Mitchell: The next wave of OKeh Records is going to be heavily African-American. Another thing that I want to establish is that OKeh Records being a part of in the Sony Masterworks label group, we have an imprint called Sony Masterworks, which is not a jazz imprint. But it recently signed recordings by the Blind Boys of Alabama and Bobby McFerrin. So if we're talking about trying to reestablish a jazz brand, those records fall out of the jazz brand, although at one time, they would have fallen inside of OKeh; that's just not how, at this time, we chosen to organize the label.
Obviously for us, it's a point of sensitivity for both Wulf and myself because we've done so much over our careers to help promote and advance—very aggressively—jazz music and certainly the African-American jazz community. If you ask any of the artists that we've worked with over time, they are going to acknowledge that.
Regarding the three records that you've mentioned: Given the whole idea of marketing, public perception, and potential bad publicity, did you not think that some in jazz community, and particularly the African-American people, would find not having any black American artists in the initial lineup to be problematic?
Mitchell: All that I can tell you is that we are currently negotiating and talking with a number of black musicians in the process of building our roster. Not one of them asked us how many black musicians are going to be one the roster. It might have been different if the issue was raised by a musician or an attorney, saying "Hey, have you thought about this?" But nobody did.
Since we know who we are and we know what our history is as advocates for the music, and specifically for black American music, we didn't feel like it was going to be an issue.
Müller: I agree with what Chuck said. Since the first press release in January up until recently in Bremen, Germany for the Jazzahead Conference, I speak to a number of musicians—and a lot of them are African-American—who are asking me about what we are doing, no one is asking questions regarding that direction. I didn't feel that anyone was bothered by it. It might have something to do with people knowing for me 30 years and knowing what I did on EmArcy Records.
You both mentioned your respective relationships with a lot of African-American musicians. But I'm still surprised that the greater community at large, like journalists, club owners, radio producers, or just jazz fans, and again, particularly black media and industry folks, didn't give you any feedback on this issue.
Mitchell: No! We got [trumpeter] Nicholas Payton's feedback then we saw your piece! We chose not to respond to Nicholas' piece; he's entitled to his opinion. He's a blogger. So the requirements, journalistically speaking, I don't believe, are the same. Nicholas spoke his piece.