Contemporary Records

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Contemporary Records was a jazz record label founded by Lester Koenig in 1951 in Los Angeles. Contemporary was known for seminal recordings embodying the West Coast sound, but also released recordings based in New York.


Koenig maintained extremely high audio standards. He hired Roy DuNann from Capitol Records in 1956, who, out of the label's shipping room turned studio, turned out some of the best sounding records of the time. DuNann provided some details of his techniques in a Stereophile article nearly 50 years later. He said Koenig provided him with German (Neumann/Telefunken U-47) and Austrian (AKG C-12) condenser microphones and he immediately noted the very high output of these microphones, especially close-in on jazz musicians' dynamic playing. DuNann achieved his signature sound—crisp, clear and balanced without distortion or unpleasant "peak presence"—by keeping his microphone setups very simple (generally one per musician) and avoided the use of pre-amplifiers for them. He built a simple passive mixing system that directly fed the electronics of his Ampex 350 and 351 tape machines. Also, DuNann told Stereophile that Contemporary sessions were recorded "dry" (without electronic echo added or in a reverberant room). Sometimes, such as in the case of Sonny Rollins' Way Out West, a plate reverb unit was inserted between the tape machine and the LP disc cutting lathe. This is why some later LP and CD reissues of Contemporary albums sound "dry" and "dead" compared to the original LPs mastered by DuNann.

In the mid 1960s the company fell into relative limbo, but limited new recordings were made in the late 1970s including a series of albums by Art Pepper recorded at the Village Vanguard club in New York. After Les Koenig's death in 1977, the label was run for seven years by his son, John, who produced albums by George Cables, Joe Farrell, Joe Henderson, Bobby Hutcherson, Peter Erskine, Chico Freeman and others.

In 1984 Contemporary was purchased by Fantasy Records, who used the label name themselves for a short time. Most Contemporary titles were reissued by Fantasy. Also, some titles have found new life among today's audiophiles as high-quality LP remasters from Analogue Productions and other audiophile labels. The Fantasy catalog, including Contemporary and its associated labels, Good Time Jazz Records, Society For Forgotten Music and Contemporary Composers Series, was sold to Concord Records in 2004.

Over the years, a number of major figures in the music business worked for Contemporary. Among them were Atlantic Records executive Nesuhi Ertegun, writers Nat Hentoff and Leonard Feather, producer Joe Boyd, recording engineer and studio designer Howard Holzer and mastering engineer Bernie Grundman.

Partial discography[edit]

Catalog Artist Album
14001 Cables, George Cables' Vision
14002 Farrell, Joe Sonic Text
14003 Garson, Mike Avant Garson
14004 Montoliu, Tete Lunch In L.A.
14005 Freeman, Chico Peaceful Heart, Gentle Spirit
14006 Henderson, Joe Relaxin' At Camarillo
14007 Hoggard, Jay Rain Forest
14008 Freeman, Chico Destiny's Dance
14009 Hutcherson, Bobby Solo / Quartet
14010 Erskine, Peter Peter Erskine
14011 Perkins, Bill Journey To The East
14012 Shank, Bud California Concert
14013 Morgan, Frank Easy Living
14014 Cables, George Phantom Of The City
14015 Cables, George Circle
14016 Rowles, Jimmy With The Red Mitchell Trio
14017 Cooper, Bob & Snooky Young In A Mellotone
14018 Manne, Shelly In Zurich
14019 Shank, Bud That Old Feeling
14020 Jazztet, The Back to the City
14021 Morgan, Frank Lament
14022 Gibbs, Terry Latin Connection, The
14023 Connor, Chris Classic
14024 Higgins, Billy Bridgework
14025 Breakstone, Joshua Echoes
14026 Morgan, Frank Bebop Lives
14027 Shank, Bud At Jazz Alley
14028 Hughes, Luther And Cahoots
14029 Farmer, Art Something to Live For: The Music of Billy Strayhorn
14030 Cables, George By George
14031 Shank, Bud Serious Swingers
14032 Rowles, Jimmy I'm Glad There Is You
14033 Kessel, Barney Spontaneous Combustion
14034 Jazztet, The Real Time
14035 Morgan, Frank & George Cables Double Image
14036 Gibbs, Terry & Buddy DeFranco Chicago Fire
14037 Harrell, Tom & Robert, George Sun Dance
14038 Connor, Chris New Again
14039 Morgan, Frank & McCoy Tyner Major Changes
14040 Breakstone, Joshua Evening Star
14041 Campbell, Kerry Phoenix Rising
14042 Farmer, Art Blame It On My Youth
14043 Harrell, Tom Stories
14044 Kessel, Barney Red Hot & Blue
14045 Morgan, Frank Yardbird Suite
14046 Kral, Jackie & Roy Full Circle
14047 Gibbs, Terry & Buddy DeFranco Holiday For Swing
14048 Shank, Bud Tomorrow's Rainbow
14049 Sloane, Carol Love You Madly
14050 Breakstone, Joshua Self-Portrait In Swing
14051 Rumsey, Howard Jazz Invention
14052 Morgan, Frank Reflections
14053 Campbell, John After Hours
14054 Harrell, Tom Sail Away
14055 Farmer, Art Ph.D.
14056 Gibbs, Terry & Buddy DeFranco Air Mail Special
14057 Farmer, Art & Frank Morgan Central Avenue Reunion
14058 Burrell, Kenny Guiding Spirit
14059 Harrell, Tom Form
14060 Sloane, Carol Real Thing, The
14061 Campbell, John Turning Point
14062 Breakstone, Joshua 9 By 3
14063 Harrell, Tom Visions
14064 Morgan, Frank & Bud Shank Quiet Fire
14065 Burrell, Kenny Sunup To Sundown
14066 Gibbs, Terry Memories Of You
14067 Gibbs, Terry Kings Of Swing
14068 Vinnegar, Leroy Walking The Basses
14069 Romero, Celedonio & Romero, Celin Spanish Guitar Music
14070 Romero, Pepe ¡Flamenco Fenomeno!
14071 Humes, Helen 'Deed I Do
14072 Hawes, Hampton Something Special 6/10/76
14073 Freeman, Chico Focus
14074 Edwards, Teddy Back To Avalon
14075 Mustafa, Melton Boiling Point
14076 Orta, Michael Freedom Tower
14077 Rumsey, Howard Mexican Passport
14078 Myers, Terry Soul Mates
14079 Ross, Billy Woody
14080 Allison, Eric Mean Streets Beat
14081 Points, Dennis Images
14082 Jones, Jesse Soul Serenade
14083 Marcus, Billy Hamp
14084 Morgan, Lanny Pacific Standard
14085 Mustafa, Melton St. Louis Blues
14086 Pepper, Art San Francisco Samba
14087 Ranier, Tom In The Still Of The Night
14088 Allison, Eric After Hours

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