Cult Classic: Bob Thiele Emergency-Head Start.

Flying Dutchman Rcords was the second record label Bob Thiele founded during what was by then a long, illustrious and successful career. The first was Signature Records, founded by Bob in 1939, when he was just seventeen. However, a lot had happened in the intervening thirty years.

He had worked with many of the giants of jazz including John Coltrane, Charlie Mingus, Sonny Rollins, Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler and Ornette Colman. They were just a few of the jazz legends Bob had worked with, during his thirty year career where  he had worked at some of the biggest record labels, establishing a reputation as an innovative producer. However, Bob had just been ousted from his job at Impulse Records, so Flying Dutchman Records was Bob’s comeback. On his newly founded label, his latest musical vehicle, Bob Thiele Emergency released their debut Head Start. It was just the latest chapter in what had been a varied career in music .

Signature Records wasn’t Bob Thiele’s first job in music. his career began when he  hosted a jazz radio show. Then there was the jazz band Bob who was an accomplished clarinet player led. However, when he left school, Bob Thiele was determined to make his newly founded label Signature Records, a commercial success. 

After founding Signature Records in 1939, Bob signed musicians who’d become legends of jazz. This included Donald Byrd, Lester Young and Errol Gardner. One of the biggest signing came in 1943, when Signature signed Coleman Hawkins. Five years later, in 1948, Signature became insolvent. Bob wasn’t out of music long though. He was soon working with Decca Records.

Having started work for Decca Records, Bob Thiele found himself running its imprint Coral Records. It was at Decca, Bob met his future wife, Teresa Brewer, a singer he was producing. Having established his reputation at Decca, where he spent most of the fifties, in 1961, an opportunity arose to become head of A&R at one of jazz’s most influential labels…Impulse Records.

Creed Taylor, left Impulse to run Verve Records. This left a massive void needing filled. Bob Thiele was the man to do this. He’d established a reputation as a talented and forward-thinking producer. This was perfect for Impulse. Over the next eight years, their roster included John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler, Max Roach, Chico Hamilton, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins and Louis Armstrong. 

Bob started work at Impulse 1961 and spent eight years there. During that time, Bob Thiele enjoyed the busiest period of his career. Bob, he was hardly away from the studio, producing over 150 albums in eight years. This included John Coltrane’s seminal album A Love Supreme. Ironically, Bob’s most successful production was the sentimentality of Louis Armstrong’s What A Wonderful World. Not all of Bob Thiele’s production’s were as successful. Sadly, ambitious and  innovative music wasn’t always equate to commercially successful music. 

Through working with some of the most innovative and creative musicians in the history of jazz, Bob must have realized that often, large record companies aren’t the best environment for innovative and creative musicians. Often, these musical mavericks didn’t thrive within such an orthodox environment. Their creativity is restricted, meaning they’re unable to experiment and innovate, producing music the music that they really wanted, rather than what the record company wanted.

Soon, Bob Thiele, would be able to create an environment where this would be possible. By 1969, Bob had been at Impulse for eight years. He’d been responsible for producing some of the most important jazz music of the sixties. However, there’s no sentiment in music. In the musical equivalent of a musical coup d’tat, Bob Thiele was ousted from his role at Impulse. This proved to the start of the next chapter in his career.

Leaving Impulse in 1969, he founded Flying Dutchman Records which became  home to everyone from Ornette Coleman, through Gil Scott Heron, Leon Thomas, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Louis Armstrong to Lonnie Liston Smith and His Cosmic Echoes. Within the right environment, Bob wanted to prove that innovative musicians could thrive, creating music that’s influential and forward-thinking. Flying Dutchman Records would also mark the debut release of Bob Thiele Emergency’s debut album Head Start.

Although Bob had already released two previous albums, Head Start was the first album from Bob Thiele Emergency. Bob had already released two solo albums, 1967s Thoroughly Modern, which was released on ABC Records. His sophomore album was 1968s Light My Fire, released on Impulse. Like his two previous albums, Head Start would prove to be an innovate album from Bob Thiele Emergency. 

For the recording of Head Start, Bob Thiele Emergency would record six tracks written by Tom Scott, plus tracks written by Ornette Coleman, John Carter and John Coleman. There are also covers of three Lennon and McCartney tracks Blackbird, Julia and I will. There’s also a cover of Walter Melrose and Porter Steele’s High Society. In total, fourteen tracks were spread across four sides of vinyl. They became Head Start.

Rather than put together a band who played on each track, Bob Thiele Emergency was more like a pool of musicians. This allowed Bob to draw upon musicians whose style of playing was suited to specific tracks. Over thirty musicians played on Head Start. Some played on several tracks, other played on just one track. Among them, were alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman, trombonist George Bohanon, flautist Joe Farell, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Elvin Jones. Bob Thiele narrated the closing track on Head Start, A Few Thoughts For The Day. He also produced Head Start, which was released in 1969,

Head Start is an ambitious, bold, genre-sprawling double album. Combining everything from psychedelia, rock, blues, bebop, free-jazz, swing and pop, it’s a captivating musical journey lasting fourteen tracks and over seventy-minutes.

On the first side of Head Start, saxophonist Tom Scott takes centre-stage. He was one of Flying Dutchman’s most successful artist. Tom showcases his skills from the get-go. The opening track, Head Start has an unmistakable sixties sound. Straight away, The Bob Thiele Emergency kick loose, on a track that sometimes, is the definition of groovy. Easy on the ear, you sense Bob is just toying with the listener. That’s the case. Freaky Zeke is very different. It’s best described as a genre-sprawling track. Here Head Start veers between jazz, blues, psychedelia and rock. Frantic and dramatic, languid to laid-back describes this four-minute melting pot of musical influences. On Beatle Ballads: Blackbird, Julia and I Will, Bob Thiele Emergency transform a trio of Lennon and McCartney classics. These three tracks are reinvented, given a jazzy makeover that brings out the beauty and subtleties of these three tracks. Lanoola Goes Limp is one of the highlights of Head Start. Driven along by a boogie-woogie influenced piano, the rhythm section provide the heartbeat and stabs of growling horns fill in the gaps to this delicious slice of jazz.

The Jazz Story is a five-part suite that filled side two. Tracing the history of jazz, it opens with Pickin’ Taters Blues, a powerful blues penned by Esther Marrow and James Rein. Sung by George “Harmonica” Smith, instantly, the listener is transported back in time. George’s vocal is weary and filled with frustration, on this slow, emotive and authentic blues. Then it’s all change, when the ragtime of Oh Didn’t He Ramble and High Society bursts into life. After the moody and heartbreak of Jungle Sound, we’re introduced to the Swing Era and Bebop. The final track in this musical history lesson, was In The Vineyard / Avant Garde, played by Los Angles collective, the Underground Music and Arts Movement. Having retold the history of jazz in six songs and twenty-five minutes, the Bob Thiele Emergency pay homage to one of the giants of jazz, John Coltrane.

Side three of Head Start featured, Dedication To John Coltrane, who’d died two years earlier, When ‘Trane died, jazz had lost one of its true legends. This three song suite was Bob Thiele’s tribute to John Coltrane. Fittingly, Elvin Jones, who played drums for John Coltrane played on Dedication To John Coltrane. The three songs weren’t linked. Instead, they were very different. Lament For John Coltrane was a truly compelling track. Veering between reflective and wistful, it’s then transformed when Ornette Coleman unleashes one of his keening, braying, improvisational alto saxophone solos. There’s then a thoughtful, pensive recital of A Love Supreme by DJ Rosko. Closing Dedication To John Coltrane, is a live recording of Holiday For A Graveyard, featuring by The Ornette Coleman. This was recorded at John Coltrane’s funeral in 1967, in St. Lutheran Church, New York. These three songs were Bob Thiele Emergency’s tribute to one of jazz’s giants, John Coltrane. 

Filling the final side of Head Start, was A Few Thoughts For The Day (Biafra, King, John and Robert, The American Indian). These were Bob Thiele’s thoughts on the humanitarian crisis in Biafra, the assassination of John and Robert Kennedy and the plight of The American Indian. Lasting nearly seventeen songs, this was hint at the future direction Flying Dutchman would head. From the get-go, the music is experimental, heading in the direction of free-jazz and avante-garde. While the music was compelling and intelligent, many people failed to understand music that they perceived as challenging and discordant. That wasn’t the case. Instead, it was the start of Flying Dutchman’s tenure as one of jazz’s most innovative and inventive labels.

Fourteen tracks and seventy-three minutes long, Head Start was a genre-sprawling album. From the opening bars of Head Start, to the closing notes of A Few Thoughts For The Day, Bob and his band fused everything from psychedelia, through rock, blues, bebop, free-jazz, swing and pop. Truly, Head Start was a captivating musical journey. While Head Start was a groundbreaking album, it wasn’t a commercial success. This is despite Bob Thiele, with one eye on marketing, stating on the front cover, that retailers could only charge two cents more than the price of a single album. Regardless of this incentive, Head Start, despite its Head Start, was soon overtaken by other jazz albums. Despite this, Flying Dutchman continued to release some of the most inventive and innovative jazz music of that era. Indeed, Head Start hinted heavily at the future direction of Flying Dutchman Productions.

History shows that Flying Dutchman was no ordinary jazz label. No. It was a label that was determined to push musical boundaries, challenge musical norms and mix a multiplicity of musical genres and influences. Flying Dutchman would do all this and more. Wounded by his ousting from Impulse Records, Bob Thiele set about signing musical mavericks and innovators. These were musicians who were innovative and creative. Bob then gave them a musical environment where they could thrive. Removed from the corporate machine, they could allow their creativity and imagination to run wild. Out-with the orthodox environment of large record companies, Bob Thiele encouraged artists to create inventive, innovative and influential music. The artists he signed didn’t let him down. Instead, much of the music Flying Dutchman released is seen as some of the most important, ambitious,  inventive and innovative  jazz music of the late-sixties and seventies including Bob Thiele Emergency’s debut album Head Start which is a an oft-overlooked cult classic.

Cult Classic: Bob Thiele Emergency-Head Start.

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