BYG was conceived as a label. The operation’s first principals were Jean-Luc Young, Jean Georgakarakos and Fernand Boruso. The trio wanted to create a label focused on jazz, psychedeledic, rock and other progressive music.
For the BYG acronym, they combined their three initials of their last names. They chose as logo the small Buddha which Mr Boruso kept on his desk as a talisman.
Essentially the partnership was set up to cultivate a big network of national record stores to feed the rapidly expanding student population in France. In the wake of May 68 revolt, Borusso left the operation to focus on his own projects. The remaining two members pooled their resources in record industry attempting to set up a licensing label and brave the turbulent times.
Young an Karakos built up a chain of record stores based in university towns throughout France. They had licensed the Savoy Jazz catalogue and BYG Records made their debuts with a program of reissues. The label becoming also heavly involved in the worldwide free jazz explosion through Claude Delcloo’s meeting who was the ‘Actuel’ editor, a french avant garde & culturel jazz magazine, keen on the new possibilities offered by free jazz. Delcoo was drummer for The Full Moon Ensemble.
America. This was the year the dam broke. The streets ran red and nixon was king, and more than a few people decided to leave the u.s. voluntary- before they were forced to leave the earth at gunpoint.
African american musicians wanted to desert the burning cities of their youth by any means necessary. Thus, saxophonist Archie Sheep and a troupe of like-minded musicians bolted when they heard about a Pan-African music festival in Algiers occurring in July 1969. This festival was designed to reacquaint the children of the african diaspora with the o-zone from which their origin-music gushed. By most accounts, the cultural transaction was successful.
Once the festival over, the knot of avant garde musicians who had played (such as Clifford Thornton, Grachan Moncur III, Sunny Murray, Dave Burrell, Alan Silva et al.) was invited to Paris by Actuel, along with BYG Records, who had recently acquired the magazine. Jacques Bisceglia, photographer for Actuel during the festival, was commissioned to bring back all the prodigy musicians. Claude Delcloo started functioning in an A&R capacity for BYG and his relationship and first-hand contact with American free-jazz musicians provided to Georgakarakos and Young a convenient short-cut to recorded output from these mythical characters.
Free Jazz, then... But free of what?
Free jazz transcended the rules of rhetoric which had slowly dampened the playing of those who claimed improvisation as a language, gave new horizons to jazz. A generic term for several forms of expression, point of view, which sometimes contradict themselves. Collective improvisations, redefinition of the links between harmony, melody, rhythm, introspective research of the sound itself, free jazz encapsulates several different aesthetics. Free jazz was a declaration of rights for musicians to live the present intensively, particularly in the 60’s, a decade subject to many changes. 'New’ was the word, associated to a search for more freedom.
BYG invited some musicians to Paris for recording sessions in the prestigious Davout studios. Don Cherry, Archie Sheep, The Art Ensemble Of Chicago and Anthony Braxton, amongst many others. A frenetic marathon recording sessions ensued, at which leaders and sidemen flowed seamlessly between an unending stream of gorgeously powerful music. The influx of players from the Pan African festival at the end of July heated the scene up even more. In August, Jimmy Lyons and Andrew Cyrille, fresh from gigs at the foundation Maeght with Cecil Taylor, got involved. Those who could stay around Paris after the sessions has been finished, playing gigs and awaiting the promised Actuel festival, organised by BYG and scheduled for October.
All these live sessions recorded make up the bulk of the material issued on BYG Records. 52LPs released between 1969 and 1972, instantly identifiable through a sophisticated Actuel series documenting the cream of American and European free jazz and experimental musicians. All these moments of musical frenzy, freedom and expression forever engraved on these vinyl will mark the history of the genre. The original albums, with their striking graphic design by Claude Caudron, quickly fell out of print and remain valuable collector’s items today.
The LPs conception was revolutionary at the time: gatefold sleeves with a refined front cover and a full size colour photo at the back. what make artists proud and leave a mark on every fan’s minds.
BYG is synonymous with the ground-breaking avant-garde jazz artists of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, but the label was never defined by a single genre of music. The catalogue has a substantial amount of recordings that span anything from progressive rock and blues rock to experimental electronica and subversive singer-songwriters.
Artists as disparate as Daevid Allen/Gong, Aynsley Dunbar, Alice, Musica Elettronica Viva, Freedom, Coeur Magique and Areski & Brigitte Fontaine all released albums that are universally acknowledged as classics. Drawing on western and non-western traditions, and using electric and acoustic tonal palettes, all of the aforementioned made music that had a daring, if not defiant spirit and spontaneous, maverick energy.
Records such as MEV’s The Sound Pool and Areski & Brigitte Fontaine’s L’Incendie are still emphatically contemporary with regard to both words and music. A batch of 7” singles from the likes of Alan Jack Civilization, Tribu and Ame Son also underlines BYG’s status as a champion of music that blurred the line between pop and ‘art’, complete with graphic design that has an irresistible charm.
Originally planned to take place in Paris, was envisioned as a commingling of jazz, rock and avant-garde music, featuring international pop stars (such as Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, Yes, The Nice and Captain Beffheart) free jazzers (such as BYG recorded Don Cherry, The Art Ensemble Of Chicago, Joachim Kühn, Archie Shepp, major label French upstarts (Zoo, Triangle and Martin Circus) and some of the carefully placed BYG home-baked roster (Alan Jack Civilization, Ame Son and We-Free aka Alice) as well as a handful of experimental avant-garde noise makers (Musica Elettronica Viva, Terry Riley’s germ).
This huge 20,000 capacity festival scared the French authorities, it might generate more energy than France’s unstable political structure could contain. They saw that the proceedings were shunted to Amougies (Belgium) where it all went off without too many hitches, and a generation of European hippies was exposed to American and European power improvisation.
As a result of the exposure generated by this event, France proved to be a fertile repository for the seed of free jazz.
For several years following this event, most of the music’s proponents were given the opportunity to record in France far more often than anywhere else in the world.
Was the time to write others stories, BYG vanished as Jean-Luc Young went on to set up Charly Records and Jean Karakos, a few years later, Celluloid.
Actuel magazine went on to become one of the most successful magazines dedicated to the underground culture, under aegis of journalist Jean-François Bizot.
From this incredible adventure some of the most valuable free jazz recordings remain, which have now achieved cult status among a new generation of jazz and avant-garde fans.