Remembering Joe Fields, Jazz Producer Extraordinaire (1929–2017)

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I am saddened by the passing of one of the most prolific producers of jazz records: Joe Fields passed away last Wednesday, July 12, 2017. He was 88 years young.

Joe Fields at the SESAC 2012 Jazz Awards Luncheon at Jazz Standard on March 19, 2013 in New York City. (Photo courtesy of Barney Fields/HighNote) (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

When I called HighNote/Savant Records last year, it was Joe himself who answered the phone. His commitment to shepherding his labels and promoting his musicians’ music was what he lived for.

I had known Joe for a long time. When I first returned from France in late 1976 looking for work, I started writing liner notes. Joe hired me for one of my first jobs, which was to pen the notes for vibraphonist Dave Pike’s lp, Let the Minstrels Play On. I also profiled the late super jazz vocalist Mark Murphy (who was one of Joe’s artist’s) for Downbeat magazine. Most recently, Joe asked me to write the liner notes for Tom Harrell’s Colors of a Dream.

After graduating from college, Fields pursued several business ventures but found his true calling in the music business. He sold records in Brooklyn and then worked for London Records picking singles for the U.S. market, before working for MGM, Verve, Prestige, Sue and Buddha Records. While at Buddha, Fields opened their jazz division, Cobblestone Records, which later became Muse Records.

During its long run from 1973–1996, the prolific Muse Records provided an outlet for many jazz musicians and released successful records by artists such as Pat Martino, Mark Murphy, Woody Shaw, and Cedar Walton. In the mid-1980’s, Muse acquired the legendary Savoy label, along with its recordings by Charlie Parker, Lucky Thompson, and others. Muse also eventually acquired the Landmark Records label.

(Standing, L–R) Barney Fields, Joe Fields, trumpeter David Weiss and producer Todd Barkan (seated) at the High Note Records office in New York City, June 2014. (Photo by Brian McMillen/ CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)(The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

In 1997, Joe and his son, Barney, launched HighNote and Savant Records. They spent the next twenty years producing topflight jazz recordings by Kenny Burrell, Wallace Roney, Eric Alexander, Tom Harrell, Russell Malone, and other jazz heavyweights.

Joe was a lifetime athlete. After his college days, he ran marathons and co-founded the Police Boys Club Lacrosse program in Manhasset, New York, and helped organize the Manhasset Lacrosse “Day of Champions” yearly event. Fields was eventually inducted into Manhasset’s Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

Joe Fields’ dedication to Muse and later HighNote and Savant Records has brought jazz fans everywhere countless hours of music pleasure. He will be remembered by many as a jazz hall of fame producer. He was our Muse, a true Savant capable of hitting those High Notes every time.