About Joachim “Jochen” Becker
Family History

Jochen was born into a highly musical family in 1950 in Bielefeld, Germany. His paternal grandmother Sophie Becker – Andreae (1882 – 1970) was a brilliant Classical pianist and chamber musician. As a little girl, she was permitted to play for famous German romantic composer Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897). As a teenager, she then became a masterclass student of a student of Brahms, piano virtuoso and composer Frederic Lamond (1868 – 1948), in Geneva, Switzerland with whom she studied the great concert works by Schumann, Chopin and Brahms. Later, after marrying Frankfurt banker Alexander Becker (1879 – 1938), she primarily played private concerts with family members – a string quartet consisting of her husband on viola, son Jochen and daughter Gertrud on violins, and son Guenther on violoncello. She also occasionally accompanied German composer and amateur violist Franz Hindemith (1895 – 1963).

Jochen’s father, Dr Guenther Becker (1910 – 1990) was a gifted amateur cellist and double bass player. Many of Jochen’s formative musical experiences were the regular Wednesday night musical gatherings of his father’s string quartet at the Becker home in Bielefeld in the late 1950s and 60s. Over the several decades of its existence, the players sight-read their way, with only minimal prior rehearsals, through the entire Classical and Romantic string quartet and occasional quintet literature of works by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Dvorak and others.

1950s – 60s in Germany

Jochen’s musical instrument education started at the age of five, with recorder lessons, to be followed later by piano, clarinet and drums. While not reaching concert level on any of these instruments, Jochen had a brief career as a child theater actor from 1962 – 64, performing speaking childrens’ roles in theater plays by Friedrich Duerrenmatt, Edward Albee, and Henrik Ibsen at the local Bielefeld Municipal Theater.

As a teenager in the mid-1960s, Jochen got swept up in the rapidly evolving “Classic” Rock scene in Germany, attending concerts by many of the greatest live performing acts at the time, including The Beatles (their final tour), the Rolling Stones (still with Brian Jones), Cream, Jimi Hendrix, the Pretty Things, and others. In the summer of 1967, experiencing sort of the London equivalent of the San Francisco “Summer of Love”, Jochen stayed for five weeks as a “paying guest” with a family in Hornchurch in the outskirts of London, taking in the almost unbelievable richness of live performances there by Cream and Jimi Hendrix (again), Pink Floyd, the Jeff Beck Group with their new vocalist Rod Stewart, John Mayall, Eric Burdon & The Animals, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, and several others.

Regarding Arthur Brown – Jochen witnessed the rather incredible spectacle of the singer’s head catching fire on stage while he was performing his single big hit “Fire”. Apparently his hat contraption containing lighter fuel unexpectedly blew up ….Little did Jochen know that almost exactly 40 years later, in 2007, he was going to sign Arthur to the then-new ZOHO ROOTS imprint to release his great comeback album “The Voice of Love”.

1967 also allowed Jochen to meet some of his Rock idols personally, presenting himself as a reporter for his school newspaper from Bielefeld, Germany. In this fashion, Jochen spoke with Jimi Hendrix’s drummer Mich Mitchell whom Jochen found lying completely exhaustedly in their tour bus after a gig of the Jimi Experience. In London, Jochen sat down, microphone and portable tape recorder in hand, with singer Eric Burdon in a Rock club called the Uppercut where he was performing with The Animals. Eric had just returned from San Francisco, describing to a barely comprehending Jochen how he had discovered certain mind altering drugs there.

Immediately following his 20 minutes with Eric, he introduced Jochen to a member of the Beach Boys who was in the audience – Bruce Johnston. He initially did not understand the incredible courtesy and respect which Bruce treated him with – it turned out he had misheard Jochen’s reporter credentials which were with his school paper SERMO (= Latin for “talk”) – whereas Bruce understood BRAVO which was the leading German teen magazine at the time.

1970s in Germany

Inspired by his participation in a local concert performance in the boys’ choir in Bach’s St Matthew Passion in 1961, Jochen developed a love for choral concert singing, and he joined the Philharmonic Choir Berlin – while being a student of business administration at the Technical University of Berlin . Under its long time conductor, Prof Hans Chemin-Petit (1902 – 1981), Jochen studied, rehearsed and was permitted to perform as a choral singer some of the great works of the Baroque and Romantic choral repertoire, including Bach’s St John Passion, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, Brahms’ German Requiem and Verdi’s Requiem, the latter in a stellar performance with soloists of La Scala Milan, and the mighty Berlin Philharmonic, in 1974.

Upon graduating with a “Diplom-Kaufmann” degree (equivalent to an M.B.A.) in 1975, Jochen moved to Düsseldorf for his first professional job as an account executive at a large ad agency. He soon joined the Chor Des Städtischen Musikvereins zu Düsseldorf (Düsseldorf Municipal Choral Society) which at the time was planning a series of joint concerts with the New Philharmonia Choir of London. Over a period of two years, Jochen had the extraordinary opportunity to participate in several performances of Gustav Mahler’s Eighth Symphony (“Symphony of a Thousand”) in France, Belgium and Germany, under three different world class conductors Vaclav Neumann, the young (then) Michael Tilson Thomas, and Bernhard Klee.

1980s and early 1990s in the US and Hong Kong

In 1980, Jochen decided to emigrate to the United States, as result of a fortuitous confluence of events – after having fallen in love during a 1978 Acapulco, Mexico vacation with a lovely Puerto Rican beauty named Iris (who lived in New York), and as result of having gotten a transfer from his Dusseldorf employer at the time, a company named Life Savers, to their corporate headquarters in Manhattan, with a green card and option to stay in the U.S.

Jochen’s performing career as an amateur chorister continued just a little bit longer in New York, where he joined the Greek Choral Society in Manhattan for performances of Orff’s Carmina Burana, and Berlioz’s massive Requiem – the latter in a memorable concert at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall (now renamed David Geffen Hall) under Greek maestro Dino Anagnost.

The next few years in Jochen’s life were dominated less by music, but by getting married to Iris in 1983, starting a family with eventually four sons, getting another transfer from an employer to an international marketing job to Hong Kong in 1990, and returning to New York in 1992.

The 1990s until 2003 – Jochen’s initial work in the music industry

Following a brief stint as an international marketing consultant for wine and distilled spirits giant Seagram from 1992 to 1993, the time was finally right for Jochen to start his own business in the music industry. In May 1993, Jochen hung out his shingle as a music marketing consultant for medium sized corporations who wanted to use custom CDs and audio tapes as promotional giveaways for their mostly upscale products. For several years, Jochen designed – mostly in collaboration with major record companies Polygram (now Universal) and EMI – custom CD products for clients such as the Robert Mondavi Winery, Pepperidge Farm, Rizzoli Bookstores, Krups cappuccino machines, Domecq Importers and others.

In addition, Jochen started working as an independent producer for mostly classical budget labels such as Naxos, Discover International, Vox and others. One of these projects made it into the Billboard budget classical charts to # 7 in late 1997, a classical musical “Tribute to Princess Diana”, to be followed by a bestselling album featuring the music as heard on the “Titanic” in 1998, coinciding with the successful motion picture of the same title at the time.

However, in spite of these successes, the writing was on the wall: opportunities to profitably selling recording masters of Classical music to indie labels were rapidly declining by the late 1990s. Realizing this – Jochen and his business partner at the time decided, “if we can’t sell the music we feel needs to be heard, to labels, let’s start our own label!”

In the year 2000, they rustled together some start up funds from friendly investors, and new indie label KHAEON was born, featuring an eclectic mix of latin jazz, straightahead jazz and classical releases.

Why Latin Jazz? “My family life has something to do with it,” Jochen observes. I was lucky to have married into a vibrant, lively Puerto Rican family. From one day to the next, I had 22 Hispanic in-laws, uncles, aunts, nephews and nieces. Among many other things, they taught me Caribbean culture, foods and music such as being able to reliably differentiate between salsa, merengue, bachata, reggaetón, bolero and other musical forms.”

In retrospect, Jochen remembers, “nobody teaches you how to run a record label. You learn the business by doing it. The opportunities to make mistakes are many: not watching your bottom line, wrong selection of artists, distributors, poor package design, a label name nobody knows how to pronounce etc. Most small indie labels don’t make it past their one-year anniversary. We did. By 2003, we had built a catalog of 22 CD releases, including projects by latin artists Pablo Ziegler, Carlos Barbosa-Lima, Bobby Sanabria and classical artist Anthony Newman.”

In 2003, the partners decided to separate due to differences of opinion over the future direction of the label. The Khaeon company remained with Jochen’s partner, but unfortunately went out of business almost immediately after Jochen left.

The ZOHO years part one: 2003 to 2010

Following a thorough business review, and analysis of what worked and what didn’t with Khaeon, Jochen founded his new label ZOHO in September 2003 as a single member limited liability company (L.L.C.) – this time without a partner, and with a (minimal) start-up capital of $ 11,000.

While Khaeon had still been somewhat un-focused in its creative concept and repertoire philosophy, ZOHO started with the vision of presenting a latin / jazz label with a distinctive “New York vibe” – listen to any group of ZOHO releases, and you’ll hear what’s presently new, fresh and happening in the New York clubs. Hence the label name ”ZOHO” – an intentional misspelling of “SOHO” – the Manhattan district with the vibrant club scene that are home base for many of ZOHO’s artist. (The ZOHO spelling also made the label name trademarkable – ZOHO now owns its name trademark.)

Most Khaeon latin jazz artists ended up following Jochen into his new venture ZOHO, and as a result, ZOHO had a surprisingly strong first year, with 14 new releases during 2004.

Already in 2004, Jochen was able to sign up the Allegro Corporation from Portland OR as its North American distributor – at the time one of the leading indie label distributors in the country. Things started to solidify pretty quickly for ZOHO, and the label achieved its first Latin Grammy win in 2005 with the Pablo Ziegler Trio in the Tango category!

Also in 2005, Jochen started what developed into a long-lasting business relationship and friendship with French born, but New York domiciled pianist/composer Roger Davidson. During the same year, the two founded a recorded music production company named Becker-Davidson Entertainment L.L.C. whose goal was to finance, produce and release significant recording projects, primarily in the Latin Jazz, Blues and Classic Rock categories.

What then followed from 2006 to 2008 can be truthfully described as an early “Golden Age” for the ZOHO label: over a period of two years, the two partners produced a total of 12 CDs with an impressive track record: a Latin Grammy nomination in the Best Instrumental Album category with the legendary conguero Ray Barretto with “Standards Rican-ditioned” in 2006, and one Grammy win in the Traditional Blues category with R & B and Blues icon Ike Turner’s CD “Risin’ with the Blues”, in 2007. The story of Ike Turner’s triumphant return and win at the Grammys in 2007 (after having won the Best R & B Song category with the song “Proud Mary” with Tina Turner in 1973) made headline news around the world. At the time, ZOHO also enjoyed un-precedented media coverage well beyond jazz magazines and blogs, with reviews and features in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly, and Rolling Stone Magazine.
Although the Becker – Davidson Entertainment production unit came to an end in 2007 after its 12 CD productions, the partners and friends continued to collaborate by signing a sub-distribution deal for Roger’s label Soundbrush Records which gave Soundbrush access to ZOHO’s distributor, the Allegro Corporation.

It is with great gratitude that Jochen acknowledges the invaluable contributions of the many artists who provided the initial scaffolding and long term artistic credibility of the label in its first seven years of its existence, including Carlos Barbosa-Lima, Dafnis Prieto, Arturo O’Farrill, Pablo Aslan, Hendrik Meurkens, Duduka Da Fonseca, Dave Liebman, Pablo Ziegler, and many others.
Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra won ZOHO’s second Grammy with its release “Song for Chico” in 2009. The Havana String Quartet earned its Latin Grammy win in the Best Classical Album category in with works by Cuban composer Leo Brouwer in 2010 – the second Latin Grammy for ZOHO, after Pablo Ziegler in 2005.

The ZOHO years part two: 2011 until the present

In 2012, ZOHO as able to celebrate the milestone of its 100th CD release – a fabulous Brazilian Samba Jazz set by Hendrik Meurkens and Gabriel Espinosa, named “Celebrando”, featuring Anat Cohen and Antonio Sanchez.

In January 2014, ZOHO moved its entire foreign international physical goods CD business to Planetworks in Pennsylvania, relieving Jochen of the stress of shipping, invoicing, and chasing receipts of payments separately for about a dozen foreign distributors and importers.

In February 2014, Arturo O’Farrill and the Chico O’Farrill Afro Cuban Orchestra won the label’s third Latin Grammy with its release “Final Night at Birdland” from 2013.

2016 brought some serious storm clouds to ZOHO’s survival: its long-term physical goods distributor Allegro went unexpectedly out of business. ZOHO became part of a consortium of Allegro-distributed labels which eventually forced Allegro into involuntary bankruptcy in 2017. ZOHO, together with hundreds of other indie labels, suffered financial losses as result of several months of unpaid sales to Allegro, but was at least able to retrieve parts of its label-owned consignment inventory which was held by the bankruptcy court.

But – eternal and incorrigible optimist Jochen is – there were luck and good news for ZOHO in spite of the Allegro misery: the label’s digital sales were entirely untouched by Allegro’s bankruptcy, as they were completely reliably handled by CD Baby since 2004. The other good news were that Jochen was able to find an excellent new physical goods distributor for ZOHO quickly with the MVD Entertainment Group in Pennsylvania in late 2016. By the time, ZOHO’s foreign distributor Planetworks had already merged with MVD, and practically all ZOHO needed to do was add the USA and Canada to MVD’s sales territory.

In 2017 and 2018, ZOHO again scored twice at the Grammys, with a nomination for its CD release Trio Da Paz “30” in 2017, and a win with Pablo Ziegler for his album “Jazz Tango” in 2018. In September 2018, Jochen’s ZOHO label also scored again in the Latin Grammys, achieving a nomination with its release “Vigor Tanguero” by Argentinian bassist/composer Pedro Giraudo, in the BEST TANGO ALBUM category.