Sustainability, passion and persistence. That’s all they want. »Everything else is just details«, says Scottie McNiece. Together with David Allen and Dave Vettraino, the 34-year-old runs the label International Anthem. A few weeks ago, »Suite for Max Brown« by guitarist Jeff Parker was an instant hit with numerous positive reviews and articles.
But even before that it was worthwhile to have a look at the label, which is dedicated to jazz and all border areas of it. Without academic debates – International Anthem rather wants to be the fitting invitation for this sound and everything it can create. »And it doesn’t mean that we try to make the music sound poppy or something like that.«
It is about making the artists and their art accessible to the public. In an open, loving and encouraging way for everyone. _»Jazz, and honestly music in general, is way too often presented in a manner that makes people feel like they aren’t smart enough or don’t have enough knowledge to appreciate what they are hearing. We think that’s unfortunate and counter-productive for musicians, music listeners, and the collective music culture in general«, says McNiece.
And the biggest success so far is not an album for the label: »I think our greatest success is the community of artists and facilitators that we have helped bring together around shared sentiments and true love for music.« Alongside Jeff Parker, these include jazz musician Angel Bat Dawid, trumpeter Will Miller with his band Resavoir and the quintet Dos Santos, which combines Afrobeat with Latin American sounds and – logically – jazz. Sometimes the sound is more pleasing (Resavoir), sometimes more challenging (Angel Bat Dawid), but always gripping, because it’s real: genuine and passionate. Although it’s never about jazz as the core. International Anthem wants to cross borders. Not deliberately. But for a unique sound.
From one moment the label was born six years ago in Chicago. McNiece worked in the Bar Curio, where he was a bartender and also organized a series of free jazz events. But he wanted to record these experiences. He then invited his friends and sound engineers David Allen and Dave Vettraino to record a concert by Rob Mazurek in December 2012. After that the decision was made to start the label.
»We’re less concerned with whether an artist’s music fits, and more concerned with whether the artist’s humanity and personality fits«. The idea: »To serve artists who channel truth, to share their musical gifts with the world for the betterment of humanity, to facilitate, and amplify their unique messages of Love into a world that needs them now more than ever.« That’s how the range of different styles and sounds on the label is created, but they share this one essence. »We’re less concerned with whether an artist’s music fits, and more concerned with whether the artist’s humanity and personality fits«, says McNiece. Which is why International Anthem is also clearly political – for example, with the release of »Freddie Douggie: Live on Juneteenth« on June 19 last year, the annual commemoration of the liberation of the African American population from slavery.
With »Chicago Waves«, an album is being released these days that once again underlines the cross-border approach. Percussionist Carlos Niño and multi-instrumentalist Miguel Atwood-Ferguson recorded this session improvised at the end of November 2018. They had previously worked together on »Universal Beings« by Makaya McCraven. All musicians involved in that album met again in Chicago for the performance of the album at the South Shore Cultural Center – a club from the golden age in the south of the city. Under the impression of the local scene and the city, this session was recorded the day after that gig.
Chicago is always a hub for such moments and connections. And International Anthem is part of this great whole in the boundless world of jazz and experimental music. McNiece describes the local music scene accordingly: »Community-minded. Experimentation-forward. Multi-generational. Diverse.«_ Since the end of the year International Anthem will release six more records.
Allen, Vettraino and McNiece are available to the musicians according to their needs: _»Sometimes this means we are involved creatively, other times it means we are only involved in more empirical and logistical ways.« Often their names can be found in the credits of the records. As producers and sound engineers. But if the artists bring a clear vision with them, they get a free hand. _»And in those cases we just stand by waiting for their call, which sometimes does not come until they are delivering a finished product.«
McNiece’s advice for upcoming label founders? »Always prioritize working with your friends, prioritize working with your neighbors and people in your community. Your most important job is building community. That’s far more important than any traditional idea of genre.« For International Anthem it is not about discourse, it is just about the most beautiful sound in any note: »The truth.«