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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, Bob Koester was the son of a petroleum engineer. While in the hospital with polio when he was a child, he listened to the radio and was cheered up when he heard Eddie Condon and Benny Goodman. In his teens he was a dedicated jazz fan who began buying old records from a Salvation Army store. At concerts in Kansas City he heard Red Allen, Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing, Tommy Douglas, Lionel Hampton, and Jay McShann.
Moving from Wichita to St. Louis 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 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 found local talent such as James Crutchfield, Speckled Red, J.D. Short, and Big Joe Williams.
Koester moved to Chicago in August 1958. He bought 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, Barney Bigard, Donald Byrd, Jimmy Forrest, George Lewis, Bud Powell, and Ira Sullivan.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Delmark recorded the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Sonny Stitt, Junior Wells, Luther Allison, Arthur Crudup, Jimmy Dawkins, Sleepy John Estes, Buddy Guy, J. B. Hutto, Jimmy Johnson, Magic Sam, Robert Nighthawk, Yank Rachell, Otis Rush, Roosevelt Sykes, and Malachi Thompson.
In 1966 Chuck Nessa, 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 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). Delmark released two of the earliest Sun Ra albums, Sun Song and Sound of Joy, in 1967 and 1968 respectively.
Delmark has also released albums by Fred Anderson, Frank Catalano, Rob Mazurek, Nicole Mitchell, Ken Vandermark, Roy Campbell, Jr., and Ethnic Heritage Ensemble; and 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. This album was Delmark's first by a European avant-garde jazz group in its 57-year history. In 2012, Delmark released two Chicago blues albums by Linsey Alexander and Mike Wheeler.
In May 2018 Koester retired and sold Delmark Records to Julia A. Miller and Elbio Barilari, two musicians from Chicago. The sale included Delmark's subsidiary labels, CD and LP inventory, the catalog of masters, and Riverside Studio.
- 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.
- Kennedy, Rick; McNutt, Randy (1999). Little labels Big Sound: Small Record Companies and the Rise of American Music. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. pp. 161–. ISBN 978-0253-21434-8.
- 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. All Media Network, LLC. Retrieved April 21, 2015.
- "New Delmark Blues Releases". Delmark. Retrieved July 22, 2016.
- Reich, Howard (1 May 2018). "Delmark Records founder sells label to Chicago musicians Julia A. Miller and Elbio Barilari". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 4 May 2018.