Orange and black back for Impulse celebration
By Chris Morris
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – For many, orange and
black are the hues of jazz. Those were the distinctive colors
on the spines of LPs issued by Impulse Records, the label that
midwifed some of the most important new jazz of the ’60s and
The orange and the black will be back in a big way in June.
Universal’s Verve Music Group, which controls the Impulse
catalog, will mount a celebration of the label’s 45th
anniversary that will see the release of a comprehensive
Impulse history, a four-CD historical overview, 10 compilations
of the label’s best-known artists, a one-hour syndicated public
radio show and the start of a tour featuring keyboardist McCoy
Tyner, one of Impulse’s central ’60s performers, playing
selections from the label’s repertoire.
The book and four-CD set bear the same title: “The House
That Trane Built,” reflecting saxophone visionary John
Coltrane’s role in Impulse’s development. The book, published
by W.W. Norton, is by music journalist and radio essayist
Ashley Kahn; it’s an outgrowth of his 2002 work about the
making of Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” the seminal 1965 work
that became the label’s bestselling title.
Kahn says that as he researched the Coltrane album, “The
stories I was discovering (about Impulse) were too good to be
true — a Hollywood screenplay couldn’t have made it better.”
The writer takes a detailed look at both artistic and
commercial evolution at Impulse, which was founded in 1961 by
the communications giant ABC-Paramount. Under the direction of
Creed Taylor (who went on to found CTI Records) and then Bob
Thiele, Impulse developed a glossy, upscale look for its
records, and ranged widely through the jazz of the day.
Revolutionary talents like Coltrane, his wife Alice,
Charles Mingus, Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders, Albert Ayler and
Charlie Haden cut keystone sides there, but so did jazz
classicists like Duke Ellington, Earl Hines, Coleman Hawkins
and Pee Wee Russell. Impulse’s first big hit was “Genius + Soul
= Jazz,” an instrumental album by Ray Charles.
Verve Music Group vp of marketing Ken Druker says the
label’s history is “the story of jazz moving forward, but it’s
also (about) the whole breadth of jazz.”
For the most part, the suits at ABC-Paramount kept their
hands off Impulse’s creative execs, and the result was
surprising commercial successes like “A Love Supreme.” Kahn
says of Coltrane, “He took his vision and found the right place
for it, where it could be profitable.”
The wave of new retrospective Impulse compilations, and the
radio hour, produced by Josh Jackson of WBGO-FM in Newark,
N.J., should hip both older listeners and a new generation to
the riches in the label’s catalog.
“It’s definitely reminding people about it, and, through
the artist compilations, introducing artists people may have
just heard about,” Druker says. “There are a lot of young
people who would like this music very much who may not have
heard about the music.”
And Tyner, the pianist in Coltrane’s “classic quartet” of
the ’60s and an Impulse solo artist, will bring the music alive
with an all-star septet that will tour the U.S., Canada and
Europe this summer. The “Impulse Tribute” trek starts with a
June 5 gig at the Blue Note in New York.
“It just made sense to try and include at least one
original Impulse artist,” says Druker. “With McCoy being so
linked to Impulse, it just worked out.”
(Chris Morris hosts “Watusi Rodeo” on Indie 103.1 in Los
Angeles from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. every Sunday.