Formed in 1960 as a subsidiary of Archie Bleyer’s Cadence Records, the Candid label was headed by Nat Hentoff, who was given complete control of who and what he wanted to record. By then, Nat was well established as one of the country’s leading jazz writers and civil rights title. Nat recorded 34 albums, among them important records by a range of jazz artists, including Charles Mingus, Max Roach, Eric Dolphy, Booker Little, Phil Woods, Don Ellis and blues artists Otis Spann, Memphis Slim and Lightnin’ Hopkins. [Photo above of Nat Hentoff in 1961]
But Nat’s efforts were short-lived. Before long, it became clear to Nat that what he loved didn’t necessarily translate into dollars or even operating liquidity. In late 1961, Cadence shuttered Candid. The parent company had been first to record the Everly Brothers and Andy Williams before both artists moved on to major recording careers at bigger labels. In 1964, Cadence itself closed down, and Bleyer sold both catalogs to Williams, who owned Barnaby Records.
Nat later viewed his two years at Candid with a heavy heart. In his 1997 memoir, Speaking Freely, Nat wrote with irony, “The fantasy was common to jazz buffs, as we used to be called. [That] someday, somehow, I would have my own record label and record my favorite musicians. The releases would be pure jazz, and therefore would last for generations. Untold numbers of people all around the world would remember my name gratefully.”
While Nat’s work as A&R chief was time-consuming and thankless due to low interest and sales, the fruit of his labor is a catalog of music that documents important artists at their peak and most free, artists who now are gone. As Nat discovered, even good taste required marketing dollars and hits. On a personal note, Nat was a leonine mentor who frequently called to chat, praise my JazzWax interviews, pushed me to call his book editor (who, in turn, bought my pitch for Why Jazz Happened) and thunderously encouraged me to keep JazzWax going no matter what. Nat died in 2017.
In 2019, Candid was sold to Glen Barros (above) and Exceleration Music. Barros brought on John Burk, Charles Caldas, Amy Dietz and Dave Hansen as partners, and they are now remastering and reissuing Candid albums. The following five are just out on CD and streaming and will be available as vinyl albums on June 24. The sound is terrific:
Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus (released in December 1960) features the Charles Mingus Quartet—Mingus (b), Eric Dolphy (as, bass cl), Ted Curson (tp) and Dannie Richmond (d). Although the album opens with Mingus addressing a club audience and beseeching them not to applaud or make noise (“don’t rattle ice in your glasses and no ringing of the cash register”), this was a staged wish, since the album was recorded in the confines of New York’s Nola Penthouse studio. There are just four tracks on the album—Folk Forms No. 1, Original Faubus Fables, What Love and All the Things You Could Be by Now If Sigmund Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother.
Original Faubus Fables was called “original” because the version released a year earlier on Columbia’s Mingus Ah Um did not include the vocals by Mingus and Richmond. Suits at Columbia wouldn’t allow the taunts chastising Arkansas governor Orval Faubus, who refused to comply with the Supreme Court’s vacating the segregation of public schools. In 1960, Columbia Records forbade Candid from entitling the song Fables of Faubus, fearing a backlash in sales of Mingus Ah Um. So Hentoff and Mingus re-titled Mingus’s song.
Overall, the album today feels a bit ponderous and long-winded. But in all fairness, at the time of its release, the record was a daring political statement that took on a Southern governor’s segregationist stand and boldly defied norms. Go here.
Max Roach—We Insist!: Freedom Now Suite (Dec. 1960) is another timely musical political statement that advocated for racial equality. The album consists of five pieces addressing the Emancipation Proclamation and the African independence movement. Roach and vocalist Abbey Lincoln appear on all five tracks. The rest of the album features different musicians on different songs, including Booker Little (tp), Julian Priester (tb), Walter Benton, Coleman Hawkins (ts), James Schenk (b), Michael Olatunji (congas, vocals) and Raymond Mantilla and Tomas du Vall (perc). Overall, the music was more potent and blunt as a civil rights statement than Mingus’s album, but both works were milestones in the movement and nudged folk revivalists to focus on the civil rights struggle rather than on the abstract plight of workers, a 1940s and early ’50s folk cause. Go here.
Abbey Lincoln—Straight Ahead (February 1961) features Booker Little (tp), Julian Priester (tb), Eric Dolphy (as, bass cl, fl, piccolo), Walter Benton, Coleman Hawkins (ts), Mal Waldron (p), Art Davis (b) ,
Max Roach (d) and Roger Sanders, Robert Whitley (congas). Four of the seven tracks were co-written by Lincoln. Widely considered to be her most important album, the music overall remains urgent and Lincoln’s voice and jazz-folk lyrics are delivered like spirituals. Straight Ahead remains a message album with bite, much in the way Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On would make a similar conceptual statement 10 years later. Among the highlights are Lincoln’s vocal on Blue Monk, African Lady and Retribution. Go here.
Otis Spann Is the Blues (fall 1960). Blues pianist and vocalist Otis Spann is joined on this album by guitarist-vocalist Robert Lockwood Jr. Six of the 10 blues are by Spann and the rest were by Lockwood. This was the piano legend’s first leadership album. Born in Mississippi, Spann was one of five children who began playing piano at the age of seven. At age 14, he was playing professionally before moving to Chicago to perform with Muddy Waters and as a solo act. It’s somewhat remarkable that Spann had gone unrecorded as a leader until Hentoff coaxed him into the studio in New York. Overall, the album remains a powerful and spirited blues record and a master class in piano blues. As Nat noted in a Wall Street Journal essay in 2000, “I’d heard him often with Muddy Waters, and he was on my list of people I wanted to record when, for a short time, I was able to actually live a jazz fan’s fantasy by having the freedom to record anybody I wanted to [as Candid’s head of A&R]Go here.
Lightnin’ Hopkins—Lightnin’ in New York (1961). All eight blues on the album are by Hopikins. The same goes for the singing and guitar playing. The Texas blues artist was discovered playing in Houston in 1946 by Lola Anne Cullum of Aladdin Records, the Los Angeles-based label. She had him travel to LA, where he recorded for Aladdin with pianist Wilson Smith. They recorded 12 sides. Hopkins returned to Texas in 1947 and recorded for Gold Star in Houston for years. In 1959, blues researcher Robert McCormick presented Hopkins to integrated audiences during the folk revival movement in Houston and California and then at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1960, where he came to the attention of Nat at Candid. Go here.