blues Festival on 8 June as part of a celebration of Delmark's legacy with guitarists Lurrie Bell, Jimmy Johnson and Dave Specter. Koester, now 85, will be honoured at the festival.

"It's not only, and maybe not mostly, about selling physical product," acknowledges Barilari. "We want to be involved, to have an active presence in the scene here," says Miller. "We could use the building differently, have studio concerts, maybe gallery shows."

They plan to open the studio for rentals, have workshops for school groups, and attract local and international musicians for new projects. To those ends, they're in discussions with the Jazz Institute of Chicago, proposing an anthology to highlight the organisation's 50th anniversary in 2019.

By Howard Mandel