Jordi, first of all - huge congratulations on the 50th issue in the Serie Lírica devoted to classic zarzuela and revista recordings. When the series started up in 1996, did you plan that so many CDs would be issued so quickly?
Yes, I would say so. I originally started with two CDs of the Columbia 78 albums, Doña Francisquita and Marina. Both were at my mother-in-laws house for many years, and one day when she was moving house she told me she still had these old records and she would throw them away! So I took them home and left them on a shelf for months. One Sunday I started looking closely at the discs and I noticed that 80% of them were of zarzuela, the rest were by various singers from the 1930s and 1940s. The two albums I mentioned earlier are the ones that really caught my interest; they were both 'complete works'. They were also sufficiently well known and long enough to fill a CD each. At that point I decided to start a new series dedicated to Spanish Zarzuela using only 78 sources.
The idea was to create a catalogue along similar lines to my other series: El Bandoneón (tango), Tumbao Cuban Classics (traditional Cuban music), Alma Latina (bolero), Fandango and Planet (flamenco) and others that I started in a similar way about ten years or so earlier.
Im a keen music collector too, not only of records - 78rpm, LPs , singles, 10 - but of all kind of things related to popular music (mostly on jazz, afro-cuban, tango, rancheras, bolero, samba, fado, and Spanish modern music artists, composers, orchestras) from early 20th Century up to the 60s: photos, magazines, postcards, vintage books, cancioneros (small songbooks), sheet music, etc. I have a large archive that I normally use to produce our CDs. So when I started the Serie Lírica I had more than enough material to start working with.
Many CD labels today just copy from other CDs the material they use to release their own productions, if only because they think (?) the recordings are public domain. I hate that cheap argument. They just make CDs to get easy money. They have destroyed the record business with this way of thinking. They just fill the stores with hundreds of similar CDs, and confuse the customers. I do not have any kind of respect for these kinds of labels. Fortunately there are some very good labels that do a very nice job, such as Fremaux in France and Harlequin in England.
Your company is based in Barcelona. Is that your native city? How old are you now?
Yes, I was born in Barcelona and continue to work here. I am 49.
Thanks to the Serie Lírica, many zarzuela aficionados around the world know the name of Blue Moon very well indeed. Yet your own name will be most familiar to those who also love Jazz and World Music, not least through those internationally known Fresh Sounds, Tumbao and El Bandoneón labels. When did you start in the recording business, and what prompted you?
I started working with jazz simply through a love for music. I was a jazz record collector and it was the music I grew up with - my father is a fan of Swing Big Bands. At sixteen I started playing trumpet as an aficionado in local jam sessions, but I gave it up some ten years later when I felt I didn't have sufficient time to dedicate to it. I know that my name is more associated with jazz and Cuban music. I didnt think it was a good thing to use my name in projects not related to Fresh Sound or Tumbao - for example I never put my name on El Bandoneón, on which before I met Roberto Daus I had already produced more than 40 CDs. Many times I used pseudonyms ...
What are your feelings about zarzuela and revista?
I remember my grandmother singing 'airs' from famous zarzuelas while she was cleaning or cooking and so it sounds very familar to me. I used to accompany her to see zarzuela performances at the small theatres in the area were we lived, always played by aficionados. But I grew up to be a jazz fan and still am. In fact the only new recordings I produce are jazz or jazz-oriented.
My interest in world music came later, when I was already working as a jazz producer. That is when I really started to become interested by many other forms of music; so when I discovered the artistic qualities of zarzuela, I decided to develop my interest and make the Serie Lírica catalogue a strong and reliable one.
As to content, which of your colleagues are important in advising/deciding on the material most suitable for reissue, programming and documentation?
Curiously, every time I start a new collection the same thing happens: I put a few records out into the market and a short time later I start to get calls from people already involved in that style of music. In this way I have managed to collaborate with collectors and friends that I have tried to include in these projects.
Where do you obtain your source material, the old 78 rpm discs which are transferred to CD?
Over the years I have managed to build a vast collection of 78s by artists in various genres that I have bought from Cuba, the United States and above all in Spain. I frequently visit flea-markets and also receive many records through collectors that kindly offer them to me.
Does Blue Moon have an overall philosophy about how 'interventionalist' your transfers should be, to improve the sound, for example?
The only objective we have is to reproduce the original sound as closely as possible. This is, however, sometimes difficult.
It takes me a lot of time to prepare each one. I personally record all the 78 rpm records on a Rega turntable. In the 80's I started recording on reel to reel tapes, later on DAT and now on CDR. Sometimes I have more than one copy to then choose the best possible sound. Sometimes a record may be broken on the edges, but the remainder have a good sound. I use the beginning of an inferior pressing and continue with the good one. Before digital systems were available I restored all the records by manual 'declicking', one by one from the reel to reel tapes. Some of them had hundreds of clicks. Hours and hours trying to get a clean sound ... When Sonic Solutions and Cedar started to be successful systems I felt very happy!
Connected with this, some of my correspondents feel that there have been occasional issues of "quality control". I'd highlight the two records featuring La verbena de la Paloma (7505 with Emilio Vendrell as Julián, and the recent 7550 featuring Pepe Romeu). In both cases, Blue Moon did not rectify serious pitch problems, presumably emanating from the original source material, but which severely compromised the quality of the CD. Was this a conscious decision?
I have read you comments and have called upon the Catalan baritone singer Enric Sacristán for a expert opinion. He has performed La verbena de la Paloma many times and feels that yes, the CD does seem a touch on the slow-side. We will look into this when the time comes to reedit the CD.
We always produce CDs to the best of our ability at any given time. For example, in the case of Katiuska it was worth compiling all the versions of the work on one solo CD, both from before and after the premiere, including all the cut numbers that Sorozabal had originally included but that were not successful on the first night.
I personally choose all the material I want to include on each CD. In the beginning I filled the CDs with some outstanding zarzuelas, and then some revistas or less popular pieces. Little by little I decided to concentrate my efforts on finding a theme. That's why I decided to produce CDs dedicated to particular composers, Vives, Díaz Giles, Soutullo, Serrano, Alonso, etc.
The first thing anyone browsing in a record shop will notice is the attention Blue Moon pays to design, with archive photographs, original vocal score covers and full musical texts included as a matter of course. The whole Serie Lírica is most attractively presented, in a very recognisable house style. How did you develop this? Who are your graphic designers? Do they listen to the music before deciding on their designs?
I was convinced that this collection would be successful as before Serie Lírica there was no other collection like it in the market. I fully created the concept, and designed a style for the art covers which is different each time but always easily recognisable among other products in the market, because it has this original look. Not too long later another Spanish label copied our design.
That issue (7551) was dedicated to the memory of "our friend Daniel Garcia". Who was Daniel?
Daniel was the first collector who contacted me after I released the first two CDs. He soon became a good collaborator, searching for records, sheet music, photos and everything we could possibly use for the CD booklets. Unfortunately, he died of cancer in May 2001.
What special highlights are due in the near future?
Im now preparing a CD dedicated to Guridi and another to Obradors, and many others will follow. I have about 20 CDs in preparation. I never do just one at any one time. Every time I start a new production, that one becomes the most important project for me.
In addition to the Serie Lírica there are other Blue Moons which feature zarzuela, such as the Cancionero de Oro series with its run of CDs devoted to Teatro y Varietés and the Género Chico; not to mention the excellent complete edition of recordings by Miguel Fleta. What other upcoming issues outside Serie Lírica might prove of particular interest to zarzueleros?
Maybe the Alma Latina series would be of interest. It is a label devoted to Latin singers from the 1930s - 60s, mostly boleros, canción española (copla) and rancheras. There is a very interesting 3-CD Boxed Set of Conchita Piquer which you may enjoy.
Many people, especially outside Spain, find it very difficult to get hold of Blue Moon records. Where can people in the USA, for example, obtain Serie Lírica CDs?
We are distributed in the USA, but it is difficult to say whether a certain CD is in a certain shop. It would be impossible for any one shop to have all our CDs! However, I can tell you that the chain-stores Tower and Borders are regular and very good clients, but there are many other stores that work with our discs.
How long before your great-looking website (www.bluemoon.es) will take direct mail orders by credit card?
The Web site Shop is currently taking credit card orders.
© Jordi Pujol Baulenas 2002