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Judd Apatow Revives Mainstream, Bob Shad's Independent Record Label

Courtesy of Mainstream Records
Buddy Terry

Mainstream Records, an independent label active in the 1960s and ‘70s, has been revived by a celebrity benefactor.

He is Judd Apatow, the blockbuster producer-writer-director and standup comic. The label has two catalog reissues due out on Friday: A New Shade of Blue, by tenor saxophonist Harold Land, and Awareness, by the Newark-born alto and tenor man Buddy Terry.

Credit NPR/Getty Images
NPR/Getty Images
Judd Apatow

Apatow’s interest in the label isn’t random: he is the grandson of Bob Shad, a pioneering jazz producer of the 1940s, who founded Mainstream in ‘64. 

Shad was one of several independent producers who brought jazz to the general public through his work with Manor Records (Dizzy Gillespie’s first leader date) and National (The Ravens, Charlie Ventura) before landing at Mercury. He had two different periods with Mercury, but it was the second, from 1954-58, for which he was best known.

It was during this time that Shad founded the Mercury-owned EmArcy label. Among his output: an early slew of albums by alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley and vibraphonist Terry Gibbs; most of the output by the great Clifford Brown-Max Roach Qroup; and some of the very best Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington. Upon leaving EmArcy, Shad founded Mainstream.

Mainstream was active throughout the ‘60s, although the jazz component often gave way to rock artists such as Big Brother and the Holding Company and an early Ted Nugent project. Still. the label produced wonderful albums by Carmen McRae and the Clark Terry-Bob Brookmeyer group. (He first recorded Clark Terry for EmArcy).

Apatow has already celebrated his grandfather’s legacy with a pair of compilations: Feeling Good (Funk, Soul & Deep Jazz Gems: The Supreme Sound Of Producer Bob Shad), from last year, and Inner Peace: Rare Spiritual Funk And Jazz Gems - The Supreme Sound Of Producer Bob Shad, released in July. (To order those albums, and for more information about the new reissues, visit wewantsounds.com.)

Credit Courtesy of Mainstream Records
Courtesy of Mainstream Records
Bob Shad in the studio with Reggie Moore, 1972

I knew Shad through some work I did for him in 1972. I found him to be very dedicated to his projects, but for some reason he thought that every album had to have a guitar included in the personnel. This led to an under-appreciation of his revived Mainstream jazz of the 1970s —although some of the albums with Sarah Vaughan and Charles McPherson were wonderful.

I ran into Shad a couple of years later, coming out of a studio where he was working on a project with singer Lenny Welch. He had something of a hit with an album titled Soul Makossa around the same time, but the independent record business was in its final death spiral and he got burned for a good deal of money. He folded the label and turned distribution over to Roulette.

Lives such as that of Bob Shad tend to be obscured by the artists and labels they worked with, but the enthusiasm they could bring to a project was often the difference between music being recorded or not. The last time I saw him was at a Grammy show in Los Angeles in 1979. He was working in television, living in California, and happy to be out of the record business.

Bob Porter’s book SOUL JAZZ: Jazz in the Black Community, 1945-1975 was recently published by Xlibris.

Bob Porter, who died on April 10, 2021, was a steadfast presence on the air at WBGO for more than 40 years. His voice continues to be heard through repeat broadcasts of Portraits in Blue, his flagship blues program; Saturday Morning Function, a mix of classic soul and rhythm and blues; and Swing Party, featuring music from the swing era.