Bethlehem Records Interviews:

Gus Wildi, Founder; Burt Goldblatt & More.

 

Bethlehem Records

 

Bethlehem Records was a major jazz label in the 1950's with an impressive roster of artists including singers: Nina Simone, Carmen MacRae, Chris Conner, Mel Torme, Bob Dorough, Billy Eckstine, Audrey Morris, Helen Carr and Frances Faye to name a few; arrangers: Marty Paich, Russ Garcia, Frank Hunter; and musicians including: Dexter Gordon, Roland Kirk, Charles Mingus, Frank Rosolino, Herbie Mann, Stan Levey, Art Blakey, Milt Hinton, Errol Garner, Zoot Sims, Duke Ellington, JJ Johnson and many, many others. The label distinguished itself by giving artists creative control of their projects and presented albums of rather cutting edge graphic design. Its legacy is a lengthy discography that freshly and ambitiously captured and preserved an era of truly amazing music including West Coast Cool Jazz, East Coast Bop, and Vocalists. For many of the artists, their first or greatest recorded work happened at Bethlehem. By trusting its staff and artists to make their own creative decisions, to experiment, and thus to flourish; Bethlehem actively helped create not just document a whole and diverse era of Jazz music.

On another website recounting the career of Frances Faye, I mistakenly attributed the founding of this important company to producer Red Clyde, who ran the West Coast operations of Bethlehem. The actual founder Gus Wildi wrote me a very polite and humble letter informing me of my "minor" error. I was mortified at my poor research and corrected the site. (There are still other websites such as the National Public Radio -NPR- that attribute the founding to Red, though most others have it right.) Gus graciously offered his recollections for my research. The amazing and energetic Burt Goldblatt saw this site, wanted to get in touch with Gus again and offered his memories. Both men's interviews are posted here.

Readers' comments, letters and memories of Bethlehem records are most welcome. I'd be happy to add them to this site.

Contact: Tyler Alpern at Tyler_Alpern@yahoo.com

 

Last Updates:

2015 - Gus Wildi News, Verse scaled back.
2014 - Burt's Photos added
8/2013 - Huge Reissue of Bethlehem Catalog by new owner.
1/26/07 - Burt's Paintings
9/1/06 - Very Sad News: Burt Goldblatt has died. Obituary at bottom of page. Many people have written me over the years to find Burt in order to use his art or photos. They should still get the rights from his wife Kathy.
5/21/06 - More Gus
8/13/03 - Burt Goldblatt
11/28/03, 2/16/04 - Bethlehem Today
1/23/04 - Mel Torme on Red Clyde and Bethlehem
2/16/04 - Audrey Morris
 
 

From the Letters:

 

5/2/03

Gus Wildi wrote a kind letter to correct me on the founding of Bethlehem Records (I had attributed it to producer Red Clyde on another website.) We then exchanged a few emails, he answered any question I asked:

GW: For over 40 years it just never occurred to me to give any thought to my record company past. In fact, I quite consciously stayed away from it, since financially speaking, this business almost proved to be ruinous for me. While I recouped those losses a long time ago, the situation I found myself in at the time meant a very drastic and not all together painless course correction. After the recent demise in France of Nina Simone, another artist that we had at one time under contract, I wanted to read her biography on the internet. To my absolute surprise I then saw that "Gus Wildi" and "Bethlehem Records" popped up on several sites. My curiosity above all and - I confess - to some extent my ego got stimulated by this, which prompted me to get in touch with you...

Concerning the Bethlehem label: In 1958 King acquired a half interest in the company against doing its distribution and rendering some other services. In 1962 I sold them the other half, thus getting myself out of the business. Unfortunately they subsequently allowed Bethlehem to fade away.

Regarding Ms. Faye; I only met her two times: Together with Red Clyde we visited her in her beautiful apartment on New York's 59th Street overlooking Central Park. On the way to see her, Red wanted to sort of prepare me for the visit, stating that Fran was very "down to earth" and at times disposed to use some good old four-letter words as part of her conversation, which at that time one did not expect to hear as often as today. Well, none of this happened at all! Fran was an impeccable and charming hostess. Frankly, I was impressed with her as a human being. The other time I met her was when we recorded the three record album of the Porgy and Bess opera in California. This was really a major project, especially in coordinating the various busy schedules of the artists, flying some of them to the West Coast, housing them and making sure everyone showed up in the recording studio at their required time!--But we were young then and full of enthusiasm and, I believe, something lasting and worthwhile was accomplished.

5/10/03

1. How did Frances Faye come to record for Bethlehem?

GW: Frances Faye was approached by us, i.e. Red Clyde. No demo was made. After all, we were familiar with her work, and I trusted Red's judgment.

2. How did she get teamed with Russ Garcia? Did Red Clyde put them together?

GW: Red Clyde, Russ Garcia and wives saw each other socially. Red Clyde in his capacity as A & R man, I assume, brought Russ and Frances together. What went on behind the scenes, i.e. whose idea it was in the first place, I do not know.

3. How were albums crafted? Did artists have much input or was it the producers? Who chose the songs? How much of a collaboration was it? I imagine this changed artist to artist.

GW: Bethlehem gave its artists total artistic freedom. There were, of course, certain necessary but quite liberal financial limits. I do not recall that these were ever reached. An exception to this was the major production of the Porgy and Bess opera, which demanded heavy input from A & R and some lively discussions with the Main Office in New York.

We recognized from our first 10 inch album release on, that the importance of the quality of the cover was underrated by the other companies. I believe then that Bethlehem was the first company to create covers with some artistic merit as opposed to use them akin to soap or soup advertisements. The covers were heavily laminated, wrapped around, and minimal type was used, giving off a feeling of quality and substance. In this connection I vividly recall a conversation with an owner of another company, who half admiringly, half deprecatingly stated:" Hey. Gus, what are you trying to do, create a picture line or something?

4.How did the company come to be named Bethlehem Records?

GW: My lawyer suggested that I come up with at least three name choices for the corporation to be formed. I would have long forgotten the other two names, were it not for something, associated with one of them, that even today makes me chuckle a bit. That name was "Focus", to which my savvy counselor quickly said: "Are you sure, your future distributors are going to pronounce it correctly?" As for the name "Bethlehem" I was looking for something that would stick in the minds of the distributors, distribution obviously being essential to the business. At that time I was doing some research on U.S. Steel companies and in this connection I came across the name Bethlehem, thinking we could use the name for the record company, and -corny, as it was- how about titling the future artists as "The Stars of Bethlehem". Please keep in mind, the company wanted to and did release later at first Pop Singles and presumably for that purpose this approach was all right. Later on, after a handful of Pop Records had bombed, it was either folding the company or entering some other segment of the business. We decided to make a dent into the Jazz market. The idea of "Stars of Bethlehem" was quickly dropped and never used again!

5/17/03:

1. What compelled you to start a record company other than to make money, of course?

GW: I had that urge to create something of my own. Therefore, being very young and inexperienced both in business and actually with American Life as a whole(born and raised in Switzerland and only about two years in this country), I was probably subject to what is known in the German vernacular as the "Sturm und Drang" period of my life. I literally rushed into having my own company, vastly underestimating the risks becoming an entrepreneur in this highly competitive business.

2. As a Record Company, did Bethlehem have a particular mission or philosophy?

GW: I could, I suppose, come up with a reasonably well-spun story, duly sprinkled with some psycho babble. However, the plain truth is: NO!

3. Is there anything (decision, direction or project) in particular at Bethlehem that you are most proud of? The company that you created and its legacy are an incredible achievements. I am asking about a detail within that accomplishment that you really feel strongly about.

GW: As already mentioned elsewhere, I believe that Bethlehem definitely was pioneering the use of creative quality covers for its 10 and 12 inch albums. In this sense, the company really did something different at that point in time.

 

4. How did Red Clyde and Sy Oliver come to join the company?

GW: Red Clyde was recommended by some Disk Jockey , Distributor or even some supplier. I just don't remember.

I met Sy Oliver at the office for the first time. He walked in with the manager of an artist, we were working with.

5. What do you have to say about art designer Burt Goldblatt?

GW: Burt Goldblatt was recommended, I believe, by one of the cover manufacturers I was negotiating with at the time. We asked him to come to the office. I remember he was "armed" with a big lensed "Hasselblad" camera. He gave us some ideas for covers and he was "in"!. As the true artist, which he was , he took pride in his work. When we wanted to change something, we really had to "sell" him on it -- and that was all to the good!

And, without my asking, Gus felt he needed to also mention Creed Taylor to complete this part of the discussion about Bethlehem:

GW: After Bethlehem's massive failure at success with its producing, promoting and/or distributing Pop Singles, a decision was then made to enter the Jazz field. At that time someone brought a young man, named Creed Taylor, to my attention. This was sometime in 1954. Creed was then in his mid twenties, a Duke University graduate and musician to boot. He struck me as being very intelligent, and perhaps somewhat "brash and sassy" (that latter part afflicted us all a bit, I am sure!) He exhibited great love for music and Jazz in particular. He understood and spoke the language of musicians and was great in establishing a rapport with them. His tenure at Bethlehem was successful. In 1956 he left the company to go to bigger and better things. He went on to become an important personality in the record business.

About twenty years ago I got rid of all Bethlehem documents, letters etc., such as they were, the bulk of the material, of course, having earlier become part and parcel of the King organization's taking over of Bethlehem in 1962. So it's all memory! You, therefore, are the only person I have given information, and I think, you just may have about squeezed the lemon dry!

5/21/03 And:

Dear Tyler,

Maybe there is something to add to the question "What made Bethlehem tick?"

If one assumes that Bethlehem was the product of the work of its employees and its artists (not necessarily in that order), one more factor is relevant. This was its management style. While in retrospect one might be tempted to state that said style was deliberately chosen, it would be patently false. There were no options! Not being familiar at that point in time with a lot of goings on , the only thing I could do, is to find among the available people the most suitable ones, encouraging them to do the best job possible, while giving them a free hand within relatively few restraints. I saw myself mostly as facilitator. This "philosophy", if I may call it that today, worked with few exceptions and, of course, carried through via A&R to the recording sessions.

You know, Tyler, now, a half century later, if I had to do it over again, the facilitating aspect of it would definitely stay!

Kind Regards,

Gus.

 
 
May 2006:
 
Gus is doing well and generously gave a 25 minute interview to an author trying to clear up some misinformation regarding Bethlehem’s history and chronology. That inspired me to ask him a few more questions which he once again graciously answered. Burt Goldblatt has still been active and sells photos for CD reissues.
 
Dear Gus,
 
...I am sure you have noticed all the new CDs with your name on them: "The Complete Gus Wildi Recordings..." I hope that amuses you. (even though the Frances Faye/Russ Garcia set was not ”complete.”) The Faye CD used heaps of Burt's original artwork but sadly did not credit him - they did quote and credit me though.
 
Do you have any comments you want to make public about the reniascence these recordings and your name being so prominently associated with them?
 
What would have Frances Faye made from the records she recorded for Bethlehem? What would her or a typical contract have been like?
 
Was she obligated to give any promotion or publicity and if so, what kind of things would it have entailed?
 
 
 
Dear Tyler,
 
Before I answer your questions, permit me to say via this quasi-disclaimer, that anything I tell you is strictly from memory and /or deduction and not based on available documentation.
 
Frances Faye obtained from us our standard contract, drawn up by a well-known New York attorney who had many connections in showbiz. The contract provided a clause for royalty advances that were given and varied, of course, with the then stature of the artist. In addition a royalty rate, usually based on the retail sales value of the record was negotiated. I think it ran anywhere from perhaps 2 to 5 percent. The artist would only get a payout of royalties, if his/her royalties would exceed the cost of the advances and the cost of the recording session. New artists, not familiar with the workings of the record business, were usually told not to expect a cash payout soon unless, of course, a hit should happen. They were also told to view their record primarily as a promotional vehicle for them and a negotiation tool for their Agent/Managers. The savvier artists, of course, needed not be told that it was in their own interest to promote their record as much as they could. This happenend frequently, I like to think, since we often received requests for promotional(free) records. Now as to your question whether Frances Faye made any money from her records with us, I cannot definitely answer, since I do not remember what her royalty advance was. But I remember this with certainty, that while I was in control of the company, her account was not in the "black" yet, i.e. no cash royalty payments were due her.
 
With regard to the "complete" xyz recordings, well, the sellers occasionally employ, -shall we say-, poetic license. The fact that my name is now so prominently featured has to do with the interview you posted a while ago. It may well have provided the promoters with a focal point, since Bethlehem itself suffered the fate of being neglected, folded, partially resurrected, divided and generally going through an identity crisis. The current renaissance of Bethlehem is, to me, the belated and much deserved recognition of the work done by so many good people, -many no longer living-. It is, of course, the visible work by the artists, but also the invisible ones, the ones we do not talk about, the people working in the offices and the warehouses, who all made their contribution according to their abilities. Through them, yes, Bethlehem still lives after all! And you, Tyler, became part of it!
 
As far as my reaching eighty years in better health than ever, well, yes, I would very much like to hang around for a while longer, still got things to do, but then, alas, I have to think of Doris Day's hit of long ago: "Que sera, sera...".
 
The very best to you.
Gus
 
 
 
In December 2014, Gus and I exchanged several emails as I facilitated what Gus wrote will be his last interview. He is in good health and enjoying life.

Burt Goldblatt and Others:

 

Burt Goldblatt made over 3000 album covers including those at Bethlehem. He was an innovator. His expressive drawings used imaginative perspective and strong lines. He was very creative using many different and unorthodox art making and photographic techniques to create images that were inspired by the music he was packaging. He minimized the text on the cover and emphasized a strong visual and graphic impact. He still has over 80,000 photographic negatives. He also wrote many diverse books including one about his own work, "Jazz Gallery One" which includes some of his favorite photographs from the era.

In August 2003, I was contacted by Burt and Kathy Goldblatt by e-mail. They wanted to get in touch again with Gus Wildi. I had written a fan letter to Burt years earlier when I found his e-mail address online but it proved to be out of date so I was thrilled to get a chance to interview him. He told me 5 times how lucky he had been to meet and spend time with so many great musicians. But it was clear to me that he had made it happen because he went to the recording sessions and created really remarkable and insightful work that endeared him to many. Thus he won the respect of and gained the invitations from those great artists. He took full advantage and appreciation of a being in a great time and place. The following are from notes of a delightful phone conversation we had on August 13, 2003. I tried not to duplicate the very fine and compelling in depth interview published online by Angelynn Grant.

TJA: Tell me about the wonderful Frances Faye covers you did.

BG: She was wild. I never had a chance to have a conversation with her. I was at the recording sessions. I always went to rehearsals or recording sessions when I made a cover. I was not paid to do that. Many designers did not know anything about or have a feeling for the music they were packaging. I always wanted to know. The Faye covers were cut out paper. The A-line dress is exactly what she was wearing that day. I went to my studio and just worked from memory. She was wild. She would bounce things off the wall. She got the drummer so pissed off that I thought he'd hit her with his cymbal or something. He walked out of the session and they could not persuade him to come back. They had to find another drummer at the very last minute.

TJA: Well, you really captured her character like no one else ever did. I have seen cartoons of her by Hirschfeld and many others and no one got her but you. So many of the articles of the day harped on Faye's unconventional looks and other record companies downplayed her looks. I wonder if Bethlehem told you not to use a photograph in order to make the jacket more appealing and sell more records.

BG: No, I always did what I wanted to do and worked for people who let me do that. In those days they wanted ads with illustrations could show for instance the drops on the outside of a coke bottle. I didn't do that. And it was the perfect time with 10 inch records just coming out. Most record companies didn't care or know about art or what should appear on the covers. They let me do whatever I wanted. Most musicians and singers did not have or want any input. They did not know what they wanted on the covers either. It was all up to me. No one told me how many colors to use. I chose not to use full four color. I had something to say and I knew how I wanted to say it and using only a few colors made it more economical for the record companies, but that was my choice. Most didn't know a thing about art or printing. I wanted to make images that had an impact when customers were flipping thru the bins.

Many, not all, of the record companies were run by crude or tasteless business men who also didn't know about music or art. They relied heavily on the A&R men to find musicians to record. I was given a lot of freedom to do what I wanted.

I did a cover for Chris Conner after her Bethlehem days. It was portrait made out of autumn leaves I gathered. She really liked it. But the executive at the record company called me up and wanted to discuss the cover. He said he didn't like it and wanted to go a different direction. I told him that I would do another cover, but he still had to pay me for this cover. He told me that if I did that I'd never work for that company again. They paid me, and I never did work for them again. And later when I saw the cover the went with, it was a bore. Some knew something, others didn't know a thing. I didn't care. I wanted covers done the way I wanted them done.

TJA: You were very inventive, using so many different techniques, and styles. What were some of your favorite covers?

BG: I liked the Faye cover. I did a cover for Kai Winding and J.J. Johnson that won the album cover of the year award. It was a close-up shot or their distorted reflections on the bell of a trombone that I took at my studio. I also did a cover that was an x-ray of a saxophone that showed not only the shape but all the inside workings.

Years earlier, I got a phone call from a company based in Cincinnati. They said that they heard I did great covers and wanted to come up to my studio and see my work. They wanted a cover for a singer Jerri Winters. The played me the record and told me they wanted to call it "Winters Here." I thought about it, took a 12 1/4 white illustration board and put 3 or 4 little lines in the corner and 6 point type and that was it. They loved it, it got a lot of attention and sold 60,000 copies. Much later the Beatles gained a lot of attention with their "White Album" cover, but I had beat them to it by years.

TJA: Did you work at the record companies or did you have your own studio?

BG: I had a studio on 46th Street between 6th & 7th Avenues. I'd work late all thru the night. Sometimes do 4 or 5 covers a night. I used to see the arranger Luther Henderson, who just died, hunched over working away with his light on in an office across the street on the 4th floor. I never met him. Years later before I left New York, I called him up and introduced myself and told him that I was a night owl too and used to see him working night after night. He laughed and was sorry we never met.

TJA: Is there anything that you would like to share something that we have not covered or that is not in the Grant interview?

BG: I was very lucky to spend so much of my own time with so many great people. I spent a day with Billie Holiday in her garden level apartment on Central Park West. I brought my 3 year old daughter Leslie. I have a picture of Leslie on Billie's lap while Billie is comforting her because she had a splinter or something. She was a lovely person, not at all the bitch that some have portrayed her to be. She had a collection of ivory elephants and told my daughter to go and pick out whatever one she wanted and she could keep it. Leslie has it to this day. I told Billie, "enough with the formal pictures" and we walked over to Central Park and I snapped some shots against some pine trees. She let me do whatever I wanted and these are some of the finest things I've done. She was lovely. (See pics below)

I am lucky to have met so many. I met Louis Armstrong too. I was invited over to his house in Corona, Queens. I spent the whole day with him. It was an ordinary looking house. The money he made did not show in the house. He asked me over and his wife Lucille took me to his studio. It was full of stacks of recordings and tapes. The walls were covered with clippings and exerpts from fan letters scotch taped to the walls. But on the ceiling there was just one 11/14 photograph of a man. It was the only thing up there. I asked,”Pops, who is that?” He said,'It's Tallulah Bankhead's Grandfather (her father and grandfather were US Senators) because he is always up in the air about something so I just put him there." (See pics below)

I was very lucky to spend the whole day with Miles Davis in his apartment on 10th Avenue. He owned the whole building. Very pleasant. I didn't seek out these invitations. I was lucky. I was at a session with Duke Ellington, this was in a former church. The band was on a break and Duke was at the piano reworking a chart. I put down my camera and had my 8 mm movie camera. I never asked him and started filming. There was no sound. He looked up and mouthed "Oh, I'm in the movies" and picked up and empty pack of cigarettes and did a playful series of tricks tossing it around.

I also had a studio behind Carnegie Hall on W. 56th Street. One night I saw Charlie Parker ride a white horse into a bar that the musicians hung out at! I cursed myself for not having a camera. He was a character. I was at the Downbeat Club which also served Chinese food at the bar. I was eating some fried shrimp and a hand came under my arm and took some shrimp. It was Bird! I didn't complain about that.

The saddest thing is I love the music but they are all gone. I used to call them up, they were very nice people. Eddie Burt, Cecil Payne and Chris Conner are still around, I still talk to them. Kai Winding, I talked to him before he died. I think of the Joyce Carol Oates quote” I used to think getting old was about vanity, but actually it is about losing people you love.”

One of the nicest thing that a musician ever said was Hank Jones the pianist - who is still alive and playing - he said, "You know, Burt, I like you. I see you all the time at these sessions and rehearsals and I consider you one of the musicians." He's a gentleman anyhow. Once someone in a car said something to a woman on the street and he put his fist through their window, nearly damaging his ability to play and career. Bucky Pizzarelli said, "Burt, if they could under the 802 union banner it should say 'friend.'"

I didn't just do covers in those days. I worked for a while at CBS when it was on 57th Street. I did tele-ops, the things that described the upcoming action in a TV show. I was living up by Columbia 4 stories up. Early one morning I heard shots, I looked down and saw 2 bodies with a sawed off shotgun between them. The bodies weren't moving. I got my Hasselblad camera took pics and called the police. I called the New York Daily News and they took the film undeveloped. That morning the front page was a full page photo I had just taken. The art director from CBS greeted me when I got to work and yelled out to his whole staff holding the paper, "Look what this S.O.B. did before coming to work this morning!" I've known some really great people and had a helluva a ride. I was recently asked to redesign the Sony Catalogue. But I turned it down. No more covers. I don't like the 5 inch size and I said everything I have to say already.

(Burt really does still love the music - he had called me a bit earlier than planned because he and his wife Kathy "the other half of his brain" were going to a jazz concert that night and Burt told me about other concerts - one with J.J. Johnson that had a touching tribute to Kai.)

Kathy got on the phone and added that Burt is whimsical, has a terrific sense of humor, but mostly passionately loves the music. She is an Ad Agency Production Manager and taught type. And although everything is done on computers now-a-days, she laments some of the creativity, perfectionism and quality that is lost from doing it all by hand. She says Burt is still quick with a razor and will cut apart and reset type that the computer produces because he says it is not attractive to the eye. He did so many covers and so long ago, it is amazing that he can remember them so well, but it is fun to find some on Ebay that he hasn't seen or thought about in years. He and Gus had a terrific time getting reacquainted after all this time. They'll have to do it again every 50 years.

 

Burt also wrote to Michael Mascioli answering his questions about Frances Faye:

I liked Frances Faye very much. I can tell you, having attended a recording session with her for Bethlehem, that:
 
1. She looked exactly like I pictured her in the caricature on the cover...exactly!
 
2. She WAS the earthy, tough "broad" she characterized herself in her music. She could curse and carry on like one of the guys, but she was a hell of a vocalist and a complete individual. She did not sound like anyone else.

 

 

Kathy writes about Burt's paintings in Jan. 2007:
 
Burt painted these Jazz/blues themes in the late fifties through the 60's. Most of them were perspective works, which depicted musicians from overhead or looking up from below. His best known work was used on a Columbia cover (1961), Robert Johnson, King of the Delta Blues. I have had several inquiries about that cover. I have it here at home. I treasure it. I also have a wonderful painting he did for a gospel series. He sold most of the other paintings and I would love to know where they have ended up. I know that Dionne Warwick (Burt did all of her original covers) purchased a painting and I believe he mentioned Bill Cosby, as well. There are not a ton of them, so they are hard to find.
 
The interesting thing about his paintings are that his talent and creativity allowed him to determine what he felt would work best on a cover. On France Faye he used illustration and collage...it was just what the album called for. He used his own photography and also these paintings. I don't know of any other designer who could tap into so many areas and do a good job with them all. OK, I am still cheerleading for Burt, I just loved him so much for all that he did.
 
Another thing to know about his paintings is that he did all of them in Caseine. He preferred this egg tempera flat finish, to oil. I am sure that you know that Caseine was the medium that the ancient Egyptians used on their Pyramids and temple art. He often made his own frames. The painting I have are in shadow box frames that he made.
 
From 2008 Letters: Re "That Goldblatt Magic" " Burt was very friendly with Ralph Sharon. He always spoke highly of him.  I know that Burt got to know him from the recording sessions which he attended.. 
 
This is not the only time that Burt's name was part of a song.  I believe that Ralph Sharon wrote words that Chris Connor used when she sang "Everything I have Belongs to You." She added " I have a cartoon here that Burt Goldblatt drew...and everything I have belongs to you." . Also there is a song regarding Burt and Bud Powell..."Burt Covers Bud".  
 
I don't think that there is anything beyond some comraderie and fun involved. These are just clever word play among creative friends. That Goldblatt Magic is obviously play n That Old Black Magic.   
 
Sorry that I don't have more to add. I think I am right on this one. If you find out otherwise, please let me know.
 
... His father came from the Ukraine originally. I am in touch with the family...
 
...He was distinctly left-handed and always signed with "Burt Goldblatt"  None of his painting are signed with a numbered series.  Additionally, he loved water color but, usually painted in caesine.  As you know, caesine is ultra matte and that was his preference. 
 
 
 
 
 
See some of Burt's covers:

http://bethlehemrecords.com/artwork (2013 link dead in 2015. Verse seems to have scaled back)

 

Great indepth interview of Burt Goldblatt was at:

http://www.angelynngrant.com/writing/GoldenAge.html (Link dead - email for more info or use WaybackMachine)

 

I'd be happy to publish any other memories, letters or comments about Bethlehem.

Contact: Tyler_alpern@yahoo.com

 

MEL TORME AT BETHLEHEM:

According to Mel:

I left Coral because of Red Clyde, who had started Bethlehem Records. He came to me, and we had dinner and a long, long talk in which he outlined his precepts and concepts for Bethlehem. He told me that he was going to sign Dizzy and Duke Ellington and Sarah Vaughan, and I felt that was the place for me, and that's precisely why I left Coral. They didn't want me to leave. They were very upset about it. I stayed with them until my contract ran out. I didn't renew it, I just left.

What surprised me was that Red Clyde signed me for the jazz aspect of my singing, and the first thing he said was, "Let's do a ballad album!" I said, "What?" He said, "Yeah. I want to do a ballad album with you," so It's A Blue World was the first Bethlehem album.

Between 1955 and 1957, Tormé recorded no fewer than seven albums for Bethlehem. The period represented a turning point in his career: From now on, he would no longer be a mere cog in the works of the pop music business. Even though he would no longer have the exposure and other benefits of being associated with a major concern like Capitol or Coral (and Decca), it was far more valuable for Tormé to be able to make the music he wanted in his own way. His name wouldn't be found in the Billboard charts anymore, which was fine with him-the records he made at Bethlehem have been reissued and kept in print a lot longer than almost any of the "hits" of the era.

Red Clyde never once said, "Why don't you do this tune?" Never once. He just said, "You know your repertoire better than I. Just take it and run with it." And that's what I did.

"Mel was making changes," as longtime collaborator Marty Paich recalled, "with his record companies and everything. The most important discovery was when he met Red. Red was a wonderful jazz record producer. And he saw the possibilities of Mel going into jazz. And that's when he decided to go ahead and record those things for Bethlehem."

Unfortunately, after a couple of years, I didn't leave Bethlehem-they left me! They left the world, in fact. The label just folded. It just was not successful, which is amazing, when you consider that they had Duke Ellington [and Chris Connor, Johnny Hartman, Dexter Gordon, Charles Mingus, etc.], but they just couldn't get it on, businesswise.

from http://www.rhinorecords.com/features/liners/71589lin.html The Mel Tormé Collection (1944-1985)

Articles about Mel Torme's switch from pop to jazz at Bethelhem and how those albums were freely crafted:

http://jazzinstituteofchicago.org/index.asp?target=/jazzgram/commentary/tormepaich.asp

 

AUDREY MORRIS AT BETHLEHEM:

from liner notes by Michael Paul Lund, The Girls of Bethlehem Vol 1, 1992, Bethlehem Jazz:

Although Audrey is a life-long Chicagoite, and regularly performs there today, Red Clyde was definite on having all these sessions done at the legendary Radio Recorders Annex in Hollywood, where so many of the other Bethlehem LPs were also recorded. In speaking with Audrey she told me that, besides a pre-recording talk-through with Marty [Paich], all the recordings were done without any actual pre-rehersal...All songs were done in no more than two or three takes each! The sessions were all completed in three separate 3-hour sessions over 2 days in July, 1956.

 

NINA SIMONE ON HER FIRST RECORDING:

"I went into the studio and recorded my songs exactly as I always played them, so when you listen to that Bethlehem album you're hearing the songs played as they were at the Midtown Bar. The only difference is that you don't get to hear the improvisations that I wove around those numbers in my live set. "I Loves You, Porgy" was the song I sang for Ted; "For All We Know" was my usual closing number; "You'll Never Walk Alone" and "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" I'd sung all my life; and "Plain Gold Ring" was a song I learned from the harpist Kitty White. I made up the arrangement of "Little Girl Blue" and "Good King Wenceslas" one night at the Midtown. I learned "He Needs Me" from Peggy Lee. "African Mailman" was made up on the spot in the studio and recorded in one take. "Central Park Blues" was the same; I called it that because we'd just been out into Central Park to shoot publicity photos for the album cover." From her autobiography.

http://www.boscarol.com/nina/html/sessioni/nyc57.html

PLUS:

Stan Levey brings artists to Bethlehem through Red Clyde:

http://home.earthlink.net/~magnebit/vsop41.htm

 

 

BETHLEHEM TODAY:

Many have written me asking how to contact Bethlehem for rights, etc. Bethlehem has been sold and resold over the years. Here are a few details about what happened over the years taken from THE SALSOUL RECORDS STORY, written for Disco-Disco.com by D.L. Chandell, Music & Entertainment Analyst and Historian:

"It was sometime in the mid-1960s that three Syrian Jewish brothers born in New York by the name of Joe, Stanley & Ken Cayre founded Caytronics Corporation, a record corporation whose focus was first and foremost on Latin music...

In around 1977, as Caytronics got bigger on the strength of Salsoul, it also expanded its operation by purchasing the masters of Bethlehem Records, a jazz label from the 1950s whose tenure ended abruptly in 1962 when its founder, Gustav Wildi, decided to leave the music business and sell Bethlehem's stock to King Records in Cincinnati, Ohio - the label responsible for introducing the world to James Brown.

When the majority stockholder in King Records, Sydney Nathan, had passed on years later, all of the master recordings of King, Bethlehem, and other affiliated labels were sold and resold to various companies. Apparently, Caytronics acquired the Bethlehem masters in liquidation, and almost as if within a matter of minutes, a new, resurrected Bethlehem label of sorts became part of the Caytronics family.

By 1985, however, things took a sad turn as Salsoul - partially due to slumping sales of newer material, but probably more so coincidentally due to a new venture into the video business started by the Cayre Brothers a year earlier called Goodtimes Home Video, which included the successful brand Kids Klassics at the time - was shut down from existence.

You would think that all was lost but memories from a golden age of divine sounds and merry movement. All that would change seven years later.

Caytronics Corporation had already long become GoodTimes Entertainment, long successful in the video field, be it video games or their own controversial similiarities in renditions of Disney films. And in 1992, they decided to bring back the Salsoul label with a beautifully-redone extra-colorful logo, their first release being a so-called "20th Anniversary" celebration of Salsoul Records with "The Original Salsoul Classics", even though Salsoul began in 1974.

In an apparent decision to get back into the music business, GoodTimes put together an interesting stucture by combining the Salsoul and Bethlehem labels into a new outfit awkwardly named Bethlehem Music Company."

 

2015 UPDATES:

The big 2013 relaunch of Bethlehem by Verse seems to be scaled back. The website they created listed below is gone and the current website is sparse in comparison: http://versemusicgroup.com/bethlehem-records

2013 UPDATES:

Relaunch of Iconic 1950's Jazz Catalog, Bethlehem Records, Announced by Verse Music Group and Naxos of America

 

Classic Albums will be Restored and Remastered for CD, Digital and 10" and 12" Vinyl Release

Burt Goldblatt cover art featured in lots of new products!

 

First Reissue Sets Debuts August 27, 2013

 

Verse Music Group and Naxos of America are happy to announce the reissue of

iconic 1950's Jazz catalog, Bethlehem Records. http://bethlehemrecords.com/ (link now dead 2015)

 

Bethlehem Records' lengthy discography contains over 250 albums that freshly and

ambitiously captured an era of music, including West Coast Cool Jazz and East

Coast Bop. Bethlehem Records roster of artists includes Nina Simone, Carmen

McRae, Chris Connor, Mel Torme, Dexter Gordon, Charles Mingus, Art Blakey, and

Duke Ellington. For some of these legendary artists, the Bethlehem recordings

represent their classic debuts, and still for others, their greatest recorded work to date.

 

Each track has been restored from the original analog sound recording and

digitally remastered to meet the highest level of clarity and quality standards.

For the first time in decades, each of the titles will be available in their

original configuration in LP vinyl, CD and digital formats.

 

Titles slated for an August 27th, 2013 release include Oscar Pettiford "Modern

Quintet," Chris Connor "Chris Connor Sings Lullaby's For Lovers," Dexter Gordon

"Daddy Plays The Horn," Charles Mingus "The Jazz Experiments of Charles Mingus,"

Nina Simone "Little Girl Blue," and Booker Ervin "The Book Cooks."

 

Bethlehem Records progressive cover art truly revolutionized the jazz market.

Each release includes fully restored, original artwork and liner notes.

http://bethlehemrecords.com/(link now dead 2015)

 

About Verse Music Group:

Verse Music Group is a global entertainment company based in New York City

founded by award-winning music industry veterans Curt Frasca and Sabelle Breer in 2010.

 

Verse Music Group owns over 50,000 copyrights through the acquisition of iconic

brands and music catalogs such as, Salsoul Records, West End Records, Bethlehem

Records and Golden Records and featured songs by artists Rod Stewart, Nina

Simone, Jennifer Lopez, John 5, Avril Lavigne, Commodores, Tupac, and Celine

Dion among many others.

 

Read more about Verse Music Group here: http://versemusicgroup.com

 

About Naxos of America: Naxos, the world's leading classical music label is

known for recording exciting new repertoire with exceptional talent. The label

has one of the largest and fastest growing catalogues of unduplicated repertoire

available anywhere with state-of-the-art sound and consumer-friendly prices. The

catalogue includes classical music CDs and DVDs as well other genres such as

jazz, new age, educational and audiobooks.

Visit the Naxos of America website here: http://www.naxos.com

 

 

BURT GOLDBLATT 1924 - 2006

I am so lucky and grateful that Burt and his wife Kathy so graciously made themselves available to me. Doing that not only answered my many questions and let me know more about a buisness and the people I could have never known, but let me touch or experience a bit an era that fascinates me. Burt's artwork finds its way into my classroom at the oddest times, and I love it when that happens. At that moment, 3 of my passions of art teaching and music are combined. Kathy sent the following on September1st:

 

Burt Goldblatt was born in 1924 in Dorchester, Massachusetts. He served in the army in World War II and afterwards studied at the Massachusetts College of Art. After graduation he worked in a printing plant where he learned all that went into production at that time: stripping, platemaking, retouching, lessons not taught in art school. After freelancing for a time in Boston, he moved to New York City and began a prolific career as a commercial artist and photographer, becoming especially prolific in cover design, creating about 200 cover designs in 1955 alone. That same year he won the New York Art Director’s Award for best cover design of the year and the Princeton University Library exhibited his work.

 

One of Goldblatt’s first cover designs was on a bootleg album for Billy Holiday on the Jolly Roger label in 1950. He worked for Savoy, Emarcy, Bethlehem and many other labels. With his first covers he aimed for a visual simplicity and yet also a strength of image by eliminating song titles from the cover and by creating unique and intriguing illustrations. His drawings of musicians employ a dynamic, serpentine line. The variations in weight from thick to thin would alone mark the drawing as distinctively his, but it is his original use of unusual perspectives that distinguishes Goldblatt’s line drawings from others of the same period, whether it’s a view of Don Byas from above or George Wallington from below.

 

His other illustrative covers are equally distinctive, for example, a broadly abstracted caricature of Frances Faye or a portrait of Bud Freeman composed entirely of tiny saxophones. He utilized a vast range of methods and styles, including collage, montage, even x-rays. In addition to his illustrative designs, Goldblatt also became one of the outstanding photographer/designers. His photographic cover designs for Bethlehem combine evocative pictures with restrained yet lyrical typography. These covers are timeless designs, elegant works unto themselves that never look outdated or old fashioned.

 

Amazingly, he was self-taught in photography. He kept himself unobtrusive in recording studios and nightclubs, capturing millions of filmed images, some of which later graced his cover designs. He was accepted by the musicians and, in fact, was friends with many. More than just a jazz fan, it is safe to say that Mr. Goldblatt was himself part of the jazz scene, not just a chronicler of it.

 

Mr. Goldblatt designed covers into the ‘60s, but the changes in the industry brought about by rock and roll caused him to follow other pursuits. He went from a prolific cover design career to a prolific writing career, publishing and co-authoring 17 books on topics as diverse as Mobs And The Mafia The Illustrated History Of Organized Crime, The Marx Brothers At The Movies and The World Series A Complete Pictorial History. He has also published books of his jazz photography and on the Newport Jazz Festival. Living in Hopkinton, Massachusetts and traveling regularly with his wife, he pursued many projects both as a visual artist and as a writer. His work has been honored many times, in 1962 at the Smithsonian and in the winter of 1993-94 at Harvard University. In 1999, Mr. Goldblatt’s work was part of an exhibit at The Museum of Modern Art in Valencia, Spain. Despite numerous medical setbacks, Mr. Goldblatt stayed active and optimistic in his later years “I’m a survivor; I’ve had cancer and triple-bypass heart surgery. I walk three miles a day with my dog. I was very active as a kid. I feel good.”

 

He passed away on August 30 in Boston, with his wife Katherine Holzman Goldblatt by his side. He is also survived by his two daughters and two Grand sons.

 

— Angelynn Grant

Amended from an essay and interview which first appeared in Jazz Gráfico, the catalog to an exhibit of album cover art at the Institut Valencia d'Art Modern in 1999.

 

Below: Imagese from Burt's negatives of Mingus, O'Day, Conner, Holiday, Armstrong, Washington, Fitzgerald. Hudreeds collected. More to come...

cming
Anitaoday
ChrisConner
Bholiday
Ladyday
LA1
Dinahw
Ella2

About your host Tyler:

Article in Edge New York

 

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