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RIP, BOB KOESTER

Bob Koester, who died Wednesday at 88, ran one of the best independent record stores in the country from the 1950s into the early 2000s, Chicago’s Jazz Record Mart, and, through his label Delmark, chronicled Chicago’s thriving blues scene and nascent free jazz movement in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Between 1966 and 1968, he recorded and issued debut albums by Junior Wells (the landmark Hoodoo Man Blues), Magic Sam (the influential West Side Soul) Roscoe Mitchell (Sound), Joseph Jarman (Song For) and Muhal Richard Abrams (Levels and Degrees of Light). He also reissued Sun Ra’s self-released debut from 1957, Sun Song, and provided an unofficial label home for the Chicago-based Association for the Advancement of Colored Musicians. He wasn’t necessarily a fan of the music—he just felt it needed to be recorded.

“Delmark was premature in the blues market,” Koester told Phil Gallo and Gary Calamar in their book Record Store Days. “There wasn’t much reason to do it other than I thought it ought to be recorded.”

In 2018, he sold the label and its subsidiaries, which released more than 500 albums and stayed true to its mission to showcase blues and adventurous jazz musicians such as Nicole Mitchell and Fred Anderson.

Koester, a fan of early 20th-century jazz who opened his first record shop in St. Louis in the early 1950s, moved to Chicago in 1958 and opened the first Jazz Record Mart. The store would move several times prior to his shutting it in 2016, then promptly opening Bob’s Blues & Jazz Mart, a store his son now runs.

Legend has it that Koester once threw an unruly James Osterberg out of the store, referring to him and his friends as “stooges.” Osterberg would become Iggy Pop and… well, you know the rest.

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