As America takes stock of itself in this complex time-cycle, it is important to understand that one person can still make a difference. That not everyone has to follow the tried-and-true traditional path—to get tried-and-true traditional results. Steve Backer opened a door for a generation of creative artists to connect to the greater culture (and planet). He is as much of an American pioneer as the creative artists he has championed. As for the idea of one person being able to change another person’s life, I can say this: Steve Backer’s decision to work with me would change my life on every level, and there are no words to properly thank him for that decision—except thank you sir.—Anthony Braxton
Among the many privileges involved with my brief but heady tenure in the jazz and world music division of BMG Classics—together with working alongside David Neidhart, Josh Sherman and the late, great Steven Gates—was the chance to get to know Steve Backer, one of a handful of record producers and industry executives I wouldn't hesitate to call visionary. The first time I spent any real quality time talking to Steve, I told him with breathless zeal that his name was surely on more albums in my personal collection than any other, artists included.
Countless significant albums exist now because of Steve's work, from Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington collections to classic LPs by Cecil Taylor, the Brecker Brothers and Roy Hargrove. More than anything, though, music lovers owe Steve a debt of bottomless gratitude for championing Anthony Braxton, whose work he documented most notably with a string of classic sets on the Arista label.
It seems fitting, then, that as Steve was taken from this world on April 10 after a brief fight with double pneumonia, just as Braxton's new Tri-Centric Festival was getting underway at Roulette in Brooklyn, the first word on the subject belongs to that masterly beneficiary of Steve's concerted efforts. I know that a part of me will always regret having been too busy to collaborate with Steve on an official memoir, a project we discussed in passing several times up until a few years ago, when we both realized we were just too contrarily busy to make it happen.
Thankfully, another writer, David Sokol, has been working on that very welcome project, and he is quoted at length in a press release circulated this morning by industry expert Kim Smith. The complete text follows the jump, if you'd like to know more about an unsung American master.