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Flying Dutchman

By Dean Rudland

When Bob Thiele launched Flying Dutchman Records in 1969 he had just emerged from eight years as the head of Impulse, ABC’s jazz label. The former pop A&R man – who in the 50s had signed Buddy Holly and Jackie Wilson – had been responsible for the creation of some of the most important and challenging music of the decade, as well as a series of highly satisfying recordings by older giants of jazz. This reached unparalleled heights in his collaborations with John Coltrane which allowed the saxophonist to pursue his distinct and personal vision on such masterpieces as “A Love Supreme” and “Ascension”.

Flying Dutchman was Thiele’s personal statement. When he set up the label, 60s counterculture and black power were in full swing. If the 48 year-old Thiele seemed like an odd fit, his credibility as Coltrane’s producer allowed him entry into those worlds. He released masters by progressive jazz musicians such as Leon Thomas, Lonnie Liston Smith and Gato Barbieri, new recordings by Count Basie and Earl Hines, political speeches and audio journalism – and in Gil Scott-Heron he discovered one ofAmerica’s most original voices, recording his earliest and most important musical statements.

The releases on Flying Dutchman showed an attention to detail that belied its independent status and lack of funds. Glossy gatefold sleeves, exquisite photographs and the best studios were what Thiele’s productions had received at ABC, and this was what he felt they deserved at Flying Dutchman. It was always a struggle, but he went it alone for five years in an increasingly difficult economic situation before the success of Gato Barbieri and Lonnie Liston Smith saw him hook up with RCA. By then the political spirit of the early years had faded but was kept alive in the cosmic jazz of Lonnie Liston Smith and his worldwide hit ‘Expansions’, the crowning glory of the label’s second chapter.

Our reissue campaign has focused on a mixture of Flying Dutchman’s biggest acts and some of the lesser-known artists and releases. We feel it is a fitting way to deal with such a fantastic legacy. 

Selected releases

  • Gil Scott Heron

    The three albums Gil Scott-Heron recorded for Flying Dutchman are among the most important in the history of black music. Gil was one of the most original voices to emerge from the 60s counter-culture. An accomplished poet, it was almost unbelievable that he could translate his words into effective songs, but on his second album for Flying Dutchman he did just that, turning ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ into an anthem. Housed in a lavish box, this 3CD set contains his complete recordings for the label. 

  • Lonnie Liston Smith

    An alumnus of Pharoah Sanders and Miles Davis, pianist Lonnie Liston Smith came to Flying Dutchman as a leader after appearing on Gato Barbieri and Leon Thomas’ recordings for the label. He became the company’s most successful artist, and his track ‘Expansions’ one of the ultimate jazz funk dancefloor winners. This compilation, featuring tracks from all his Flying Dutchman albums, is a perfect introduction to his work. That many of his songs have been plundered for samples in the hip-hop era affirms the enduring appeal of his cosmic sounds.

  • Leon Thomas

    One of the most original vocalists in jazz, Leon Thomas made his name with Count Basie, and then Pharoah Sanders, co-writing ‘The Creator Has A Master Plan’ with him. Signed to Flying Dutchman, he made four exceptional albums that defined jazz singing in the 1970s. This compilation gathers together a cross-section of the great recordings he made for the label. It covers the relatively straight-ahead pieces from his first two albums and the soul jazz fusion of his later output. 

  • Liberation Music

    Featuring a mixture of free jazz and poetry, message and protest, this compilation contains the best of Flying Dutchman’s political phase, showing black American creativity at an especially exciting point in its history. It is impossible to listen to the recordings of Ornette Coleman, Horace Tapscott, Leon Thomas or Gil Scott-Heron without feeling their struggle or their desire for change. “Liberation Music” isn’t an easy listen but it has a depth of purpose and feeling that makes it worthwhile.

  • Ornette Coleman

    One of the most forward-thinking and radical musicians of his or any era, Ornette Coleman revolutionised jazz with his early LPs for Atlantic Records. This rare 1971 album, recorded at his loft space in New York’s Lower East Side, is a unique document of the free jazz saxophonist at a very interesting point in his career. With Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell backing him, it is the peak of improvisational music of the time. A hidden gem from a long career.

  • Bob Thiele Emergency

    One of the most fascinating albums in the Flying Dutchman catalogue, with “Head Start” Bob Thiele tried to encapsulate his entire release schedule on one double album. It features a side of soul jazz, a side telling the history of jazz from blues to the avant-garde, and a final side of electronic exploration. The third side, a tribute to John Coltrane, is the album’s finest moment and features his drummer Elvin Jones, New York radio DJ Rosko and an otherwise unavailable Ornette Coleman cut.

  • Lonnie Liston Smith

    “Expansions” is an exceptional album that is often seen as one of the greatest moments in jazz funk, mainly because of the popularity the title track has enjoyed with DJs since the day of its release – its influence on several generations of clubbers cannot be underestimated. Closer inspection reveals the album to be a serious exploration of Lonnie’s cosmic jazz ethos and an important work from start to finish. Lonnie’s brother Donald is the vocal presence on ‘My Love’ and an inspired take on Horace Silver’s ‘Peace’. 

  • Teresa Brewer

    Teresa Brewer had been one of the biggest US pop stars of the late 40s and 1950s, responsible for a string of hits that lit up the charts. A natural to the pop machine, there was little to suggest that she could swing in front of the greatest jazz musicians. Yet when she went into the studio with Count Basie and his band, directed by Thad Jones, the result was so impressive that on hearing it Duke Ellington asked the singer when she was going to make an album with him. The resulting session proved to be Ellington’s final studio recording, and a fitting tribute to the music that he had written and performed throughout the years.

  • Leon Thomas

    Leon Thomas’ debut album was a defining moment for vocal jazz. With his African-influenced yodelling, he marked a new direction for the jazz singer. Backed by such talents as Roy Haynes, Lonnie Liston Smith and Pharoah Sanders, this is one of the most important jazz vocal albums of its time. A slightly latinised version of Horace Silver’s classic ‘Song For My Father’ is probably the least challenging track on an album that serves as a showcase for the singer’s many talents.

  • Gato Barbieri

    Born in Rosario, Argentina and brought up in Buenos Aires, saxophonist Gato Barbieri made his name during his stay at Flying Dutchman. With a style that mixed progressive jazz with his South American roots, he became a worldwide star. Aided by Lonnie Liston Smith, Ron Carter and Lennie White, “Fenix” is the album on which he best captured his sound at Flying Dutchman, and as such is a marker for jazz in the early 1970s. North and South America collide in a wonderful musical marriage.