Siggi Loch, who will be seventy-five on August 6th 2015 has a breadth of experience in the music sector that very few can match. From the nineteen-sixties onwards, those formative days for the modern record industry, his career path rapidly became a giddying ascent.
In his first job, the callow twenty-year old recruit was a rep in specialist foreign sales at EMI Electrola. At a time when 80% of the revenues of record companies were coming from hit singles, Loch was out on the road in a VW Beetle fully laden with newly imported albums, doing the circuit of a select group of record stores. After two years he was approached to become label manager at Philips in Hamburg, where his career as a producer, working with Klaus Doldinger, also started. At the age of just 26, having become the youngest label manager in the world at that time, he was appointed as business manager for the new Liberty Germany company in Munich. In 1972 there followed his appointment as boss of the German business of WEA (Warner-Elektra-Atlantic), and then in 1982 as head of WEA Europe (Warner) in London. That made him one of the top managers in the international record business. Loch owed this meteoric rise to his inexhaustible enthusiasm, combined with an ability to spot the talent and to predict the trends in pop music. But the key to it all was his love of jazz. As a fifteen year old, Loch had managed to slip in to a concert by Sidney Bechet, and that experience was to mark him for life. In his teenage years he initially tried to make it as a drummer, but had the self-awareness to recognize that he didn‘t have the talent to succeed as a professional musician.
But jazz was always there in the background, and the dream to start his own jazz label would be the driving force spurring him on. Despite the fact that the direction of his career as a music manager for its first three decades would be determined by significant discoveries - Katja Ebstein, Can, Amon Düül II, Jürgen Drews, Marius Müller-Westernhagen, Heinz Rudolf Kunze, Helen Schneider and Ideal – he never lost his sense of devotion to jazz: the careers of Klaus Doldinger, Jean-Luc Ponty, Al Jarreau, Joachim Kühn and Philip Catherine were forged with the support of Siggi Loch.
He had been at Warner eighteen years when his boss and mentor Nesuhi Ertegün, the legendary Atlantic jazz producer, stood down as WEA chairman. Loch, who now knew the music business inside-out, took his cue to abandon a lucrative managerial position, and finally to turn the dream of his youth into a reality. In 1992 ACT was born as a jazz label. Twenty-three years later, it is a highly-regarded player on the international jazz scene and, by Loch‘s own admission, this most recent period represents the most important segment of his professional life.
Siggi Loch has always stayed close to the spirit of jazz, so it is appropriate, even inevitable that the five-part CD edition in which he looks back on that life should bear the title: »Life in the Spirit of Jazz - Siggi Loch 75.« As a musical autobiography it speaks for itself, and yet every single track is the repository of enough experiences and memories with which Loch could have filled a book.
With one exception, a preface which precedes main material on the first CD, Loch has collected exclusively the highlights of his own work as producer on these five CDs. Each disc in the anthology is dedicated to a particular strand of his creativity, but there is nevertheless an over-arching shape and structure.
CD 1 »The Beginning«. The first CD mainly casts a spotlight onto the young Siggi Loch‘s remarkable feel for incipient trends and exceptional talent. However, before we get to that, Sidney Bechet is given a place of honour as the first musician who sets these discs spinning. Having awoken Loch‘s lifelong passion for jazz, having determined the course of his career in music, it feels completely apposite that Bechet should be there at the beginning of this highly personal collection.
The recording of »Indian Summer«, played by Bechet and his New Orleans Feetwarmers is from 1940, which also, propitiously, was the year in which Siggi Loch was born. The thread continues with the person who represents the most significant artistic and human fixture in Siggi Loch‘s professional life, Klaus Doldinger. He was the first jazz musician whom Loch discovered and produced. Their association led to a close friendship, which continues to this day. It is also a prime example of how unswervingly loyal Loch remains, in promoting those whose work he truly values. We then move on to »Blues For George« from that touchstone, agenda-setting album »Jazz Made In Germany.« This release announced that European jazz was cutting loose from its American parentage and would be setting its own direction. »Fiesta« is from the album »In South America,« which made a real commercial breakthrough. This Doldinger section closes with »I Feel Free« from the band Motherhood, a precursor of Passport, followed by »Compared To What?« a compelling track from Passport, in its jubilee team from 1975.
There are other important strands in jazz that Loch identified early and which have become more visible as time has passed, and which are to be encountered in an early state here. For example the assimilation by jazz musicians of European folk music, which can be heard in »Subo« from the Klaus Weiss Trio, inspired by the music of Jan Johansson. Another important trend is the coalescence of classical music and jazz, of which an early manifestation is »Danza, Danza, Fanciulla Gentile« from the best-selling album by Swiss pianist-bandleader George Gruntz, »Jazz Goes Baroque.«
Debut albums from Volker Kriegel, Attila Zoller and Jean-Luc Ponty represent some examples of Loch‘s flair for discovery. Nils Landgren is also represented, which is scarcely a surprise, since the Swedish trombonist has been the most successful ACT artist to date, with sales of over 750,000 albums to his name. He is represented by »You Dig«, recorded live at Montreux, which flags up quite how far the world has moved on since those early days of European funk. Back then, the whole idea of »blue-eyed funk« was scorned, but this idea, which Siggi Loch stood behind from the start, has unquestionably been a success story.
CD 2 »Blues & Rock«. Siggi Loch has always held fast to the belief that only those with a deep knowledge of the tradition of jazz could determine its direction into the future. He has always kept a connection with the blues as one of the indispensable roots of jazz, and this strand of his work is present in the second CD of the collection, which takes us on a journey from recordings at the »American Folk Blues Festival,« with legends such as How lin‘ Wolf, John Lee Hooker or Big Mama Thornton, through to Jerry Lee Lewis and Tony Sheridan captured live at the fabled Star-Club in Hamburg. It also takes in a high water mark of blues-r ock with the Spencer Davis Group.
CD 3 »Crossing Borders«. Siggi Loch‘s conception that creative connections can be made between allegedly irreconcilable genres is at the heart of the third CD in this collection. First there is World Music »avant la lettre.« Several years before it became the name for a whole genre in its own right. Siggi Loch had already made it an established practice in his activity as producer. The encounter of jazz with flamenco, for example, was there right at the start of ACT in 1992, and became a constant in Loch‘s work.
High points of the fruitful crossing of borders between European classical music and jazz are such ventures as »Black Is The Colour Of My True Love‘s Hair,« from Jazzphonie Europeana by Michael Gibbs with Douglas Boyd, one of the world‘s leading oboists. This CD also has a jazz treatment of Italian opera, plus the hard rock band AC/DC as seen through the prism of jazz. CD 4, »Visions of Jazz«, focuses exclusively on the twenty-three years of the ACT label. First comes Loch‘s work with top jazz musicians: Europeans such as Ja sper van’t Hof, Philip Catherine and the ‚Old Friends‘, the definitive German all-star band from 2000, plus Americans such as Vince Mendoza, Eddie Harris, Bernhard Purdie and Wayne Krantz. The late, great Esbjörn Svensson is certainly not to be overlooked in this context. He was, by any measure, among the greats of the piano in Europe of the last few decades, and one of the leading renewers of jazz, and his world renown was achieved on the ACT label. »Dodge The Dodo,« these days a standard, is one of the few tracks which Svensson and e.s.t. didn‘t produce themselves, but for which Siggi Loch was in charge.
Siggi Loch has consistently seen his role not as merely that of producer and label manager, but also as an instigator for the artists on the label. Several of the artistic alliances and ideas for projects are represented here on »Visions of Jazz.« The first encounter between the most significant German jazz musician of today, Michael Wollny, with the new European star of the saxophone Marius Neset falls into this category, as does the meeting of Polish violin virtuoso Adam Bałdych and a top-notch band from the Baltic countries. Nguyên Lê, as the first artist to be signed exclusively to ACT, was a natural choice, as was Nils Landgren, who appears next, in two different duos with geniuses of the keyboard: first with Esbjörn Svensson - whom incidentally Loch first discovered in Landgren‘s Funk Unit - and then with Michael Wollny. Iiro Rantala, solo piano, then devotes his attention to John Lennon. After that the ACT series »young german jazz« is represented by the brothers Julian & Roman Wasserfuhr. This initiative has been giving Germany‘s stars of tomorrow a uniquely effective launch-pad since 2005, and has recently been awarded an ECHO award in its own right. This CD then takes a sneaky glimpse into the future, introducing Kalle Kalima playing »Santy Anno,« from the guitarist‘s debut CD on ACT, which has not yet been released.
The fifth CD demonstrates Siggi Loch‘s indefatigable commitment to jazz and to its great practitioners, in its most recent guise. This disc presents live recordings from the concert series that he has initiated and curated, entitled »Jazz at Berlin Phi lharmonic«. Under the strap-line »connecting the unexpected,« Loch has created a unique series of one-off events that, as Deutschlandradio Kultur recently affirmed, are in the process of »making jazz history.« On these evenings, the programme itself becomes the star. Musicians who have never been heard together before in these combinations appear at the world-famous Philharmonie in Berlin. Each of the evenings has a theme and a musical focus. These concerts started in November 2012, they almost always sell out completely, and have become absolute highlights of the Berlin musical season.
»It was fabulous, never mind world class« was the verdict of the nationwide TV channel ZDF on the first ever »Jazz at Berlin Philharmonic I,« a piano summit with Iiro Rantala, Michael Wollny and Leszek Możdżer. In a subsequent concert, Możdżer was given the opportunity to put together a whole evening with his own trio, and his Polish compatriots the Atom String Quartet, in a concert which brought Polish music to the fore. The »Norwegian Woods« concert was a journey to the beautiful country of the fjords, with singer Solveig Slettahjell, the band In The Country, pianist Bugge Wesseltoft and guitarist Knut Reiersrud. The most extraordinary concept in the series to date was »Accordion Night.« This special night featured players of the instrument from no fewer than seven countries. The accordion, which has always had the role of an outsider in jazz, is currently undergoing a renaissance in Europe through Frenchman Vincent Peirani. He is to be heard here with his musical soul mate Emile Parisien. Another certainty for inclusion on this CD was the »Kind of Cool« evening directed by Wolfgang Haffner, which offered something unmissable: the star baritone Thomas Quasthoff had already retired from the stage, but he sang live once more at »Jazz at the Philharmonic.« For a postlude we come full circle: the Bechet tune »Indian Summer« which began the compilation, is played this time by Hugo Siegmeth, from »Red Onions,« an album which Siggi Loch produced in dedication to, Sidney Bechet, the idol of his youth.
»A Life in the Spirit of Jazz - Siggi Loch 75« represents a fascinating cross-section from the glittering career and from the passionate life of a man who has achieved legendary status in music. Right at the start of his career, he had the dream of running his own jazz label, and he has now fulfilled that dream. ACT has been voted label of the year four times in a row at the German ECHO awards, and in 2015 alone, its artists and releases garnered eight ECHOs: the label has achieved international renown. However this CD collection is a snapshot of where things are, a provisional taking of stock to mark and to celebrate Siggi Loch‘s 75th birthday.
And what does the future hold for him? Loch answers that question unambiguously, and with Dizzy Gillespie‘s immortal formula:
»I will bop until I drop!«
Oliver Hochkeppel / translated by Sebastian Scotney