The Candid Story
Ask any number of jazz fans and you’ll get as many lists of indispensable jazz heroes. But certain names would well show up on all of them. Coleman Hawkins, who pushed the tenor saxophone into the spotlight in the 1920s. Clark Terry, the two-fisted trumpeter who starred in the jazz orchestras of both Basie and Ellington. Charles Mingus, universally hailed among the greatest jazz composers. MacArthur “genius grant” fellows Max Roach, who helped invent bebop, Cecil Taylor, who helped propel the next stage of jazz’s trajectory and Abbey Lincoln, the searingly emotive vocalist and adored composer idolized by successive generations of singers.
You’ll find them all on Candid Records. You’ll also find artists who stood on the shoulders of those giants to carry jazz forward, and who themselves have inspired future generations. They include the saxophonists Gary Bartz and Dave Liebman (both alumni of Miles Davis’ electric bands); the oft-overlooked Walt Dickerson, who glided the vibraphone into the avant-garde; the powerhouse tenor man Ricky Ford; and vocalist Stacey Kent, whose early 21st-century albums established her among the finest modern interpreters of the Great American Songbook.
At various junctures over the last six decades, the name Candid has signified adventure and integrity, and what jazz folk call “big ears” – the ability to recognize and appreciate all manner of music, from the first New Orleans parade bands to the socially charged, beats-infused idioms springing up today, a century later.
The Candid story begins in the early 1950’s when bandleader and arranger Archie Bleyer founded the Cadence Records label. Cadence was a success, with Bleyer signing a stable of hitmakers including the Everly Brothers, rock-guitar pioneer Link Wray, and pop crooner Andy Williams. That success allowed Bleyer to indulge his passion for jazz, which led to the release of more than a dozen albums by pianist Don Shirley (introduced to modern audiences as the protagonist of the Oscar-winning 2018 film Green Book).
In 1960, Bleyer looked to the epicenter of the jazz world, New York City, to capture that vibrant and creative scene and created a Cadence Records offshoot, Candid Records. To helm the new label, he tapped Nat Hentoff as A&R man and house producer. Hentoff - a leading music critic, widely published, and influential for his writings on civil liberties – had impeccable tastes. Instinctively including blues in his purview, the very first Candid recording session produced one of the finest blues albums ever, from arguably one of the greatest blues pianists, Otis Spann Is the Blues. A week later came the landmark sessions for We Insist!, the politically charged, avant-garde masterpiece from Max Roach, whose inspired album cover re-enacted the headline-making and groundbreaking Greensboro, NC, lunch-counter sit-in, which had occurred only a few months earlier.
By mid-November, Charles Mingus Presents from jazz giant Charles Mingus, and Lightnin’ in New York, from Lightnin’ Hopkins, were also in the can. In quick succession, those were followed by now hallowed albums from vocalist Abbey Lincoln, free jazz pioneer Cecil Taylor, hard bop ambassadors Booker Ervin and Booker Little, and envelope pushing trumpet player Don Ellis, to name a few. Quite a haul for a fledgling operation.
And then, Candid went quiet. Out of business by the end of ’61. Parent label Cadence had lost its big moneymakers to larger labels, and the money for jazz ran out. In 1964, eager to protect his older hits, Andy Williams bought the entire Cadence catalog, including the iconic jazz titles on Candid.
Those titles remained untouched for the next quarter-century, until the veteran British jazz producer and proprietor of the much-admired Black Lion Productions, Alan Bates, relaunched Candid Records in the late 1980s. Adding new artists to the roster (while converting all the existing titles to digital), Bates built up the catalog to include more than 300 entries. If the initial Candid discography curated by Hentoff made it a prestigious label, the second phase helmed by Alan Bates, populated with contemporary established and emerging artists, continued in that tradition.
Bates signed piano giant and 12-time GRAMMY® nominee Kenny Barron, trumpet virtuoso Claudio Roditi, intrepid experimental saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and Buddy DeFranco, the sine qua non of bebop clarinetists. He also brought on board the great pianist Sir Roland Hanna and New Orleans sax man (and Mardi Gras Big Chief) Donald Harrison, Jr. Alongside them you’ll find innovative pianist-composer Jessica Williams, Latin jazz masters Paquito D’Rivera and Mongo Santamaria and the minimalist saxophone of Lee Konitz. Bates nurtured new talent as well, and Candid became home to the debut recording of the exuberant GRAMMY® nominated pianist-vocalist Jamie Cullum, who richly combined jazz and pop, and GRAMMY® nominated vocalist Stacey Kent, whose cool interpretations of age-old standards made her an international star. These artists continued the evolution of the label.
After 50 years in the record business, Bates reached the decision to sell the label. He found a ready buyer and a dedicated steward in Glen Barros who had long respected Candid’s history and quality. In 2019, he formed Exceleration Music and made Candid its first acquisition, where it lives and thrives today. Soon after its launch, John Burk, Charles Caldas, Amy Dietz and Dave Hansen – all prominent music executives that have spent their entire careers in the independent music community – joined Barros as partners in Exceleration and collectively have built the company into a fast-growing enterprise that serves independent music in numerous genres. Candid, however, will always be Exceleration’s cornerstone.
And the next chapter of the Candid story has already begun. 2021 saw new releases from Stacey Kent, The Count Basie Orchestra, and Brazilian piano marvel Eliane Elias (with Chick Corea and Chucho Valdés), the latter of the two earning GRAMMY® nominations. In reclaiming the label’s heritage, Candid is reissuing work from the classic jazz heroes of the Nat Hentoff era with high-quality vinyl releases, newly remastered from original tapes by one of music’s most respected engineers, Bernie Grundman. The reissues include titles by Charles Mingus, Max Roach, Abbey Lincoln, Otis Spann, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Booker Little, Booker Ervin, Clark Terry, Cecil Taylor, PeeWee Russell and Coleman Hawkins. And that’s just the beginning. There will also be titles from Thelonious Monk, Shirley Scott, Jamie Cullum and many more.
Jazz is a continuum. And Candid Records will never cease to enrich that continuum by paying close attention to the label’s rich history, and by keeping its eyes and ears keenly attuned to the future of the art form.
- Neil Tesser 2022