Bob Koester, owner of the legendary Jazz Record Mart in Chicago and founder of Delmark Records, passed away on May 12, at the age of 88.

Delmark Records is the oldest independent active jazz and blues label in the US. It was founded in 1953 by Bob Koester who passed away on May 12th at the age of 88.

Suffering from the effects of polio as a child, he stumbled onto jazz while listening to the radio where he heard Eddie Condon and Benny Goodman. Thus began his lifelong love of jazz.

Besides operating Delmark, he was the owner of a record shop in St Louis before moving to Chicago in 1958. Shortly after moving to Chicago he opened the legendary Jazz Record Mart, a mecca for jazz musicians and lovers of jazz.  After selling it in 2015, he quickly opened a new store called Bob’s Blues and Jazz Mart which was still operating at the time of his passing.

Some of Koester’s employees eventually began their own record labels (for example Alligator and Nessa) carved out their own music careers or, in the case of Howard Mandel, became a jazz writer currently serving as the president of the Jazz Journalists of America.

Bob Koester was a co-founder of the Jazz Institute of Chicago and was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1996.

Since its inception in 1953, Delmark Records has recorded a veritable ‘who’s who’ of veteran and up-and-coming jazz and blues artists. The eclectic jazz roster includes musicians such as Earl Hines, Barney Bigard, Donald Byrd, Red Holloway, Ira Sullivan, Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton, Sun Ra, Von Freeman, and in more recent years Eric Alexander, Fareed Haque, and Brad Goode.  Delmark’s blues roster includes Carey Bell, Eddie C. Campbell, Sleepy John Estes, and Big Joe Williams.

Join host Doug Crane on The Night Beat on Wednesday, June 2 at 8 pm when he’ll feature many of the recordings mentioned here.

For a far more authoritative essay about the life and legacy of Bob Koester, follow this link to the Block Club Chicago.

*Feature image of Bob Koester credit: William Ellis

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