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Delmark Records is the oldest American jazz and blues independent record label. It was founded in 1958 and is based in Chicago, Illinois. The label originated in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1953, when owner Bob Koester released a recording of the Windy City Six, a traditional jazz group, under the "Delmar" imprint.
Born in 1932 in Wichita, Kansas, to a family of German descent, Bob Koester began collecting records in high school. Initially a jazz fan, Koester also developed a taste for the blues from the intricate relationship these musics shared in the 1940s and 1950s.
Moving from Wichita to St Louis, Missouri, to attend college, Koester began his career as a record trader in his dormitory room. Joining a local Jazz Club gave Koester his first taste of live jazz, seeing Clark Terry perform. Koester made acquaintance with a fellow Jazz Club member, Ron Fister, with whom he opened his first record shop - K & F Sales. Shortly after opening in an old restaurant storefront, they changed the name to the Blue Note Record Shop. About a year after this joint venture, Fister and Koester decided to part ways, with Koester moving to a new location on the corner of Delmar and Olive streets in St Louis. Taking the name from the street his shop was on, Koester recorded a local jazz group the Windy City Six in 1953. Shortly thereafter, Koester searched out and found local talent in bluesmen such as Speckled Red, James Crutchfield, Big Joe Williams and J.D. Short.
After a period in St Louis, Koester moved to Chicago in August 1958. He bought out the record shop Seymour's Jazz Mart, and in renaming the storefront the Jazz Record Mart, Delmark Records found its new home in the basement of the record shop. By 1963, Koester had moved the shop to a location at 7 West Grand. During this period in Chicago, Delmark released albums by blues, jazz and bebop musicians, such as George Lewis, Barney Bigard, Jimmy Forrest, Bud Powell, Donald Byrd and Ira Sullivan.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Delmark recorded Sonny Stitt, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, J. B. Hutto, Robert Nighthawk, Luther Allison, Magic Sam, and Jimmy Dawkins, plus Malachi Thompson, Jimmy Johnson, Sleepy John Estes, Arthur Crudup, Otis Rush, Yank Rachell and Roosevelt Sykes.
In 1966, Chuck Nessa then manager of the Jazz Record Mart, convinced Koester to release albums by musicians associated with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. The first record was Roscoe Mitchell's Sound (1966) which received a five star review in Downbeat. This was followed by a string of releases on Delmark that highlighted the new music being played in Chicago by artists associated with the AACM including Muhal Richard Abrams' Levels and Degrees of Light (1968), Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre's Humility in the Light of the Creator (1969) and Anthony Braxton's For Alto (1969). Additionally Delmark released two of the earliest Sun Ra albums, Sun Song and Sound of Joy, in 1967 and 1968 respectively.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Delmark continued to release an array of Chicago based jazz and blues. Today, Delmark is still a force on the Chicago music scene. They released records by jazz artists, Frank Catalano, Rob Mazurek, Nicole Mitchell, Ken Vandermark, Fred Anderson, Roy Campbell, Jr., and Ethnic Heritage Ensemble; plus blues musicians including Zora Young, Ken Saydak, Byther Smith, Michael Coleman, Little Arthur Duncan, Eddie C. Campbell, Jimmy Burns, and ragtime musicians including Terry Waldo.
In March 2010, Delmark announced the release of the album Revisit by the Polish duo, Mikrokolektyw. It marked the first release of a European avant jazz group on Delmark in its 57-year history. In 2012, Delmark released two critically acclaimed Chicago blues albums by artists Linsey Alexander and Mike Wheeler.
- "Delmark Distributors". Delmark Records website. Retrieved February 1, 2010.
- Zimmerman, Karla; Dunford, Lisa; Cavalieri, Nate (2008). Chicago City Guide. Lonely Planet. p. 32. ISBN 978-1-74104-767-7.
The oldest independent jazz and blues label in the country, Delmark Records has inspired countless small startups around the world determined to promote the pioneers and mavericks of the two genres.
- Hanson, Karen (2007). Today's Chicago Blues. Lake Claremont Press. pp. 96–98. ISBN 978-1-893121-19-5.
Delmark Records made history in 1965 when Junior Wells stepped into the studio to record Hoodoo Man Blues.
- "Exploratory Music From Poland, part 2". Polishculture.org.uk. Polish Cultural Institute. October 11, 2011. Retrieved December 6, 2011.
- "Linsey Alexander". Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 28 January 2013.
- "Mike Wheeler Discography". allmusic.com. All Media Network, LLC. Retrieved April 21, 2015.
- "New Delmark Blues Releases - On Sale Now". Delmark.com. Delmark Records. Retrieved July 22, 2016.
- Kennedy, Rick; McNutt, Randy (1999). Little Labels—Big Sound: Small Record Companies and the Rise of American Music. Indiana University Press. pp. 160ff. ISBN 978-0-253-33548-7.