Text size
Text Print Share Email
2
Jun 19, 2009

Everything followed from a student allowance that was too small to cover music.

By Jac Holzman as told to FLYP

The origins of Nonesuch go back to my time at St. John’s College, in Annapolis, Md., in the years 1948 through 1951. You’ve got to wonder why that’s only three years—they threw me out at the end of the third year because I was spending too much time on my little record label called Elektra.

But something I took away from my St. John’s experience was a love of baroque music, to which I was introduced by students at the college.

I had a very meager allowance of about $10.00 a week, so I could only afford to buy one single-disc classical record because LPs were not being sold at discount very much and $6.00—that’s the price they were back in the late ’40s and early ’50s—was a big bite of my budget. I would stand in the Maryland record shop weighing a Westminster versus a Lyrichord record, and having to make a decision. I never forgot that experience.

We cut to a November evening in 1963. I’m waiting for a friend and sitting in a cafeteria opposite Carnegie Hall, with butcher-block paper on the table. Maybe it was the presence of Carnegie Hall, but I suddenly recalled that feeling of frustration and I said to myself, I wonder if we can put together a label where nobody would ever have to make that choice, because the records would be inexpensive enough that they could buy both of them.

At that time, the price of a quality paperback was $2.50. So that’s the price that I chose, and the first ad for Nonesuch read, “wonderful high fidelity records of important baroque music at the price of a quality paperback.” Right there in the cafeteria, I sketched out the pricing and discount structure, and I knew exactly where to go to license the material—from all those classical-music companies that had tried to get records released in the United States and couldn’t.

The very next day—armed with a loose-leaf book that I had created over the years, which had clipped reviews from such wonderful classical music magazines as Gramophone and Diapason—I got on a plane with a one-page contract and a bunch of checks and flew to Paris and started signing up labels. It’s very powerful when you walk into a French company that’s been screwed and nobody’s ever paid attention to them and you give them a check—$500 dollars per record advance.

The biggest score of all was a phenomenal record venture called Club Français du Livre et de la Disque; I got the entire catalog. That was very fortuitous, and that’s how Nonesuch started. It was very well thought out, and it happened in about 15 minutes, when my buddy was late to dinner. It’s one of those things, those flashes, that happens in your lifetime and you’d better pay attention to it—and keep a pencil and paper in hand at all times.


login or register to post a comment

there is too little content, too many pictures and unnecessary pageflips. if this is to be a magazine, then provide thoughtprovoking content–and please provide it accessibly. why in the world should i click on a round circle to read a 200 word sidebar when you could easily have just posted it next to the picture? it’s irritating and the page flips do not help the sense that there is too much engineering on the packaging and too little of what truly makes great reading–the writing itself.

Juice Friend
Jun 25, 2009

all of the album cover designs should be used for t-shirts or licensed for branding on apparel ( sneakers, bags etc) they are brilliant

Tisha Carter
Jun 25, 2009