Why would Westlake Records release an album featuring an unknown clarinetist? If you already have listened to a track or two, the explanation is unnecessary. But if you’re looking for a written answer, one word should suffice: Serendipity.
Russ Reinberg achieved a modicum of recognition in the 1980s. He performed at Carnegie Hall, as a guest on numerous television shows, at concerts, and with many top jazz musicians. Even so, when I was Program Director at one of the premier jazz radio stations in the world, KKJZ in Long Beach, California, I once joked that Reinberg is “the best kept secret in jazz”.
As fate would have it, after a very successful concert in 1988 with the nucleus of the Concord Jazz All-Stars, Reinberg had to give up playing. Twelve years later, he met his fiancée, Scarlett Li (the Scarlett in the album’s title). She insisted he end an uneasy, extremely premature retirement and return to music. Larry Koonse, Dave Stone, and Ray Brinker wanted to help with the comeback.
Enter serendipity. In this case, one of those “magical” recording sessions. Sort of like what happened on Miles’ Kind of Blue album. It just happens and you never know why.
It was Reinberg’s first performance of any kind in nearly fifteen years. But, on the afternoon the quartet went into the studio, Southern California’s infamous Santa Ana winds blew in the hottest day in six months. The room had no air conditioning. The musicians needed cold drinks. They grumbled. They turned on a fan between tunes to blow in cooler air. Nothing helped much.
The second take of the first tune was a “keeper”. It went pretty much like that for the duration of the session. Even Reinberg’s originals, Junior, Blue Scarlett, Never Enough, and Walking proceeded without a hitch. Serendipity again.
The album is extraordinary. It is so captivating, its emotional impact so strong, and its approach so fresh that its appeal transcends jazz alone. It is music for everyone. Enter Westlake Records. The album was perfect for the label. Serendipity.
If you’re wearing socks, Blue Scarlett will knock them off. And now you know the serendipitous reason Westlake Records has released a magical album by an unknown clarinetist named Russ Reinberg. — Ken Borgers, Long Beach, California