Cuneiform Records, a Silver Spring based recording label, has been producing award winning Avant- garde music for 33 years.
Most recently the label has produced America’s National Parks by Wadada Leo Smith. The album was voted DownBeat International Critics’ Poll Jazz Album of the Year, appeared number two on NPR’s Jazz Critics Poll, and appeared in the New York Times’ Best Albums of 2016. Smith was also recently named Musician of the Year in the Jazz Journalist Association’s 21st Annual Jazz Awards. Cuneiform has also released approximately 450 recordings since its founding.
Cuneiform Records chooses, “music that explores, expands, redefines and/or transcends the traditional boundaries of musical genres,” says Joyce Nalewajk Feigenbaum, director of Publicity & Promotion—and The founder’s wife.
Steven Feigenbaum founded Cuneiform Records in 1984. A native Washingtonian, he grew up listening to freeform radio during the 1970s, which exposed him to progressive music. Later he became a board member for one of D.C.’s first DIY record labels, Random Radar. He went on to found Wayside Music, a mail order store that imported/exported daring music from small labels in 1980.
“This was before the Internet and even fax machines, when international commerce for small business wasn’t commonplace… after working with independent labels worldwide via Wayside, Steve started his own record label,” says Feigenbaum.
Steven Feigenbaum controls whom they sign and those artists’ releases. Their first release was Stevie Moore’s LP What’s The Point?!!. When Feigenbaum signs artists he agrees to release one of their recordings. Cuneiform has talent from all over the world, so artists record their tracks near their homes and send it to Feigenbaum. He then handles the recordings, their packaging, and distributes them worldwide. Simultaneously Joyce Feigenbaum and her Publicity and Promotions’ Department work to promote each album.
“While major labels select music based primarily (and sometimes entirely) on its sales potential, Steve considers the music quality first, and its sales potential second… we’re known in the industry for our honesty and professionalism,” says Joyce.
Initially Cuneiform Records was started in Silver Spring because of Feigenbaum’s roots, but it has stayed in Silver Spring due to the burgeoning globalization in the area. The label has collaborated with not only international artists, but also international embassies. Their artists have performed at the French, Finnish, Swedish, and British embassies.
D.C. has also welcomed their talent with open arms. Feigenbaum sites Songbyrd, Black Cat, and Rhizome as venues that present interesting and unique music equivalent to Cuneiform’s artists. Many of their artists have played in these venues and venues alike as a result.
“Everyone involved in presenting, creating, supporting, and releasing Avant music in D.C. knows and cares about each other; it’s a warmly supportive environment, marked by mutual respect and a lot of collaboration,” says Feigenbaum.