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Ravi Coltrane, Dave Douglas, Others In Limbo After BMG Shakeup

Jobs cut as RCA/Victor, BMG Classics fold into new company.

The recording deals of saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, trumpeter Dave Douglas, pianist D.D. Jackson and other jazz artists may be in jeopardy after a major reorganization at BMG Entertainment.

The change has already cost several employees their jobs and more layoffs are to come.

"They are evil," veteran saxophonist Sam Rivers said of the people who run major record companies. "Business people are interested in one thing, the bottom line."

On May 26, RCA/Victor and BMG Classics — the labels that handled jazz — were dissolved and folded into the RCA Music Group, which also has swallowed RCA and Windham Hill records.

According to Keith Estabrook, a spokesman for the German-owned BMG (Bertelsmann Music Group) Entertainment Corporation, "The RCA Music Group will be home to all of the music genres: rock and pop, world music, jazz, traditional and nontraditional classical, Broadway and soundtracks."

Major Changes

Although no one at BMG or RCA Music Group would talk about the fate of the labels' jazz artists, some classical artists formerly attached to BMG Classics have been terminated, flutist James Galway and percussionist Evelyn Glennie among them.

Industry sources say as many as 100 employees, including staff at RCA and new-age label Windham Hill, could lose their jobs in the reorganization. Four senior staff members at BMG Classics-RCA/Victor already have been fired: National Media Manager Steve Smith, Vice President of Catalogue Development Bonnie Barrett, Vice President of A&R for Jazz and World Music Steve Gates and Vice President of Marketing and Advertising David Neidhardt.

A recent report in Billboard magazine said that former BMG Classics General Manager David Eyer and Windham Hill President Steve Vining will not stay with the new company.

The RCA Music Group will be under the direction of RCA Records' President Robert Jamieson and General Manager Jack Rovner; the two did not return sonicnet.com's phone calls.

In late March BMG Entertainment signaled its intentions in a memo from its CEO, Strauss Zelnick, addressed to employees of BMG Classics and Windham Hill. It said a review of "operating structures" was under way and that the company's objective was "to create the most efficient and effective business organization emphasizing the creative integrity of the individual genres of music."

Legendary History

The demise of BMG Classics and RCA/Victor marks what may be the final chapter in the long and impressive role that the RCA Company has played in jazz history. On its own label and various imprints such as Bluebird, the company has issued classic recordings by bandleader Duke Ellington, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, saxophonist Sonny Rollins and many other legends of jazz.

Trumpeter Dave Douglas, who recently issued his major-label debut on RCA, Soul on Soul, and has just finished recording his second, has mixed feelings about the shakeup. Soul on Soul contains the song "Blue Heaven" (RealAudio excerpt).

"I am just curious about this mysterious decision-making process that's going on over there," he said. "People like Steve Smith and Bonnie, Steve Gates and David, were all doing a really fine job and turning the label around in a really positive way. But this may not be a bad thing overall. Usually, improvised music like mine gets relegated to very small labels with limited distribution, and subsequently gets ghettoized. Hopefully, a big powerhouse label like RCA will take chances with challenging music and put muscle behind it."

Also an RCA artist, Rivers, who just released Culmination, takes a harsher view. The 76-year-old saxophonist is a veteran of several labels, including Blue Note and Impulse in the '60s and '70s.

"What advantage did I get from being with a major label?" Rivers asked. "They didn't put my records out as a double disc, which I wanted, and they certainly didn't advertise my work either. Anytime I saw an advertisement from RCA, it had a bunch of records on one page. That doesn't help much, does it? The small independent labels are the ones that really work with you and push your product. So, no, I am not surprised at all by this action going on up there."

According to a source at RCA who requested anonymity, it is "too soon to tell" who will handle jazz marketing, artist development and A&R for the RCA Music Group. "Right now, we have no idea whatsoever about which artists will be dropped and which ones will be kept on," the source said.

Other jazz artists who may be affected by the reorganization at BMG are trumpeter Tom Harrell, saxophonist Harry Allen, alto saxophonist Steve Coleman and the vocal group New York Voices.