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Valuable Documenter of the Loft Jazz SceneCopyright © 2000The Scotsman, 2000
Bob Cummins earned the gratitude of anyone who followed the New York-based free jazz scene, particularly if they did so from afar. Cummins, a corporate lawyer by profession, launched and ran the small but influential record label India Navigation, which played a crucial role in helping document and preserve the music emerging from the radical loft-jazz scene in Manhattan in the 1970s and 1980s.
That scene focused on the downtown district, where musicians often took over unused buildings or obscure clubs as venues for their musical experiments. Cummins was a devoted follower of the scene, and made his first recording in 1972, featuring the Revolutionary Ensemble, a trio of violinist Leroy Jenkins, bassist Sirone, and drummer (and pianist) Jerome Cooper.
Although he often worked in the recording studio, Cummins liked to record the music in a live setting, valuing the immediacy and spontaneity of such on-the-wing creation. Some of the labels most celebrated recordings were made in this way, including saxophonist David Murrays seminal Flowers For Albert, recorded at the Ladies Fort in the East Village in 1976, and his subsequent Live at the Lower Manhattan Ocean Club in 1977, which also featured the late Lester Bowie on trumpet.
India Navigations record sleeves were often illustrated with photographs taken by his daughter, Beth Cummins. He oversaw all of the labels releases, which numbered around 70 at the time of his death, and in addition to Murray, featured musicians like saxophonists Hamiet Bluiett, Chico Freeman and Arthur Blythe, flautist James Newton, vibraphonist Jay Hoggard, pianists Muhal Richard Abrams and Kenny Barron, bassists Anthony Davis and Cecil McBee, and drummers Billy Hart and Jack De Johnette, as well as Bluietts Clarinet Summit group and an album matching Chico Freeman with his tenor-playing father, Von Freeman. Many of the labels original vinyl releases were reissued on CD on the 1990s.
Cummins continued to work as a lawyer throughout his career, and often acted for jazz musicians who were facing legal or contractual problems. He worked for Western Union, then formed his own corporate law firm. He set up his own studios in several locations over the years, one of which, in an ironic echo, was located in the former Western Union Building in TriBeCa. More recently, he built a studio in a disused water bottling factory in Grand View, New York, which also served as a family home for a time.
Bob Cummins died of prostate cancer on 17 August, at the age of 68. He is survived by his wife, Nancy; his daughter, Beth; his son, Thomas; and a grand-daughter.