Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Jazz Pseudonym Prison
In looking at Coltrane's 1961 recording Ole, one sees Eric Dolphy listed as "George Lane." I guess he was under contract with Prestige at that time and had to go through the charade of using a pseudonym. Who was kidding whom? Dolphy! Probably the single most easily identifiable musician in jazz. For god's sake, Charlie Parker listed as Charlie Chan?
Somehow I don't think Dolphy or Bird was afraid of having Green Room Dom Perignon privileges taken away. How serious was the potential of other threatened punishments? Of actually being suspended, blacklisted or having royalties withheld?
Pseudonym use is a ludicrous, adolescent ritual and one that I think only musicians in the recording world of jazz have been subject to. It positioned jazz musicians somewhere between individuals with fully-vested rights and indentured servants. Yes, Hollywood had the "studio system," but look at the difference in financial rewards! And, at least that system seemed to be conducted along business lines-you can have Gable if you lend me Nelson Eddy. Such exchanges happen in jazz: "so and so performs under an arrangement with," but taking a wider view, that process has at least a grudging quality to it, if not the odor of collusion.
Also, is this same kind of contractual nonsense the reason why so many jazz albums didn't list the names of the freaking players? Did these labels at least have the excuse of having to cover their butt legally, or did they simply not deem the people who recorded the music SIGNIFICANT enough to credit?
As far as I have seen, labels of '78's were always clearly marked with the names of the musicians-at least in small to medium-sized ensembles. (Was there rampant mis-appropriation of composing credits? Yea, but that's another story, one as old as show biz. Jolson was not a songwriter and neither was Irving Mills, but you'd never know it from their ASCAP checks). Does this pseudo-contractual nonsense go back to the 20's? I rely on our panel of '78 experts to tell us.