Sunday, August 31, 2014

ACT Music Profile - DownBeat

Siegfried “Siggi” Loch has been a part of the recording industry for nearly 55 years - starting as an EMI sales representative in 1960 and he served as a business executive for Liberty Records and Warner Brothers International. But for the last 22 years, Loch has run his own label, ACT Music, arguably one of the biggest jazz record labels in Europe.

“I would be really reluctant to advise anybody to start a record label,” Loch says frankly by phone from Munich, Germany. “I was very fortunate to live through the golden age of the record industry. The way the business developed and all the love and the success that I was able to experience will never happen again.”

The 73 year old jack of all trades knows better than most that nobody can deter a dream. And more importantly, his artists know that that love and success is ready and waiting for them. Loch fell in love with jazz after hearing Sidney Bechet in 1955. Five years later, he had his foot in the door of the industry peddling the EMI catalogue. Two years after that he was producing sessions for rockers, jazz musicians and blues artists. “I had the idea of running my own label after I had my first experience as a producer in the 1960s. I made records with Jean-Luc Ponty, Sonny Williamson, Memphis Slim, John Lee Hooker.”

With a few production credits under his belt, he was ready to set off on his own when an offer to help run Liberty Records, which then owned Blue Note Records, sidelined his plans.  After four years there, he was again ready to start his label when a call from Nesuhi Ertegun put his dream on the backburner.  It would be another twenty years before Loch finally held his label’s first release in his hands.

That release couldn’t have been better received. Jazzpana was a global collaboration between Vince Mendoza and Arif Mardin. It was nominated for two Grammy awards and set the path for a diverse catalogue of over 350 records.

Between the 22 albums under his own name, plus the guest appearances and production credits scattered over twenty years of collaborating with Loch, Swedish trombonist Nils Landgren appears on nearly ten percent of the label’s output.

“Siggi knows what he wants and he has the business skills to get what he wants,” says Landgren. “Many labels stop when they have a finished project but ACT spends so much time and effort to make all the projects visible.”

Swede Esbjorn Svensson, who recorded under the name e.s.t., was one of those musicians who benefited from Loch’s well-oiled machine. The two met through Landgren and Loch was immediately taken with the young pianist’s use of disparate genres to create a moody palette entirely his own. “I would only work with his music if he would sign with me directly,” recalls Loch. “As a result, he became one of the most important European jazz artists.”

Loch’s reputation for promoting the music of Sweden was enough to earn him a “Northern Star” knighthood from the Swedish king in 2010 but it was a bittersweet honor. Svensson lost his life in a scuba diving accident only two years prior.

After that traumatic experience, Loch initially considered shutting down the label entirely but as he worked through his grief, he found the determination to honor Svensson’s legacy by expanding the reach of the label to include pianist Vijay Iyer, drummer Manu Katche and pianist Michael Wollny.

“ACT was e.s.t’s label and there is no musician I know that hadn’t been somehow struck by this band around that time,” says Wollny about when he first considered signing with the label. “Over the last decade on the scene, I can honestly say that Siggi remains the most trustworthy and honest friend I can imagine.”

To further solidify the label’s sterling reputation, ACT has been awarded the “Jazz Label of the Year” honor at the German ECHO awards four years in a row and continues to promote new artists as well as their label cornerstones like guitarist Nguyen Le and Korean vocalist Youn Sun Nah, currently one of the biggest selling artists in France.

Through the label’s dramatic expansion, Loch still retains that sense of togetherness that catapulted the label twenty-two years ago. “There is a closeness to the company,” says Landgren fondly. “The artists have the feeling that we belong to the ACT family. We can speak directly to the boss. It feels like a family business. It makes it rewarding to put in a lot of work because something good always comes out the other side.”

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