Getting all jazzed up: North End record label helps jazz artists

With a sense of humor and a groove, what drummer Greg Williamson initially started as a way to produce his own albums has become a streamlined, independent, jazz and swing label, 11 years and 47 albums later.

Between playing regular gigs and running Pony Boy Records, Williamson said it is hard for him to sit still. A Seattle native, Williamson, 40, toured with the Woody Herman and Glenn Miller bands for three years, before returning to town in 1990.

He started Pony Boy Records with his first recording, "The Big Bad Groove Society."

The label is named after a friend of his who goes by the nickname "Pony Boy," who used to put together music compilations for Christmas gifts. The image of his head is sometimes used on the company's packaging. This keeps with the company's effort to make the albums fun.

"It's just music after all," Williamson said. "We try not to take ourselves too seriously."

Local artists

Williamson mainly records local, traditional-jazz artists he knows, has performed with and/or those he has seen around town. Each release is a partnership between the artist and the label, with the artist maintaining ownership of the album and Pony Boy Records taking a percentage of what sells.

Williamson usually makes at least 1,000 copies of each album.

"I try to keep everything nice and simple and don't let anyone get overextended on the money side of things," he said. "We just focus on music."

Some artists he recently produced include Floyd Standifer and the Pampas Quartet; a set of poems by local writer Denise Levertov, set to a jazz texture by vocalist, pianist and composer Carolyn Graye; and a recording with Olympia saxophonist Bert Wilson.

Another album that Williamson often receives requests for is "Easy Walker," featuring pianist Larry Fuller with the late Ray Brown on bass and Jeff Hamilton on drums.

Pony Boy Records also has produced compilation albums for "Jazz Times" and National Public Radio.

"It's all great stuff," Williamson said. "I like to think of it as helping out my friends and my friends' friends."

Some of the albums are recorded in Williamson's own Hawthorne Hills home, which he uses for mastering and editing.

Last year, bassist Buddy Catlett recorded an album there, with Williamson on the drums and Jay Thomas on trumpet and flugelhorn.

Williamson approached Catlett about making the recording. "It sounded like a good idea, that I should have something out there that's in my name," Catlett said.

Coming up, Catlett will perform on trombonist Dave Tuttle's latest album, which Pony Boy Records will produce.

"We've certainly grown a lot. But the basic idea is the same," William-son said. "I think my idea of what good music is has intensified, though."

'A good kind of energy'

Pony Boy Records featured many of its musicians at its second-annual jazz picnic at Magnuson Park in September. About 700 people attended the free event throughout the day, with different bands performing every half-hour.

Many of the musicians played for the opportunity to sell CDs.

"I started thinking that I'd put it in my backyard, and it just kind of grew," Williamson said of his original idea for the jazz picnic. "I just wanted to have a big party and have everybody show up and play."

A live recording was made of this year's event."If I had my way, I would do every other CD live because they have a good kind of energy," Will-iamson said.

Locally, albums produced by Pony Boy Records can be found at Silver Platters near the Northgate Mall and Bud's Jazz Records in Pioneer Square. With the help of a new distributor, Burnside Distribution, the CDs will soon be available at stores across the country. The albums also can be ordered at www.[[In-content Ad]]