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What’s In A Name: Cuneiform

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Curious about the name of a small, imaginative jazz record company called Cuneiform, I asked Joyce Feigenbaum, the company’s publicist, who is married to the owner, how the label’s name came about.

This is her reply:

I’m actually an art historian by academic training (B.A. & M.A.), not an archeologist, a modernist. BUT I’m not the one who came up with the name–Steve Feigenbaum, Cuneiform’s owner and founder, did. Here’s how it happened. Steve wanted a different, a distinctive, name—not something typical. Cuneiform is certainly not typical. (In retrospect, maybe an “easier” one-syllable name would have been better. We both admired ancient Middle Eastern art. Cuneiform is one of the earliest systems of writing, or of recording information. It was developed by the Sumerians in Ancient Mesopotamia around 3500 BC, and was a radical innovation in the ancient world. Unlike pictorial languages, it was phonetic and semantic and thus capable of expressing abstract concepts. Music is recorded information. And we wanted our label to record radically innovative music. So, naming the label after Cuneiform seemed fitting.

It broke my heart that most people did not know what the word Cuneiform referred to until Iraq was in the news following the US invasion.


Cuneiform’s artists tend toward the adventurous, to say the least. Tend toward, hell; they are adventurous. Among those who have recorded for the label are trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, pianist Vijay Iyer, guitarist Mary Halvorson and John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quartet. Here is “Crops” from a Cuneiform album by the quartet called Ideal Bread, reinterpreting the music of the late soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy. The musicians are Josh Sinton, baritone saxophone; Kirk Knuffke, cornet;Adam Hopkins, bass; and Tomas Fujiwara, drums.

For more about the label, go here.

For more about the history of Cuneiform writing, go here.

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This story appears courtesy of Rifftides by Doug Ramsey.
Copyright © 2017. All rights reserved.

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