Workshop Jazz

(“The jazz one”)

**This is a discography for Workshop Jazz Records – other Motown labels are listed here. If you’re looking for a full list of every Motown single, try the Master Index instead!**

Along with Mel-o-dy, Divinity and the considerably more successful Gordy, Workshop Jazz was one of four Motown subsidiary labels founded by Berry Gordy Jr. during 1962.

Jazz music was close to Gordy’s heart; he had run a failed jazz record store in the mid-1950s prior to founding Motown, and the studio band that became the Funk Brothers contained a number of experienced jazz musicians corraled by Gordy. The Workshop Jazz label was intended to release jazz sides with a pop/soul bent, material which didn’t “fit” on the other Motown labels’ rosters but which was still more accessible than the material being released on pure straight jazz labels. The imprint would also serve as a kind of release valve for Motown’s studio musicians to flex their muscles and let off steam by releasing jazz albums under their own names, something which would be impossible elsewhere in the Motown stable.

To this end, A&R director Mickey Stevenson – then one of Motown’s top writers and producers – was tabbed to run the new division, and a few singles were released or pressed up as promos between May 1962 and February 1963 (six in all, with a seventh being canned). None made any kind of impact, jazz not being especially well suited to the short duration of an early-Sixties 45 rpm 7″ single, and the label stuck solely to albums from then on, releasing a number of LPs before closing its doors in 1964.

All of the singles ever released by Workshop Jazz Records have now been covered on Motown Junkies. Click a title from the list below to find out more about each one.


(Click a song title to read a full review of that side. NB: The coloured numbers after each title indicate the highly subjective mark out of ten I gave that song on the day I happened to write about it. They weren’t intended to be taken too seriously.)

5 thoughts on “Workshop Jazz”

  1. Robb Klein said:

    Jazz singles were almost NEVER pressed up as an effort to make money for a record company. They were basically a way for the listening public to get an idea of the sound of Jazz artists’ current release, in order for the record company’s current album on that artist to be plugged. Album sales was their ultimate goal. A high-selling “leader” 45 was just a little gravy for their steak. This was true for Motown as well. The fact that Motown stopped their 45 Jazz releases was probably more due to the fact that they got virtually no airplay, than their lack of sales revenue. No sense in wasting money on making special shortened tape cuts for 45s, paying record pressing money, special mastering costs for 45 versions, and paying promotion money for the 45s, when they weren’t doing their job plugging forthcoming albums. Unfortunately, the albums direct marketing had no better effect, also getting no airplay, and no sales again resulted, limiting Workshop Jazz mainly and merely to a curiosity for Jazz and Motown fans.


    • You’re absolutely right, of course, and bang on the money as far as why Workshop Jazz failed, but I’d also add in another complicating factor. Some of these WJ cuts – the Diamonds, “Falling In Love With Love”, anything on the Tops’ “Breaking Through” – are very much pop records rather than excerpts from more serious jazz suites, such that if they’d been released on Motown or Tamla rather than WJ they wouldn’t have attracted too many raised eyebrows. I can’t help but wonder whether Motown, away from their R&B/pop radio “home turf”, fell into the trap of trying to market these singles as, well, singles, rather than glorified LP promos?


  2. Dan Nooger said:

    Hi, I was directed to your superb site by Sppntabeous Lunacy. Regarding your write up on Workshop Jazz, the one real classic from WJ was the album Pepper Adam’s Plays Comppsitions of Charlie Mingus (Mingus himself was in the studio – it was reciorded in NYC in 1963 – and helped with the arrangements although he did not play bass on the album. Various jazz reissue labels have kept it in print right up to this day, I am a jazz fan as well as Motown lover – I contributed the Detroit and Philadelphia chapters to Blackwell’s Guide to Soul Recprdings,


    • what about Roy Brooks’ Beat from 1964? Classic status! Blue Mitchell and Junior Cook blowing, Hugh Lawson on piano, lots of soulful jazz compositions on this grooving record. I would add this to the list here!


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