As a student at Howard University in 2010, composer Jonathan Bingham attended a small chamber music concert by “The President’s Own” United States Marine String Quartet with about 40 other audience members. On the program was the 1st movement of a string quartet by the late composer Mark Fax (1911-1974). A private recording of the concert was made by Howard and shared with Bingham and other composition students and faculty.

Over the succeeding years, Bingham would listen to the 2010 recording file on his laptop. As time wore on, he soon realized that this particular work was yet unheard by broader classical music audiences. Most importantly, it was unavailable to stream to digital audiences, a necessary component for reaching new listeners. Bingham felt it would be a disservice if he and his cohorts from the 2010 concert at Howard would someday pass on, never having shared this remarkable music to a new generation. He wondered who might take on the task of producing this music for new audiences.

“Life happens, you put it off…who knows what can happen?” he wonders out loud, thinking of how the work could have been lost entirely.

By then living in LA, Bingham realized after speaking with colleagues, that he was the only one who possessed a recording of that 2010 performance. So he realized “that person is me.”

This realization led him to create Cool Story Records. The label aims to produce a studio recording of the complete 3 movement string quartet of Fax, and Fax’s works for other instruments and voice, as well as unheard works of two of Fax’s students: the living composers Dorothy Rudd Moore and Adolphus Hailstork.

Bingham’s rescue of Fax’s music isn’t the first time the late composer’s works were in jeopardy of being lost.

Shortly after Fax’s death in 1974, a custodian at Howard was tasked with cleaning up the composer’s office. He mistakenly grabbed what appeared to be a large stack of paper and tossed it into a garbage bin. The bundle turned out to be scores written by Fax. They were spotted by then Department Chair George Winfield, who realized they were Fax’s music. Winfield ended up retrieving them just in time. It was several years later when Dr. Mickey Thomas Terry (adjunct professor of organ at Howard) recounted this amazing story to Bingham.

Though the Fax scores were salvaged, for the most part much of the music was “just sitting around,” says Bingham. A few choral works were performed in D.C. and a a few others made their way to Georgetown University. Eventually they fell into the hands of Howard professors in 2010, the same year Bingham attended the chamber music concert.

Cool Story Records hopes to raise enough funds to produce a professional studio recording of the Fax string quartet. The cost of such an endeavor would be about $25,000 to allow for necessary rehearsal time for the musicians, the cost of studio space, and recording engineers. A more limited option Bingham says is $15,000, which could suffice if several adjustments were made to time and space, and finally $12,000 may be suit “in a time crunch.”

For now, Bingham has agreed to dedicate all of the proceeds from the sale of his own works to fund the label’s first recording: the complete 3 movement Fax quartet. Included on this same album will be a quartet of Rudd Moore’s, and lesser known works of Hailstork’s. In time, Cool Story Records plans to publish analytical texts, a biography of Fax, and possibly film and other related media. Bingham says this is the key to ensuring audiences understand a more nuanced portrait of each of the composers.

“If we can find a way to relate to [listeners] outside of the music, then we can really make the connection to the music.”

Fax’s son and family have given their blessing to the Cool Story Records project and have been in communication with Bingham. They are eagerly awaiting the recordings.

About Jonathan Bingham:
Over the last decade, composer Jonathan Bingham has been recognized for his use of electronic and acoustic instrumentation. He’s composed music for film, advertisements, and has received commissions to write for numerous ensembles. Jonathan received the Vincent C. LaGuardia Award in composition leading to a residency with the Arapahoe Philharmonic in 2016. Over the following several years, he premiered five orchestral works and obtained a subsequent residency with the Boulder Symphony. 

Through his collaborations with filmmakers, dancers, and painters, he has had work premiered internationally in concert halls, cinemas, galleries, and playhouses. Recent commissions include SOLOS for the Carpe Diem String Quartet, Tautology for the Chicago Philharmonic, and a work for the Emerging Black Composers Project—an initiative by the San Francisco Conservatory and San Francisco Symphony. In addition, he has created original scores for over a dozen film productions which have premiered in festivals such as the New York Film Festival, Rome International Film Festival, and BFI London Film Festival among others. Recently, he has been invited to lecture on concert and film music at Fayetteville State University, the School of Visual Arts, and the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University. 

Holding degrees in composition from Howard University and New York University, Jonathan studied with Anthony Randolph, Chinyerem Ohia, and Justin Dello Joio. His most recent project is Cool Story—a platform researching scores and producing recordings of lesser known music.