|This article does not cite any references or sources. (February 2010)|
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. Under Lester Koenig's supervision, Contemporary recorded such artists as Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Art Farmer, Benny Golson, the Curtis Counce Group (featuring Harold Land, Jack Sheldon, Carl Perkins and Frank Butler), Ben Webster, Benny Carter, Chet Baker, Art Pepper, Phineas Newborn, Jr., Woody Shaw, Shelly Manne, Hampton Hawes, Barney Kessel, Leroy Vinnegar, and Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars.
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.
- Conrad, Thomas. "The Search for Roy DuNann" (April 2002; Stereophile Web site)
- Contemporary Records Listing
- Lester Koenig, Contemporary Records, Shelly Manne, AKG