A Verve–Third Man collaboration

So, former White Stripe and Third Man label founder Jack White has now moved into jazz? It was a question that intrigued me when I first heard about the partnership between Universal Music and White’s Third Man Records, a vinyl reissue series called Verve By Request. Was Universal just a client for Third Man’s relatively new LP pressing plant in Detroit, or was this a genuine collaboration? And what the hell does Jack White know about jazz?

“When you look at the breadth and the scope of the releases that Universal were gonna put out, it ran the gamut and was not strictly a jazz reissue project,” Third Man’s Roe Peterhans told me in a recent interview, when I asked about this unexpected morphing of Third Man into a jazz-reissue label. While Third Man eschews company titles, Peterhans functions as the operations director at the Detroit location and is also a graphic designer. “There’s pre–avant-garde jazz and some really interesting psychedelic music. And James Brown doing some really funky stuff and soul (Soul on Top). We found nice parallels to the rock’n’roll, punk, and garage stuff that we’ve been known for since our early years.

“And the releases from Alice Coltrane, Dorothy Ashby, and Lloyd Brooks, they are all Detroiters. Ashby and Coltrane even have storied connections to Cass Technical High School, Jack’s alma mater, which is, like, three blocks from our location, so there’s all these connection points beyond just the music.”

“Early years” is the key part of that response. Today, Third Man is wisely interested not only in having clients for its pressing plant but also in spreading its wings as a music company. For Universal, which has other vinyl reissue series, having a quality pressing plant to depend on came with the added cool of working alongside an innovative force in music today that also attracts a younger consumer.

“When Universal came to us to press this series, we asked them, ‘What if Third Man partnered with you on the idea of breaking away a small amount of each of these runs to do a very limited edition, sort of an artful piece?'” Peterhans says. “We’d use Third Man color schemes and take the artwork from the original albums and rethink it to become simplified black, yellow, and white silk-screened custom jackets. They were immediately on board and loved the idea.”

The Verve By Request reissue series started in the early aughts, on CD. At Universal, it is managed by Ken Druker, SVP, Jazz Development, Verve Label Group, who started his career at Verve Canada in 1995 before moving to New York City in 2000. In collaboration with Third Man, he chooses titles for the series; he says those choices can be influenced by requests from inside and outside the company. Druker says three-quarters of the Verve By Request vinyl reissues are cut from tape sources, the rest from digital files.

“I wanted to do a wider range of music, style-wise, and at a more affordable price point,” Druker told me in a recent telephone conversation. “And also, we needed a place for releases where we didn’t always have analog sources in good shape, which is what we needed for the … series we do with Chad Kassem at Analogue Productions.”

Intriguingly, there are titles in this series that are being reissued in the US on vinyl for the first time since their original release—a minor miracle considering how much has been reissued in the last decade. The series started off in 2022 with a reissue of the Roy Brooks album, Beat, which was originally on Motown subsidiary Workshop Jazz and which had never seen a vinyl reissue. 2023’s first-time vinyl reissues included Eartha Kitt’s Bad but Beautiful and Max Roach’s Moon Faced and Starry Eyed. In 2024, The Third Cup by The Eddie Fisher Quintet, Chet Baker’s Blood, Chet and Tears, and Jack Kerouac’s Readings by Jack Kerouac on the Beat Generation will all see first-time LP reissues.

The Third Man pressing plant opened in 2017 behind the label’s office and retail store. It began with eight new presses from Newbilt, a German company that reverse-engineered a book-mold hinged, clamshell-like press. After also using Pheenix Alpha presses for a time, the Third Man plant has become a shop using only two kinds of presses. They now have 16 presses available—eight Newbilt and now eight new VIRYL presses, which are built in Toronto, Canada.

“We use [the VIRYL presses] mostly for doing unique, custom, multicolor pressings because they perform better,” Peterhans explains. “We can get our hands in there and be artists with those. And because we were one of the first to use those presses, our in-plant engineers have been able to reinvent some of the pieces and parts to make them run even better. So, we’re also a bit of an R&D team, so to speak, thanks to having spent so much time with these newer presses. In a way, we’ve kind of become the pressing plant showroom for all new equipment in the world.”

Asked to estimate the lifespan of the Verve By Request project, Druker chuckles, “When it runs out of titles to reissue. Seriously, never. Think about the catalogs we currently control. It’s all of Verve, all of Impulse. Mercury. A&M, Argo and Cadet, ABC Paramount, Decca—there are literally thousands of titles.”

And what’s White’s verdict on the project?

“He’s enamored with it,” Peterhans says. “He’s thrilled.”

Click Here: