Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



US record label established in 1953 in St Louis by Bob Koester; originally Delmar, named after Delmar Blvd, which took in ethnic neighbourhoods and the local jazz scene. Koester's brothers were cinematographers and film was his passion, but music took over. The name of the label changed for legal reasons; he moved to Chicago '58, took over Seymour's Record Mart '59 (Jazz Record Mart later on North Wabash). He began with tradional jazz; still offered George Lewis, Earl Hines At Home, Art Hodes, etc but soon became best known for Chicago blues in the 'Roots of Jazz' series: dozens of fine LPs by Junior Wells, Jimmy Dawkins, Magic Sam, Otis Rush, Sleepy John Estes, Roosevelt Sykes, Luther Allison, J. B. Hutto and others. Jazz included Tab Smith, Jimmy Forrest, Sonny Stitt and the first albums by AACM artists: Sound by Roscoe Mitchell '66 got five stars in down beat, was followed by sets from Joseph Jarman, Anthony Braxton, Richard Abrams, others; Sun Ra's first recordings on Transition in '56 were reissued on Delmark mid-'60s. Koester was not a fan of the modern music at first: 'I guess we made the first AACM records,' he said to Howard Reich at the Chicago Tribune. 'I was amazed: When I was doing Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman, I figured, boy, this is really going to lose me a lot of money. But they’re standards now, like recording King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band.' Bruce Iglauer of Alligator Records and Chuck Nessa with his eponymous label are two great record producers who served apprenticeships in Koester's store.

Robert Gregg Koester (b 30 October 1932, Wichita KS; d 12 May 2021, Evanston IL) was a hero of the Chicago music scene. One of Delmark's best sellers was Hoodoo Man Blues (1965), by singer/harmonica player Junior Wells with guitarist Buddy Guy, who said in an interview, 'Bob Told us, "Play me a record just like you played last night in the club".' The record was named to the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008.

A subsidiary label Pearl was purchased in the mid-'70s, used for traditional jazz and blues reissues. But new recording fell off for a while after a manager nearly wrecked the retail business; 'Wanting to record somebody will make me very cold-blooded about how I run the store,' Koester said; 'I might be a sucker as a label owner. I'm not going to be a sucker as a retailer.' Reissues and new recording began in the CD era, and Delmark was still one of the best small catalogues, reissuing material from United/States and Apollo labels including classic tracks by Forrest, Tab Smith, Paul Bascomb, Dinah Washington etc in good sound, compilations Honkers And Bar Walkers and West Coast Jive offering delightful surveys of late '40s/early '50s R&B scenes. Delmark resumed documenting Chicago music with new releases by the NRG Ensemble, Roscoe Mitchell, others including Jodie Christian. The label was also producing DVDs, valuable documentation of its history.

After 65 years, Koester closed the Jazz Record Mart in February 2016; then somebody offered him a nice jazz collection, and he opened a smaller shop in a location with lower rent. Then as his 86th birthday approached he sold the label, masters, studio and all, to adjunct professors Julia A. Miller, at the School of the Art Insitute of Chicago, and Elbio Barilar, at the University of Illinois/Chicago. They will have their work cut out in today's music market, and Chicago has its fingers crossed.