The shop window has long since moved location and got new glazers in. How we think of record labels in a digital age has completely changed. Choose to consume jazz by playlists the name of the record label isn't even typed out when you access the tracks you want. So it doesn't matter, right? Certainly the movement of artists towards issuing their own music has accelerated in recent years. It is not unusual at all for artists to have their own label. There is no stigma (if there ever truly was) in doing this. But where does that leave the old fashioned labels, the ''pros'' who remain a factor on the scene? They still stand for something, and so it does matter even if they may seem to some like dinosaurs. What that is is usually shorthand for style and quality. Look at the subject in another way: say that you choose to consume jazz by listening to the radio the DJ might or might not mention the label in passing. Again it is not as important as knowing the name of the track and the artist. Sometimes the best shows actually do some research and delve more deeply and so focus on a label sound. That makes sense. Most experienced jazz listeners know what labels stand for even if these are often generalisations because there are always outlier releases that do not ''fit'' into a label profile. That by the way I think is a good thing. Also release patterns go in cycles. The A&R might change, fashions change. Suddenly a label decides to ditch bebop and just release fusion, or go on a spiritual-jazz or piano trio splurge. If you consume as a record collector then labels do matter for a number of factors: record as object, for its look, touch, spine, smell, whether it is a first pressing or not, the list goes on. If you consume as a DJ who plays records especially vinyl you will know that particular pressings even of the same record offer better quality and yet only certain labels and jazz styles lend themselves to vinyl and that format far better than others (for instance some jazz-electronica might as well be enjoyed spun solely on stick generated decks because vinyl does not suit them as much as it does classic acoustic hard bop).
Labels who only do production deals, and this happens a lot, meaning artists pay for just about everything even the paper clips are for those who prefer to use the existing infrastructure of the label, its more professional office and admin function, as a way of getting their album out there rather than flounder in doing it themselves are wildly variable because it depends on who comes knocking on their door. It could be the next John Coltrane but equally the next wannabe Dave Koz. Either way the label will probably put the record out and claim it to be as important as Kind of Blue in their publicity. Labels with their own extensive transcontinental physical distribution supply chain owned by multi-billion dollar stock exchange quoted corporations make no mistake still have a strong grip on the market place. However it is gratifying to know that the giants do not always put out the best jazz. They often play safe or rely only on a formula that works in terms of piling high the moolah to overpay the company's suits and satisfy their shareholders as a no. 1 priority. The lifeblood of jazz record releases flows in the independent sector and in the digital era the indie sector for digital albums for download certainly and CDs that can be sold directly from artist websites or Bandcamp where the artist is more in control than going with a selfish goliath who will demand the masters and gobble up everything even the way you present yourself to your fans. One thing corporations can't do is provide untransactional love and affection. They are inanimate entities after all. With tiny labels the difference boils down often to 1 person, out there on their own, making a difference and building a small team around them. People who care more than most, want the best and are determined. They are the history makers whatever ''label'' you want to put on them. In that sense alone nothing has changed. Records in the window: Cafe Oto, London, top. Photo: marlbank