The cabaret laws in New York City drove jazz underground. First enacted in 1926, and motivated by racial bias, the laws instituted capricious restrictions on the number and location of clubs able to legally present music having brass or drums, or requiring more than two musicians. Much of what is taken for granted about jazz and jazz culture is based on notions of fame and notoriety, but only notoriety within a majority culture, a majority culture that is often ignorant. Only in 1988 were the cabaret laws overturned in a resounding legal precedent that equated music with protected speech. Only then did the public at large witness the exodus of major talents emerging from the underground to appear in a multitude of new clubs in a kind of jazz renaissance. The original Smalls in its heyday in the 1990s was one place where numerous suppressed talents received exposure to a broad audience, some for the first time. But deeply entrenched cultural biases die hard. Distinguished older artists faced a public unprepared to assimilate older talents without being first prompted by major media public relations campaigns.
We were motivated by the case of pianist Frank Hewitt, now posthumously considered to be one of the greatest jazz pianists ever to have lived, and whose life and career helped us to illuminate cultural biases faced by many musicians. We seek out older and under-recognized artists of extraordinary achievement, and try to constructively mediate between them and the listening public as an advocate for their art.
For questions about the label, journalists’ enquiries, dealers’ enquiries, or to get in touch with artists, please contact Luke Kaven (email address is my first name at smallsrecords dot com).