Windham Hill gets back in jazz biz

Hoping to increase it hold on the new age/adult contemporary marketplace, the Windham Hill Group has reinstituted a jazz arm and also has pacted with Peak Records, a top indie label with an impressive roster and pedigree.

Windham Hill Jazz will gear its releases to the smooth jazz/new adult contemporary format with such artists as the Rippingtons and Phil Perry leading the release slate charge.

The genre, which currently is experiencing an upswing in popularity among adult audiences, is largely underrepresented in the marketplace save for such labels as GRP, Narada and Verve/Forecast, among others.

Peak, bowed in 1993 by Andi Howard and Rippingtons guitarist and frontman Russ Freeman, has been home to discs by singer-songwriter Mark Williamson, the Rippingtons and Ray Obeido.

Windham Hill was a leader in the new age genre in the ’70s and ’80s, expanding into jazz through releases by Billy Childs, Denny Zeitlin and Kit Walker, among others. Eventually it shuttered its jazz arm.

“It’s rare to be able to enter a genre with a true superstar of the format,” said Steve Vining, prexy of Windham Hill. “But with the Rippingtons, we hit the ground running with one of jazz’s top-selling groups.” The band has released nine albums that have sold more than 2 million copies each.

The label also is in the final stages of discussions with the Braxton Bros., a new duo from San Francisco, for a recording pact.

The relaunching of Windham Hill Jazz will add to BMG’s already strong presence in the adult genre as a result of Vining’s success with such artists as George Winston and Jim Brickman. The jazz arm expects to boast a roster of eight to 10 artists so that each can be efficiently marketed and supported.

“We looked at the success Windham Hill had with artists like Brickman and Winston,” Peak prexy Andi Howard said. “Knowing the players and feeling their enthusiasm and commitment … they’re as dedicated as we are in breaking our artists in the contemporary jazz and adult urban market.”

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