It wouldn’t be totally inaccurate to describe the German jazz label ECM as “the house that Keith Jarrett built”. After all, the American pianist’s 1975 album The Köln Concert has sold a staggering three and a half million copies and undoubtedly helped to establish – both financially and aesthetically – Manfred Eicher’s Munich-based imprint. More than that, Jarrett’s success transformed ECM into major contender in the jazz world, and the best ECM albums reveal an astonishing commitment to quality control that has more than ensured its place in the jazz pantheon.
But while Jarrett, who first recorded for the company in late 1971 and, 48 years later, still records for it, had a big part to play in the label’s success, it was producer Manfred Eicher whose vision made ECM a reality. Launching the company in November 1969 (with American pianist Mal Waldron’s album Free At Last), he steadily built ECM into one of the most unique labels in jazz, with its own distinctive sound, style and look.