Stuart Baker

Soul Jazz Records

Soul Jazz Records started off as a record shop above the legendary Dingwalls in Camden, London in 1988 selling predominantly second hand (surprise surprise) soul, jazz, latin, and funk records bought during frequent trips to the US. [...]

Shop Owner

The label grew out of record buying trips by shop owner Stuart Baker. "Stuart and this guy called Alec started a shop," says Pete, warming to his history lesson, "called Sounds of the Universe, in 1988 (the name changed along the way to Soul Jazz). Stuart started the label in 1991. At the time he was selling soul, jazz, funk, Latin, a little reggae but not a lot, and they'd noticed there was a demand for certain records, so they decided to reissue them. They had met a lot of people from going out on buying trips to the States, and not a lot of people were doing that back then, and you could like go to Eddie Bo's house and just buy records from them, and then, for the guys that own the rights, it was like 'well, why don't we reissue your album?' kind of thing. It was a reasonably easy thing to do."

Label Owner

However, finding the people who own the rights to these great tunes is not always so simple. "It gets easier in one respect," says Pete, "in that we've been doing it for quite a long time, so you get to know the people and who owns what, and make contacts with people at record labels. Quite often it involves a lot of international directory enquiries, and just phoning round saying have you ever heard of this guy, apparently he was the guy who ran the label. Stuart will have read anything that there is to read on it, so he's usually got a list of leads, like this person owned the label, and last he was in Houston or something, stuff like that. It's a bit of detective work.


An email interview with Stuart Baker,
written by Miguel Cadete for Publico newspaper,
Portugal, December 2001

Could you tell us how did Soul Jazz Records begin?
Soul Jazz Records began as a record shop in London 12 years ago selling only American music. From a records shop to a records label: that's a very natural step in England.

Was it hard to take it?
Yes it does appear to be a natural step. Other labels that started as shops in the UK included Rough Trade, Warp, Beggars Banquet, Ace, Azuli (Black Market) and many more. It is quite a natural step because record shops always know (or think they know!) what people are listening to before major record companies do. Consequently they can react quicker and see unfilled gaps in a market before record companies. With us we knew that a of people were coming in to our shop to buy records that no-one else was selling- so we reissued a few of these titles.

How do you choose, geographically speaking, your issues. I mean, we have music from Brazil, Jamaica, New York and Cuba and nothing from Indonesia or India. Is there any strict criterion or concept?
There is no particular rule. If I had to analyse it, music of the African diaspora would seem to be a link (ie from Africa to America, Jamaica, Cuba and Brazil). However this is not the only link- our next record is about the arrival in the UK of dance music after Punk (In The Beginning). So maybe the link is a bit more abstract- that of music that travels across borders.
America is of particular interest because it includes so many cultures (African-American, Cuban, Mexican etc) that all mix with each other creating new cultures and musical styles.

The same with history: you have released records with music from the 50's and now, with "In the beginning there was rhythm" you are already in the eighties? What are you going to release in the near future? The nineties??
I donąt think about it much but again if I had to analyse it, most of the music we put out has an emphasis on dance music. Whilst dance music has been going on since the beginning of time, the urban dance music industry could be said to have started in this century. This is our main interest so expect anything from 1940s polka to 1980s acid house. We also recorded an album of Tibetan folk music a few years ago (in Tibet!) but I havenąt had the nerve to put it out yet.

Clubbing is very strong in the United Kingdom and, as far as I know, "100% Dynamite" is very well succeed. Do you plan to go further with clubs in some major European cities? Maybe Lisbon??
The Soul Jazz System has toured in Germany, Australia, Sweden, Austria, Norway, Japan, New Zealand, Ireland, Finland.. So yes!

Here in Portugal, "Nu Yorica" was the first Soul Jazz release that became successful (I don't know how many copies you sold but it was successful for the press!). But it was with "Dynamite" that Soul Jazz kept the attention of everyone. Did the same happen in the United Kingdom and in the world? How important was the Dynamite series for Soul Jazz Records?
To an extent yes. I think the connection between reggae and American funk and soul was kind of obvious but no one was drawing attention to it.

Since you work basically with background catalogues, is it very hard to get the legal rights of the songs? Which kind of repertoire is harder and which is easier?
Yes it is all very hard! From finding a master recording in the middle of Texas to convincing a major record company of the value of some obscure part of their catalogue ( without making them want to release it themselves!). Yes it is all very hard!

Packaging and inlay booklets are one of your nicest features because people also wants some background information. When did you realize that?
I saw this CD in a shop about ten years ago. The CD was about Lanor Records in Louisiana. It had a slipcase and I thought it was one of the most attractive things Iąd seen. The sleeve was in brown card. I donąt think I had a CD player at that time so I couldnąt even play it. I also bought a book about Lillian MacMurray who ran a blues record label (Trumpet) out of her husbandąs furniture shop in Jackson, Mississippi. I didnąt even like blues music but I read the book and became interested in the music- I realised that I had managed to get into an aspect of music by reading about it rather than listening!

Consequently, with Soul Jazz Records you usually have the choice of both the music and the written word. You have some artists and musicians like Jerry Dammers and people from Portishead that support Soul Jazz Records. How far do they participate?
They guest DJ at our clubs. Many DJs guest including Andy Wetherall, Norman Jay, David Holmes. They all like playing at our clubs.

What's your opinion in some of your competition like Blood and Fire and Pressure Sounds?
These are both excellent Reggae re-issue labels.

What can you tell me about the movie regarding the adventures of Studio One?
We filmed it in Jamaica this summer. It is the story of Studio One and has interviews with Sir Coxsone Dodd, King Stitt, Ken Boothe, Lone Ranger, Alton Ellis, Sugar Minott, Johnny Moore and a lot more! Hopefully it will be ready by April 2002.

At last I'd like to have some comments regarding some of the most important releases of Soul Jazz Records that will illustrate some pictures taken from the booklets. I would like to have a few sentences about the works regarding:
Barrio Nuevo
The meeting of Latin music with Disco. In New York the most important label for latin music in the 70s was Salsoul. And the most important label for Disco music was.Salsoul! Inextricably linked, Latin and Disco have a shared history.
Nu Yorica
Culture clash in New York City! Where Black American Funk and Soul met Latin in New York City. This CD is about New York and the Latin people and musicians in it.
Chicano Power
Mexican-American civil rights and Latin Rock! Once again the story of a community (Mexican- Americans in Los Angeles and San Francisco ) and the music they created- Latin Rock.
Capoeira and Batucada - Two folk styles from Brazil. Capoeira is a martial art bought from Angola via the slave trade. The main instrument is the Berimbau. Batucada is the name for the drums (up to 250 at a time) that play with the samba schools accompanying the singers.
Originally was where reggae met funk and soul. It has since expanded to cover all reggae music (be it ska, rocksteady, roots, dancehall or whatever).
Studio One
The most important label in the history of reggae. It is often called the foundation label, because it is the foundation label for all Reggae.
In the Beginning There Was Rhythm
The birth of dance music after Punk in the UK. After The Sex Pistols and The Clash came a new generation of Punk groups that were as much interested in funk, reggae and dance music as they were into chaos! It is also the story of the rise of the independent record industry in the UK

source: http [accessed April 2003]

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