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Black Saint Records

by Kevin Forte on April 28, 2015

In the mid-40s in a small country town just outside of Milan, Italy, Giovanni Bonandrini started buying American jazz records with a severance check.1 78s of the American greats (Armstrong, Ellington, Gillespie, etc.) fueled his jazz interest.2 By the 70s, Bonandrini’s had accumulated enough knowledge to became an advisor and partner to a prominent jazz music importer in Milan, Hi-Fi & Record Center. Through Hi-Fi, his personal collection grew further yet. In 1977, he was presented with the opportunity to take over Black Saint Records, which he accepted.1

Black Saint Records launched in 1975 with Billy Harper’s album Black Saint.3 Its mission was to provide an outlet for those many talented avant-garde jazz musicians who would have otherwise spiraled, unheard and underappreciated, into obscurity.2 Unfortunately, in the two years prior Bonandrini’s acquisition, the label only accumulated a catalogue of 13 titles and had changed hands multiple times. In his words, “Black Saint was in serious trouble.”1

The new management proved itself by the end of 1977. Bonandrini and company, immediately after acquiring the label, recorded four new releases in New York.1 By 1979, Bonandrini had expanded Black Saint to include a more “mainstream” sister label: Soul Note Records.1 Notably, Billy Harper contributed the launch release for Soul Note: Billy Harper Quintet in Europe.2 Both Black Saint and Soul Note proceeded with vigor; their humble beginnings forever testaments to the structural integrity one devoted fan can establish and develop within an independent record label.

Bonandrini spent the 80s and 90s further developing his labels. From 1984 to 1989, Black Saint/Soul Note won the Down Beat Critics Poll best record label title (tallying to six consecutive victories).1 By that time, their catalogues had exploded, each label sporting hundreds of releases.6 In the early 90s, Bonandrini’s son, Flavio Bonandrini, relocated to New York to handle U.S. distribution. He foresaw a surge of new recordings from Black Saint’s established core roster and signed a new wave of artists, adding his personal taste to the extensive catalogue the labels had to offer.1

The original mission, to ensure that musicians would receive the recognition they deserved, withstood the test of time. Black Saint and Soul Note, unlike many other labels, made (and make) a point of not retiring any of their releases. “What we are doing is important mainly for the artists and we are proud for keeping all of their recordings still in print,” Bonandrini said in an interview for Jazz Weekly.2 In 2008, Cam Jazz, an independent publishing group based in Rome, Italy and New York City, USA, purchased Black Saint and Soul Note and integrated them into its roster of labels, keeping Flavio Bonandrini on staff as a consultant for the label.7 Giovanni Bonandrini spent over 30 years raising and nurturing Black Saint Records, and his efforts were not in vain. It lives today as one of the most recognized avant-garde and free jazz labels to date, and its success spread a massive collection of music internationally.

References:

  1. Stockton, Jeff. “Black Saint / Soul Note.” All About Jazz. 5 May 2007.
  1. Jung, Fred. “A Fireside Chat with Black Saint and Soul Note Founder, Giovanni Bonandrini.” Jazz Weekly.
  1. Yanow, Scott. “Giovanni Bonandrini Biography.” All Music.
  1. “Black Saint Releases.” Cam Jazz.
  1. “Soul Note Releases.” Cam Jazz.
  1. “About Us.” Cam Jazz.
  1. Morton, Brian. “Far Cry.” Point of Departure. 1 Jan. 2008.

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