Legendary jazz producer Orrin Keepnews started his career in the jazz music industry as a writer. A graduate of Columbia University in NYC, he wrote for the publication The Record Changer, writing the first national profile of then little-known pianist and composer Thelonious Monk.
After launching the Riverside record label as a means of reissuing older out-of-print jazz titles, Keepnews ended up signing Monk to the fledgling label and producing his first recording there. He also worked with pianist Bill Evans, another Riverside artist, and others. The label eventually folded in the early 1960s, and in 1966 Keepnews was back with a new label—Milestone Records.
Keepnews sold Milestone to Fantasy Records in 1972. The label had already acquired the Riverside and Prestige catalogs, making it a strong player in jazz music during the 1970s. According to the excellent book Story of a Sound, Orrin Keepnews went to work for Fantasy, issuing ‘twofers’ that included reissues of two LPs from the back catalog of an artist as a double LP set. The concept was quickly taken up by other jazz labels and continued to be a popular idea in the CD era.
In the ‘80s, with the advent of the CD, Fantasy launched upon an ambitious reissue and remastering plan, and Keepnews spent a great deal of time writing about the music he had produced with such great artists as Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, McCoy Tyner, and a host others through the years. He also helped in the compilation of comprehensive box sets of many of his legendary recordings.
Concord Records, who bought Fantasy and all its extensive jazz catalogs, unveiled the Keepnews Collection, a series of reissues of Orrin Keepnews-produced recordings from both Riverside and Milestone. While many of these are classic sessions that have never been out of print since their release (Everybody Digs Bill Evans, Live In San Francisco), others are less well-known gems that deserve to be heard by a wider audience, such as Joe Henderson’s Power to the People, Flora Purim’s Butterfly Dreams, or Jimmy Heath’s Really Big!
All discs feature 24-bit remastering from the original tapes and include new liner notes by Keepnews, as well as original liner notes. The new notes are a pleasurable and informative read, often focusing more on the nature of Keepnews’s relationship with a particular artist or the circumstances surrounding a specific recording rather than a discussion of the music contained on the disc. That works well because the tendency is for the original liner notes to discuss the music itself in more detail. Taken together, they help make the Keepnews Collection a cut above the average reissue series.
Concord discontinued the series at 27 titles in 2009, but the titles already issued still all appear to be available. Many of these titles have also seen vinyl reissues by Concord and Fantasy.
The following titles were part of the Keepnews Collection and are currently reviewed and discussed on New Directions in Music:
- Nat Adderley/Work Song
- Cannonball Adderley/In San Francisco
- Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers/Caravan
- Chet Baker/Chet
- Joe Henderson/Power to the People
- Thelonious Monk/Plays Duke Ellington
- McCoy Tyner/Fly With The Wind
- Flora Purim/Butterfly Dreams
- Jimmy Heath/Really Big!!
- Wes Montgomery/The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery
- Bill Evans/Everybody Digs Bill Evans