Debut Records was started in 1952 by Charles Mingus and Max Roach, making it one of the earliest experiments in establishing an artist-owned independent label. Ultimately, it faced the same distribution challenges that plague indie labels to this day, and the owners were soon too busy being musicians to keep up with the operation of a record company as well, and by 1955 it was out of business. During that brief period, though, it released a remarkable set of recordings featuring artists like Mingus, Miles Davis, Oscar Pettiford, Thad Jones and Bud Powell, in addition to issuing the famous Jazz At Massey Hall album by the Quintet (Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Mingus and Roach). It was also home to the first recorded sessions as leaders by Teo Macero, Kenny Dorham, Paul Bley, John LaPorta and Sam Most. In addition to a track by the Quintet, this disc includes sessions led by Hazel Scott, Mingus, Ada Moore, Miles, Dorham, Pettiford, Powell and Jones. Though the founders may not have realized their complete ambitions for the label, the music they compiled in so brief a period constitutes a major achievement.
This sampler from Fantasy Records (which holds the distribution rights for the Debut catalog) only scratches the surface of what the label has to offer, but the selections included are representative and invariably excellent. In addition to nine treasures from the Debut catalog, there are rarities culled from other period indies, including a Charlie Parker track from the Debut-related Jazz Workshop, a pair each from the Seeco and Period catalogs and one each from Esoteric and Counterpoint Records. With so much valuable material from Debut left out, it's hard at first glance to justify the inclusion of these tracks on what's billed as a Debut sampler, but leaving them out would mean depriving the listener of Charlie Christian and Thelonious Monk jamming at Minton's, JJ Johnson and Milt Jackson leading the Birdlanders and other gems from Stan Getz, Wardell Grey and others. If a volume II comes along, I'll buy it, but in the meantime this is a remarkable compilation of recorded jazz from one of jazz's most remarkable eras.