Sackville Recordings – The In Sound From Up Here!

February 15, 2017 | Beau

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No discussion of the history of jazz in Canada would be complete without a word or three about Sackville Recordings, a label founded in Toronto by John Norris and Bill Smith in 1968. Sackville's first release was a recording of a group of American musicians (dubbed The Jazz Giants for the occasion) who were playing an engagement at Yonge St.'s Colonial Tavern.

The Jazz Giants

This album was enough of a success that a follow-up session featuring one of the musicians from the first record – clarinetist and alto saxophonist Herb Hall – was quickly scheduled.

Herb Hall     

Sackville quickly gained a reputation as a top-notch jazz label, and throughout the 1970s and '80s, it put out many LPs by American jazz legends like Jay McShann, Teddy Wilson, Ruby Braff and Buddy Tate.

     Teddy Wilson     Jay McShann

     Buddy Tate     Ruby Braff

Alongside these more traditional recordings, Sackville was also a home for records by avant-garde and experimental musicians such as Archie Shepp, Anthony Braxton, Abdullah Ibrahim (aka Dollar Brand), Roscoe Mitchell and Don Pullen.

Archie Shepp

Anthony Braxton

Dollar Brand

Roscoe Mitchell

Don Pullen

Canadian musicians (as well as foreign expats living in Canada) were also well-represented on Sackville; Scottish-born clarinetist and saxophone player Jim Galloway, drummer Pete Magadini, saxophonist Maury Coles, and guitarist Sonny Greenwich were among the many Canucks who appeared on Sackville. The 1979 duo LP with guitarist Ed Bickert and bassist/pianist Don Thompson (a live recording which won a Juno for Best Jazz Album) is a personal favourite of mine, and both of them often appeared on Sackville releases, both as leaders and in support of other musicians.

      Ed Bickert and Don Thompson      Jim Galloway

      Maury Coles      Sonny Greenwich

                                 Pete Magadini

Sackville co-founder Bill Smith was also its art director, and his distinctive and eye-catching album cover designs were a large part of Sackville's identity. 

     Karl Berger Dave Holland   
Karl Berger David Holland back cover

Barry Altschul   
Barry Altschul back cover

Roscoe Mitchell
Roscoe Mitchell back cover

These days it would appear as though Sackville is defunct, but the label did re-issue many of their records on CD during the 2000s, and a lot of their vinyl releases are still easy enough to find in used record stores. You can also listen to many of them (including all of the albums pictured above) if you visit the Arts department of the Toronto Reference Library (5th floor, 789 Yonge St.)!