The Independent Ear

Greg Osby on swimming the dangerous DIY waters

 

 

Greg Osby focuses his pragmatic view on entering the record business

 

Saxophonist-composer Greg Osby has recently taken his career into the dangerous waters of establishing and developing his own record label, Inner Circle (INCM).  Not only is he intent on swimming these shark-infested waters bearing his own records on his back, stroking furiously to the other side and ultimate success, he’s also nurturing the debut releases of several promising young artists along with him for the journey.  A few months back when he launched Inner Circle with a week of programs at the Jazz Standard in New York (the best place in town to combine serious jazz and fine dining), the erudite Mr. Osby waxed rhapsodic in his characteristic thoughtful manner on the launch between sets on the night promising young vocalist Sara Serpa was being introduced.  Clearly this demanded further communication and illumination, not only on the why and how of Inner Circle but also on how Osby’s past record label experiences are informing his new activities.

 

How would you characterize your personal experiences working with record companies?

 

GREG OSBY: I’ve had two major label associations — JMT/Polygram 1986-89, Blue Note Records 1990-2006.  I’m very fortunate that I didn’t have to jump around to a number of independent labels in my career.  My experiences have all been positive as I made sure to negotiate "hands-off" policies and clauses in each of my contracts.  I never cared to enter into agreements where I would be governed by representatives from a record company or would be expected to adhere to decisions that were not compatible with my artistic vision.  To date, I have always documented my works (for better or worse) as I had originally conceived them.  They haven’t always hit their mark, but they were honest.

 

What brought about the end of your relationship with Blue Note Records?

 

GO: I would characterize the end of that professional relationship to be similar to that of a marriage that had grown apart in terms of intent as well as communication.  CD sales were low and whenever I paid visits to the company, I didn’t feel that certain members of the staff were passionate enough about my music or creative direction.  In fact, I didn’t think that some of the newer employees there "got" or cared what I represented as an artist at all.  It simply became obvious to any alert observer that I had reached the end of the line and there was nothing more for me to offer there artistically or that could be done to satisfy their bottom line.  Also, the priorities there had shifted as a result of the success of some of their signed pop artists.  There was simply no way that a cat like me could compete with those kinds of numbers nor could they justify keeping me signed by contrast.  However I have absolutely no regrets.  Sixteen years at Blue Note is a healthy stretch by any measure and I’m proud to have contributed some of my best work to that amazing catalog.  I’ll always be grateful to Bruce Lundvall for his support.

 

Why have you determined to jump into the often treacherous waters of record company ownership yourself?

 

GO: Actually, I had set the wheels of independence in motion in my mind before my lengthy Blue Note tenure ended.  It simply became time for me to stop surrendering my best works to a battery of disinterested office workers and to work towards the production, promotion and total ownership of my projects myself.  No one is going to embrace the development and promotion of my music as passionately as I will, especially in the current marketplace.  No one wants to work that hard for something that they don’t fully believe in or understand.  So it was a timely dissolution and I like the idea of moving forward with projects without going through and enduring the channels of red tape.

 

What went into your planning for the launch of Inner Circle Music?

 

GO: I wanted to launch multiple releases simultaneously as opposed to a one-project independent label release.  Everyone seems to go that route [self-producing/releasing only their own recordings] and to me, owning a label where yours is the sole project isn’t really saying much these days because everyone has their own independent label.  Most artists can’t secure a major label deal anymore so their only alternative is to self-produce.  However, it’s infinitely more difficult to secure distribution without some sort of catalog.  Distribution companies will hardly consider a single project label at all.  This is why so many independents default to online download outlets; they can’t get anyone to sell their hardcopies anymore.

 

How did you make the determination to record and release the music of other, lesser-known young artists on Inner Circle — as opposed to some perhaps more established artists?

 

GO: Since the decline (or implosion) of the major jazz labels, very few new artists are being signed anymore.  Well, actually they ARE being signed to hack labels run by greedy mercenaries who shamelessly prey on desparate young players.  Many of these jack-legged labels are run by European so-called "producers" who descend on clubs in New York and indiscriminately offer contracts to anyone holding an instrument.  These contracts are morbidly one-sided in the favor of these companies, who never promote the product or the artists.  They build huge catalogs of cheaply produced projects, and later auction off the entire lot to the highest bidder.  Meanwhile, the artists continue to sign and volunteer themselves to getting ripped off.  It’s a continuation of the old model that will prevail as long as young players continue to be uninformed and desperate.  Fortunately I always keep my ear to the street in terms of knowing who’s making some noise and/or impact on the scene.  The clubs and schools are bursting at the seams with talent.  There’s definitely no shortage of amazing young players.   [Editor’s emphasis to further illustrate a point we’re constantly making to "old heads" who want to insist there’s some shortage of talented young musicians on the scene.]

 

Saxophonist Meilana Gillard launches her robust tone on Inner Circle

 

How did you go about selecting the artists for your initial release?

 

GO: I find artists either through recommendation or I have been aware of them for some time already.  For the first batch of releases, I wanted a select group of young thinkers who had a fully developed body of work pre-prepated.

 

Did they make these records on their own and bring you finished product to license or were you overseeing the process throughout?

 

GO: So far, we’ve been producing the completed works from start to finish.  Of course, I can’t do this indefinitely since some projects naturally do better than others in terms of sales and popularity.  I’d surely go broke by continuing to pay for everything.  So we are now considering some semi-completed or finished projects.

 

Greg Osby also provides a platform to the brainy Logan Richardson

 

There’s a lot more to running a record label and putting out records than just going into the recording studio and subsequently pressing finished products.  How are you managing the other, residual aspects of releasing records (distribution, publicity, etc.)?

 

GO: Everything at INCM is being run on a shoestring budget by a small army of employees and volunteers who all are in tune with the direction of the company and who all share an intense love for the music.  I have friends in various channels in the music business who have also been very instrumental in the building of our business.

 

In this digital age when some folks have begun releasing their recordings as purely computer-accessible products, why and how did you decide to go the hardcopy route instead of purely downloadable materials?

 

GO: We are doing both.  Many consumers rip newly bought CDs directly to their iPods or other listening devices and never play the CDs again, so it’s important to offer digital only product for those who don’t require hard copy product.

 

What’s next for Inner Circle Music?

 

GO: We are preparing for another round of releases, some by veteran artists on the current jazz scene.  This will give some much needed balance.  It was never our intention to exclusively offer only new artists.

 

Stay tuned…

Posted in Artist's P.O.V. | 12 Comments

Ancient Future – the radio program: 4/23/09 Playlist

Ancient Future airs Thursdays 5:00-8:00 a.m. as part of the Morning Jazz strip on WPFW 89.3 FM, Pacifica Radio serving the Washington, DC metro region @ 50,000 watts. Selections are listed in the following order: ARTIST  TUNE  ALBUM TITLE  LABEL

 

Theme: Randy Weston "Root of the Nile"

 

Anthology segment

George Russell

Honesty

Ezz-thetics

Riverside

 

Eric Dolphy

Yes Indeed

The Complete Prestige Recordings

Prestige

 

Duke Ellington

My Little Brown Book

Ellington Centennial (box)

RCA

 

Langston Hughes

Madame

Weary Blues

Verve

 

Joe Henderson

Nardis

The Milestone Years

Milestone

 

Bobby Hutcherson

Verse

Stick Up

Blue Note

 

Ray Brown (w/Nancy King)

Perfect Blues

Some of My Best Friends are Singers

Telarc

 

Eddie Harris

Born to Be Blue

Greater Than The Sum of His Parts

32 Jazz

 

Freddie Hubbard

Byrdlike

Rollin’

MPS

 

Herbie Hancock

Sly

Head Hunters

Columbia

 

John Boutte

Good Neighbor

Good Neighbor

Boutte

 

Gerald Wilson

Viva Tirado

Complete Pacific Jazz Recordings

Mosaic

 

Soundviews segment (new release of the week)

Pepe Gonzalez

Maria La Magnifica

Looking Back

Zangano Music

 

Pepe Gonzalez

Duke of Ellington

Looking Back

Zangano Music

 

Pepe Gonzalez

Picasso

Looking Back

Zangano Music

 

Pepe Gonzalez

Blues for Alfredo

Looking Back

Zangano Music

 

What’s New: the new release hour

Ravi Coltrane

Narcined

Blending Times

Savoy

 

Zap Mama

Togetherness

ReCreation

HeadsUp

 

Wynton Marsalis

First Time

He and She

Blue Note

 

Branford Marsalis

Samo

Metamorphosen

Marsalis Music

 

Madeline Eastman

Make Someone Happy

Can You Hear Me Now?

MadKat

 

Marshall Gilkes

Five Nights

Lost Words

Alternate Side

 

Eric Reed

Prayer

Stand

WJB

 

Theme: Jaco Pastorius "3 Views of a Secret"

 

further information: willard@openskyjazz.com

 

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Tri-C JazzFest ’09: Jazz Education schedule

The following is the jazz education component of the 30th annual Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland April 23-May 3, 2009.  For complete festival information please visit www.tricpresents.org.

 

 

Clinic Schedule
Tuesday, April 29, 2009 12:00-2:00 pm Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble

Oberlin College – Cat in the Cream coffeehouse

 

High School Performance Workshops Thursday, April 30th, 2009 Tri-C Metro Main Stage Theatre

 

Performance Time Ensemble Director

9:00-9:40am VHS Sailor Jazz Band Kurt Dieringer

9:45-10:25am Firestone Jazz Band Tom Weaver

10:30-11:10am Harvey H.S. Jazz Ensemble Andrew Boron

11:15-11:55am Maple Hts. H.S. Jazz Ensemble Nick Puin

1:00-1:40pm Arts Prep Jazz Ensemble Steve Enos

1:45-2:25pm Gold Tones Jazz Orchestra Chris DeMarco

2:30-3:10pm Smithville H.S. Jazz Ensemble Eric Larson
3:15-3:55pm Avon Lake Jazz Ensemble David Eddleman

4:00-4:40pm Settlement Jazz Orchestra Paul Ferguson

4:45-5:25pm Lakeland’s Jazz Impact Ed Michaels

 

Clinic Schedule Thursday, April 30th, 2009 Studio 10

 

Time Clinician

10:00-11:00am Bill Pierce (Berklee) Improv 101 and Practice

11:15am-12:15pm Ron Savage (Berklee) The Musical Drummer (drum students bring pad and brushes to clinic)

12:15-12:45pm Tri-C Jazz Studies Performance Combo-Ernie Krivda

12:30-1:30pm Bill Ransom/Jazz Meets Hip Hop: Fusing Creative Lyrics

1:45-2:45pm Bob Breithaupt (Capital) Jazz Drumming: History and Playing in Context
3:00-4:00pm Sean Jones (Duquesne) Goals & Focus: Maximizing Your Practice Time

 

High School Performance Workshops Friday, May 1, 2009 Tri-C Metro Main Stage Theatre

 

Performance Time Ensemble Director

9:00-9:40am Jackson Memorial M.S.-8th Gr Jazz Ensemble Donald Turoso

9:45-10:25am Brecksville-Broadview Hts H.S. Jazz Ensemble Ryan Nowlin

10:30-11:10am Brooklyn Jazz Ensemble Sean Sullivan

11:15-11:55am Crestwood H.S. Jazz I Kate Ferguson

1:00-1:40pm St. Ignatius H.S. Jazz Ensemble David Roth

1:45-2:25pm Lakeside HS/Dragon Jazz Ensemble Chuck Heusinger

2:30-3:10pm Lorain Admiral King Jazz Band Dustin Wiley

3:15-3:55pm Ashland H.S. Jazz Band Reed Chamberlin

4:00-4:40pm John Carroll University Jazz Band Martin Hoehler

4:45-5:25pm CMSS/Jazz @ the Settlement Ensemble Eric Gould

Clinic Schedule Friday, May 1, 2009 Studio 10

Time Clinician

10:00-11:00am Bill Pierce (Berklee) Improv 101 and Practice

11:15am-12:15pm Ron Savage (Berklee) The Musical Drummer (drum students bring pad and brushes to clinic)

12:15-12:45pm Tri-C Jazz Studies Performance Combo-Ernie Krivda

1:45-2:45pm Bob Breithaupt (Capital) Jazz Drumming: History and Playing in Context
3:00-4:00pm Dominick Farinacci The Recording Process: Preparation for a Successful Recording Session

*Please note that all schedules are subject to change

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African Rhythms anecdote #5: Tales of Randy Weston

The following is the fifth in our series of periodic anecdotes from African Rhythms, the forthcoming as-told-to autobiography of NEA Jazz Master Randy Weston by Willard Jenkins.  (For a related piece on the upcoming Festival Gnaoua (Gnawa) scroll down to "Hu-Ta-Nay" and "Big Chief" Set to take Morocco).

 

 

                Randy Weston and wife Fatoumata Mbengue

 

The Gnawa Connection

The Gnawa actually have a close kinship with African Americans; they’re our brothers and sisters.  Their ancestors came from the same region of Africa as the great majority of African American ancestors.  While our ancestors were brought to the Americas and the Caribbean aboard Atlantic slave ships on the Middle Passage, Gnawa ancestors were crossing the Sahara to North Africa in bondage.  Some of the same faces you see on the Gnawa in Morocco you see in the U.S. and you would never know the difference until they opened their mouths.  My Gnawa friend M’Barek Ben Outhman from Marrakech, who has made tours and records with me in recent times, could be a brother from Brooklyn, could be from Cleveland… until he starts to speak.  The physical characteristics of African Americans and the Gnawa are very close.

 

    I once met a Congolese filmmaker named Balufu Bakupa Kanyinda who insisted that the Gnawa story is the most important story in Africa to have been revealed to the rest of the world in the 20th century.  I asked him "what do you know about Gnawa, you’re from the Congo"?  He said "man, let me tell you, the story of the Gnawa migration to Morocco proves that black institutions, black civilizations were so powerful that even if we were taken away from our homeland, taken away as slaves, we created new civilizations."  That was also quite an interesting observation to me because when I first came to Morocco the Gnawa were viewed as street beggars, undesirables.  Moroccans initially tried to discourage me from having anything to do with Gnawa.  They’d ask me ‘what do you see in these people?’  Everywhere you go the black folks are always on the bottom.  But now the Moroccans are all touched by Gnawa; all the young, educated Moroccans are all influenced by Gnawa culture… black culture.  They’ve now seen the importance of Gnawa traditions to overall Moroccan culture.

 

    The way I met the Gnawa is in retrospect one of the many mysteries of life I’ve encountered along the way.  In 1968 my trio, with Ed Blackwell [drums] and Bill [Vishnu] Wood [bass], played a small performance at the American school [in Tangier, Morocco] where my children Pam and Niles attended.  I met one of the teachers there, a man whose name I forgot almost as quickly as I learned it and that’s where the mystery begins.  I only saw this man once after this initial encounter, yet he was very important as far as my introduction to Gnawa culture.  That day after our performance at the school this teacher came up to me, introduced himself, and said ‘Mr. Weston, I’ve heard you’re interested in traditional music.  You haven’t heard African music until you’ve heard the Gnawa.’  Needless to say he certainly got my attention with that comment.

 

    I told him yes, I was certainly interested in knowing more about these Gnawa people.  We arranged a time when he could come to my apartment and when he arrived he brought one of the Gnawa with him, Abdullah el-Gourde, who played the guimbre.  Abdullah and I have been connected ever since; he was the one who really introduced me to Gnawa culture and customs.  As for that mysterious teacher, neither Abdullah not I ever saw this man again, and neither of us can remember his name!

 

    At the time Abdullah worked for Voice of America radio in Tangier.  I’m not quite sure what he did there but he worked there for a long time and it was great because it gave him the opportunity to learn to speak English and learn something about American people.  He told me about the Gnawa and their lineage, their culture, and he would often mention their spiritual ceremonies which they call Lilas [lee-lah].  I became particularly intrigued by what little he told me of these Lilas and I really wanted to attend one purely to observe.  But at that time it was strictly taboo for so-called outsiders to attend these spiritual ceremonies, it was that deep.  But I was persistent and kept insisting that my only interest was as an observer, not as a participant.  Finally they relented and enabled me to attend a Lila.

 

    The Gnawa have a color chart and each of their songs has a corresponding color [editor’s note: the Gnawa color chart is being reproduced in the forthcoming book African Rhythms].  They have different rhythms for every color and each color represents a certain saint, a certain spirit and they consider some colors more dangerous than others.

 

 

Opening processional at the annual Festival Gnaoua (Gnawa) in Essaouira, Morocco  

 

  I remember very vividly an incident a friend told me about later regarding these colors.  My partner in Morocco, Absalom, told me a story about an encounter his wife Khadija had with Gnawa.  He said that what happens in Morocco, three days before the Muslim holy period of Ramadan, people with large houses give their homes over to the Gnawa so they can have their ceremonies, where they do their spiritual thing.  Absalom said that a long time ago this Gnawa man was in a trance and he was dancing to the music and spinning around and whatever the color was it was a very heavy color.  So whatever this guy was dancing to Absalom’s wife and little girl started laughing at this spectacle and the result was that his wife responds to the color yellow because of this incident!

 

    On another occasion after this yellow incident I was with Absalom and his wife, and the Gnawa were playing at my house.  There was another Moroccan guy there, a would-be flute player who had pulled out his instrument itching to play with the Gnawa.  This cat with the flute is one of those types of guys who have no talent, but he’d even go so far as to have the nerve to take out his flute and start playing if John Coltrane was onstage!  I warned him ‘man, don’t play that flute!’  So Absalom asks the Gnawa to play the color yellow for his wife Khadija, who was reclining on the couch nearby.  When the Gnawa played the color yellow all of a sudden a strange voice started coming out of Khadija, who is a very dainty woman.  This voice starts coming out of her and she says something to this wannabe flute player in Arabic.  Next thing I knew this cat grabbed his flute and started dashing for the door.  Whatever she said it was so powerful he had to split immediately!

 

Posted in Artist's P.O.V. | 1 Comment

Making a record? Word to the wise…

The digital age has figuratively opened the floodgates to myriad self-produced and even homemade recordings.  While this has been a blessing for many artists whose pockets aren’t deep and whose efforts at encouraging a contract from a record label, whether major label (the 2 or 3 that are left) or an independent, packaging standards seem to have been significantly lowered.  However the concern here is not packaging esthetics — as in art, rather the issue is the level of information that is provided.  Here are a few tips mainly from a radio programmer’s perspective but also from the perspective of being a presenter who requires a certain uniformity of information, and a writer seeking same.

 

For starters please give your recording a label name.  That seems like pure common sense but I can’t tell you the number of independent and artist-produced recordings that come out today sans a label name.  That ommission is ludicrious when you consider that one of the goals of releasing your own recording(s) is to build catalogue.  Building catalogue is a means of keeping your recordings in circulation and attracting the attention of those on the distribution end whose services you may require; and for the lucky ones it may eventually be the best means of recouping your investments in the marketplace.  Another of the elemental benefits of making sure you have a label imprimatur — even if it’s just your name (let’s say you call your label George Records) — is that your label name becomes another marketplace identifier; besides your name/band name and the title of the recording, your label name becomes another means for would-be consumers to seek out your recording, either online in search boxes or otherwise.  This one is truly a no-brainer, yet records keep rolling in from well-meaning, earnest artists that lack any label name or identifier.  And for goodness sakes make that label name clear, both on the disc, in the booklet, and on the jewel case spine, not something that we have to search high & low to locate; don’t forget, label names are also required in many playlist configurations.

 

Here’s a bit subtler avenue: Particularly the case with those recordings identified as falling somewhere in the jazz genre (sorry Gary Bartz, ancestor Max Roach, and all you other haters of that dreaded 4-letter term, I’m afraid we’re stuck with it), the surest avenue for radio airplay is through non-commercial public or community radio stations.  When’s the last time you heard a commercial jazz radio show, much less station?  I’m sure that many of you have never set foot in your local station that airs jazz music, or if you have it was purely for an interview or chat with a host and you probably didn’t take note of your friendly show host’s recordings resources. 

 

Many of these community or public radio stations (there’s a difference, look it up) do not stock a full-service library and those that endeavor to do so are plagued by rampant theft that at this point has become a kind of cruel inside joke.  Those of us who endeavor to bring you these radio programs are largely volunteers (don’t laugh, I know many such volunteer programmers who work as hard as if not harder than their salaried brethren at other stations to bring you excellent programming; believe me this pursuit is a passion).  As a result five-finger discounts are a fact of life where it concerns public and community radio station libraries.  The result is that at such stations it is customary for programmers to bring their own records to program (and keep that in mind when you’re pushing those promo records for airplay; in some places you’re better off specifically targeting your promos to those programmers who seem most likely to air your record AND sending a copy to the station’s program director).

 

Increasingly I’m seeing many of my radio colleagues eschew toting around all that plastic and instead of bringing however many entire CD packages it might take for their shows, some of us utilize those zip-up 3-ring binders with CD sleeves; so all we bring to our stations for our programs are the discs and the booklet… and some only bring the discs.  So it is very important when you package your CD to make the most pertinent information — primarily track and personnel listings — readily available.  And by readily I mean not just on the back of the jewel case in the insert but also in the booklet and even on the disc itself where possible.  Don’t forget to be kind to the eyesight as well — try to keep the type font for the pertinent information in a clearly legible size that takes into account those of us who are eyesight-challenged.  Words to the wise…

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