In 1975, Werner X. Uehlinger founded HatHutRecords simply in order to document the artistry of a musician he heard through a chance encounter-saxophonist / trumpeter Joe McPhee. Today, over forty years and more than 500 LP and CD releases later, HatHut stands as one of the most adventurous and important independent New Music labels in the world. It has grown from an out-of-pocket venture to an established enterprise, from small press runs of black vinyl to a line of beautifully (and ecologically responsible) packaged CD-only releases. From the beginning, the label has shown a high regard for graphic design, cover art, and program notes, striving to create not just a musical artifact but a multifaceted work of art with each new release.
Though HatHut began as a label with undeniable jazz roots (although primarily of the avant-garde variety), its catalogue now boasts such recognized Classical / New Music names as Stockhausen, Cage, Scelsi, Haubenstock-Ramati, and Tenney, and the label has been widely acclaimed as one of the key reasons for the rediscovery and renewed popularity of Morton Feldman because of its many highly praised recordings of that composer's music. But the label especially prides itself on the many musicians it has documented and grown with, who were lesser known or unknown at the time. Though in this regard HatHut has long been devoted to music far from the commercial mainstream-the jazz or classical mainstream-the label has more than survived, it has artistically flourished.
Early in HatHut's history it began attracting well-known musicians, including several of contemporary music's most important artists such as Steve Lacy, Anthony Braxton, and Cecil Taylor, which in turn focused attention on the fledgling label. What brought such major figures to a small company cloistered in the center of Europe? Certainly not money; more likely, it was the artistic freedom they received, along with Uehlinger's willingness to take risks on projects that other labels might deem economically or artistically unfeasible. Such world-class musicians gave HatHut increased credibility and visibility. Slowly, HatHut became known for ambitious, out-on-a-limb projects, and Uehlinger now sees this as a decided advantage. "I cannot compete with the big companies, going in the same directions, trying to compete for a mass audience," he has said. "My intention is to work within the field of the minorities, of the marginal. I think there are, worldwide, enough people who enjoy such marginal music or arts, to support them. I think it's important also, for me, to take big risks, and learn from my errors, in order to go on to the next step. It's important to listen to the musicians and composers. I feel that HatHut is run like an art gallery, where a musician or composer has from time to time the chance to display his current level of musical development...or even a past level he was never able to present."
What these musicians-well-known or unknown-have in common is the impetus to explore uncharted areas of sound and structure, to erase the boundary lines that define and separate seemingly incompatible styles of music. Unlike most record companies, HatHut is not merely producing and issuing records, but entering into a collaboration with each artist, which will effect a healthy growth in their work as well as the ongoing re-formation of the label itself. Over the years, Uehlinger has introduced several new label names under the HatHut umbrella, in order to indicate the changing styles and musical attitudes of its artists. In the past these included HatHut, hatMUSICS, hatART, as well as the three designations currently under production: hatOLOGY (for Jazz and related improvised music), hat[now]ART (to represent Contemporary Composition and New Music), and hatNOIR (to serve as a home for fresh, unpredictable, innovative, uncategorizable projects).
In December 2000 UBS (formerly Swiss Bank Corporation) ended its fifteen-year sponsorship of HatHutRecords. Their new, post-merger sponsorship strategy unfortunately no longer included record companies. Over that extended period of time, such financial assistance was exceptionally valuable in allowing the label to take a chance on many of these then-unknown musicians and composers who now have established careers, without regard for their immediate commercial potential. Notwithstanding their artistic value, the sales of jazz and Classical / New Music releases often takes years to recoup their initial investment-if ever-and thus the loss of outside sponsorship threatens to undermine HatHut's continuing capacity to discover and record important up-and-coming musicians, as the label has done throughout its history.
How will this affect the label's future? Of course, in this age of uncertain economics sponsorship of some type is necessary to support the kind of non-commercial music upon which the label has built its reputation. HatHut has been extremely fortunate to receive sponsorship from VITRA / ROLF FEHLBAUM for an ongoing series of projects by Ellery Eskelin from 1998 to 2003, and the DANZAS GROUP for recent recordings by Anthony Ortega and three Marc Copland projects (Trio, Quartet with David Liebman and Quartet with John Abercrombie and Michael Brecker as guest). In this way, HatHut will continue to search for sponsorship and foundational support that will enable it to continue on its well-established path.
In the meantime, the label plans also to take this opportunity to explore other fruitful directions. For example, its broad range of recording activity since 1976 has created a large archive that must be redeveloped. Classic HatHut recordings that have gone out of print and / or have never been released on CD will be remastered and reissued. It is remarkable how much better many of these recordings now sound due to improved technology. The label has discovered several exciting historical sessions in its archive which have never been released, and will continue to issue these in the coming years, as well as actively seeking and releasing historic material from other sources.
And the label will proceed in its longstanding practice of presenting new and previously neglected projects by special musicians whose outstanding work has come to be identified with the label-artists. Plus, there will be surprises, rediscoveries and unexpected pleasures.
Today, HatHut continues in its commitment to the art of music, and its quest to uncover and offer new opportunities for new sounds, new composers and improvisers, without regard for current styles, fads, or fashions. The label intends to continue on its present course, helping established artists realize their most creative ideas, discovering unknown artists with a new and meaningful point of view, and rediscovering previously neglected and valuable historic material.
For HatHutRecords, the future is only the beginning, also in its 43rd year!