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Craft Recordings Celebrates 70 Years of Contemporary Records



The celebrated jazz label’s catalog includes

classic recordings by Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins,

Art Pepper, Shelly Manne, Hampton Hawes, Benny Carter

and Barney Kessel, among many others

New releases to include deluxe box sets, vinyl reissues,

SACDs, curated playlists, merchandise & more

Released tomorrow, December 3 are six new

ON CONTEMPORARY digital compilation albums

from Lester Koenig’s iconic label

Plus a new Contemporary Records 70-Track Playlist

Click here for Online Media Kit | Click here for Trailer

2021 marks 70 years of Contemporary Records, the Los Angeles-based audiophile jazz label that both defined and radically expanded the sound of West Coast jazz. Throughout the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, Lester Koenig’s artist-friendly company released career-defining performances by some of modern jazz’s most influential and accomplished improvisers, including Ornette ColemanSonny Rollins, Hampton Hawes, Art Pepper, Harold Land, Shelly Manne and Teddy Edwards. In celebrating the history of this essential label and its exceptional catalog, Craft Recordings is releasing a variety of content throughout the coming year, including deluxe box sets, vinyl reissues, SACDs and digital compilations, as well as exclusive merchandise, video content and curated playlists. Full details of these new releases to follow.

Kicking off the campaign tomorrow, December 3, are five digital On Contemporary compilations focusing on individual jazz giants: Art PepperHampton HawesBarney KesselAndré Previn and Shelly Manne. A sixth release, The Saxophonistsoffers a tantalizing glimpse at the depth of the Contemporary catalog with an array of era-defining horn players. Included are three of the most consequential players to ever pick up the sax, with Benny Carter, the man who tamed the horn in the 1920s and kept it in the vanguard into the 21st century; the supremely expressive Art Pepper; and the revolutionary Ornette Coleman. Also featured are heavyweights Sonny Rollins, Ben Webster, Benny Golson, Harold Land, Bob Cooper and Teddy Edwards. For those fans who want to take a deeper dive into the extensive Contemporary Records back catalog, there is also a new 70-track playlist available on streaming services now, bringing together key tracks and highlights from this groundbreaking record label.

“Whether you’re an audiophile looking for recordings with pristine and natural sonics or a jazz aficionado who simply wants to hear the very best in straight-ahead, swinging jazz,” states jazz producer Nick Phillips, “the Contemporary Records catalog is an absolute treasure trove.”

Taken together, the compilations make an indisputable case for Contemporary’s central role in documenting the evolution of modern jazz in the decades after World War II, while foregrounding Los Angeles as a proving ground for transformational talent.

For up-to-date release information and news on the Contemporary Records 70th anniversary campaign, stay tuned to @craftrecordings and


Click here for a full biography on Contemporary Records.

Watch the Trailer for 70 Years of Contemporary Records

On Contemporary: Art Pepper

In the aftermath of Charlie Parker, no alto saxophonist blazed a more brilliant alternative path than Pepper (September 1, 1925 – June 15, 1982), who forged a lyrical detour bypassing bebop despite his love of Bird. The L.A. native poured his tormented soul into his horn, recording a series of classic albums between stints in prison due to his addiction to heroin. His Contemporary sessions rank among his very best work, and this anthology includes choice pieces from his 1957 encounter with Miles Davis’ sidemen on Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section, the scorching 1960 album Smack Up through his triumphant 1977 run at the Village Vanguard with George Cables, Elvin Jones and George Mraz, represented here with a sublime version of “Over the Rainbow.”


On Contemporary: André Previn

If the Berlin-born Previn (April 6, 1929 – February 28, 2019) tends to be forgotten these days as an ebulliently swinging jazz pianist with a bright, bell-like touch, it’s because he was so brilliant in such a range of musical endeavors. Writing for MGM while still a teenager, he went on to win four Academy Awards® for his film scores and 10 GRAMMY® Awards. He spent the second half of his life as the principal conductor for some of the world’s greatest orchestras. As a jazz pianist, he recorded prolifically for Contemporary between 1957 and 1960, and this playlist focuses on his hugely popular trio with bassist Red Mitchell and drummer Shelly Manne (or Frankie Capp), a group best known for a series of albums devoted to musicals like Pal JoeyGigi and West Side Story.


On Contemporary: Hampton Hawes

Much like Art Pepper, a fellow Angelino, Hampton Hawes (November 13, 1928 – May 22, 1977) would make an excellent subject for a Hollywood biopic (and like Pepper’s memoir Straight Life, Hawes’ Raise Up Off Me is a classic account of the jazz life that could serve as the screenplay). Even more memorable than his evocative prose were his funky, irrepressibly grooving trio and quartet sessions for Contemporary, his primary label throughout his career. Like a West Coast Horace Silver, Hawes honed an utterly personal church-steeped sound inspired by but not beholden to bebop, and this collection captures the breadth and depth of one of jazz’s most appealing yet unsung pianists.


On Contemporary: Barney Kessel

A guitar virtuoso (October 17, 1923 – May 6, 2004) from Muskogee, Oklahoma, Kessel was one of Contemporary’s busiest artists between 1954 and 1963. He had already recorded with Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday and Oscar Peterson when he started making his own albums for Koenig. This compilation draws from both his own sessions and his numerous releases with The Poll Winners, a trio with Shelly Manne and Ray Brown with a moniker boasting of their long run topping critics’ polls in Downbeat and Metronome. While Kessel spent decades playing thousands of studio dates as a member of the legendary L.A. studio cadre the Wrecking Crew, he continued to record exceptional albums for Contemporary through the 1980s.


On Contemporary: Shelly Manne

One of the most prolifically recorded drummers in jazz history, the versatile Shelly Manne (June 11, 1920 – September 26, 1984) was another pillar of the Contemporary fold who elevated every project he worked on. Aside from the first track, a graceful date led by André Previn, this compilation focuses on Manne’s extensive catalog as a leader and co-leader. With equal parts force and finesse, he powered some of the era’s most exciting hard bop sessions, though his bands tend to be overlooked today because his players didn’t go on to wider fame, à la Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. But Manne’s muscular trap work made his L.A.-based bands consistently compelling, particularly when they stretched out in a nightclub. Almost a third of the compilation covers Shelly Manne & His Men at San Francisco’s flagship jazzspot The Black Hawk on a particularly torrid 1959 run, though the concluding track comes from a live 1961 date in his own Hollywood room, Shelly’s Manne-Hole.


On Contemporary: The Saxophonists

The Saxophonists – Various Artists offers a tantalizing glimpse at the depth of the Contemporary Records catalog with an array of era-defining horn players. The tenor titans represented include undisputed heavyweights Ben Webster, Sonny Rollins and Benny Golson, as well as two masters often overlooked due to their L.A. addresses, Harold Land and Teddy Edwards, who both did some of their finest work for the label. The irrepressibly swinging Bob Cooper shines on a solo date away from his usual spot in the Lighthouse All-Stars. Upholding the alto’s essential role are three of the most consequent players to ever pick up the sax, with Benny Carter, the man who tamed the horn in the 1920s and kept it in the vanguard into the 21st century; the supremely expressive Art Pepper; and the revolutionary Ornette Coleman. A track by the lithe, cool-toned Lennie Niehaus, who’s better remembered these days for his extensive work on film and television scores, recalls a major talent who took another path.

Click here for the track listing of each release.

About Contemporary Records

Founded in 1951 by Lester Koenig (December 3, 1917 – November 21, 1977), Contemporary Records is a uniquely Hollywood story. An intellectual who loved the arts, Koenig (pronounced kay-nig) thrived in the film industry as a screenwriter, co-producer and assistant to William Wyler, playing an important role on landmark films such as The Best Years of Our LivesDetective Story and Roman Holiday. Koenig’s life in movies was effectively ended by the Red Scare in 1953, when he was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He was flayed by the conservative Hollywood establishment for having left-wing sympathies, and blacklisted he turned his attention to Good Time Jazz, a label he’d launched in 1949, to record a Dixieland combo featuring players who all had day jobs with Disney. He initially created Contemporary as an outlet for new contemporary classical works, but his ears were wide open and by the mid-1950s many of Southern California’s most exciting jazz artists were eager to document their music in what was rapidly becoming one of the best studios on the West Coast under the auspices of Roy DuNann, the sound engineer Koenig lured away from Capitol Records in 1956. The artists responded to Koenig’s steadfast faith in their creativity, and Contemporary became the essential vehicle for L.A. modernists and East Coast players looking for respite from the New York hustle. Seven decades later, the label’s legacy looks more imposing than ever, as the albums that Lester Koenig and his son John recorded continue to inspire and influence leading players on the contemporary scene.


About Craft Recordings

Craft Recordings is home to one of the largest and most essential collections of master recordings and compositions in the world. Its storied repertoire includes landmark releases from icons such as Joan Baez, John Coltrane, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Celia Cruz, Miles Davis, Isaac Hayes, John Lee Hooker, Little Richard, R.E.M., Joan Sebastian and Traveling Wilburys. Plus, the catalog recordings of celebrated contemporary acts including A Day to Remember, Evanescence, Alison Krauss, Nine Inch Nails, Taking Back Sunday and Violent Femmes, to name just a few. Renowned imprints with catalogs issued under the Craft banner include Fania, Fantasy, Fearless, Musart, Nitro, Panart, Prestige, Riverside, Rounder, Specialty, Stax, Vanguard, Varèse Sarabande, Vee-Jay and Victory, among many others. Craft creates thoughtfully curated packages, with a meticulous devotion to quality and a commitment to preservation—ensuring that these recordings endure for new generations to discover. Craft is also home to the Billie Holiday and Tammy Wynette estates which preserve and protect their respective names, likeness and music through day-to-day legacy management of these cultural trailblazers.


Craft Recordings is the catalog label team for Concord Recorded Music.

Craft Recordings Celebrate 70 Years of Contemporary Record

Contemporary Records | Release Date: December 3, 2021

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