Interview by Cathy Genovese

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in the Washington, D.C. area through high school, and then went to college in Illinois.

How old were you when you knew you wanted to be in the music business?

I would say by the time I reached high school. I was a drummer and I wanted play drums for a living, which I ended up doing for a long time.

What was your first real gig?

The first real gig was with a guy named Jim Stafford. He was sort of a country/comedy type guy who had a couple of really big hits in the early '70s. One was called "Spiders and Snakes," one was "The Wild Wood Weed," and a few other ones—kind of funny, novelty-type stuff. He was very popular for a while.

How did you get it?

When I moved to L.A., I played in a lot of Big Band stuff around town, and one of the bands was at L.A. City College. On Thursday nights they would rehearse there. It was mostly players from around town, session players that would come. One of the guys in the band, a sax player, came up to me after the rehearsal and said that he was a good friend with Jim Stafford. He said he was looking for a drummer and set up an audition for me.

Why jazz?

As a kid I got into Jazz and I had one of these high school band directors that was one of those Mr. Holland's Opus-type guys. His name is George Horan - somebody you'll remember all your life kind of guy, really life-affecting. He was a trumpet player and I just always thought it was so cool that if Nancy Wilson came to town, he would be on the gig playing trumpet. That was when I think I got the bug about Jazz. He would give me records, and we had a really good Jazz band at the high school. Then I went to a college in Illinois, Milliken University, which had a great Jazz band. I was just really involved in that the whole time, but I also always loved rock music and all kinds of music. I was in a rock band in college too. I had both things going on all the time, and it just continued growing.

So how did you get started on the business side of it?

In 1990, I had been playing with Barry Manilow for 10 years. It was a great gig. Along the way I had a family, so after 10 years I really was thinking about what else I could do where I wouldn't have to go on the road so much. I didn't know how to do anything except play drums, so I was concerned.

Also, I should say that along the way I had a Jazz-fusion band called Uncle Festive. This band was basically the rhythm section of Manilow's band, but we did our own records and played gigs. The manager of this group at this time, Ted Cohen—who now is at EMI, I think—suggested I talk to a guy named Jim Snowden who had a label called Mesa/ Bluemoon. It was kind of a new label, and he was looking for someone to be a booking agent. So I said, "I could do that" since I had booked all the gigs for the Jazz group. So he set up a get-together with Jim and me and he offered me a job for about a third of the money I was making playing drums for Barry Manilow... and I took it. I thought, "Hey, this could be a shot."

That turned into doing radio promotion for the label, which went on to become part of Atlantic Records. Then based on the work I did in radio promotion at Mesa/Bluemoon, I was approached by Verve to come on with them as a radio promotion guy. Verve was a division of Polygram. After a few years, there was a big merge of Polygram and Universal. Universal's Jazz label was GRP so they were going to be merging Verve and GRP. Since GRP already had a great promotions staff, I figured I'd be out. Fortunately for me, the chairman of GRP at the time, Tommy LiPuma, who is a very world-renowned producer and A&R guy, approached me. We talked and spent some time together, and he and President Ron Goldstein basically offered me this chance to do A&R.

So what's a typical day in the life of a Jazz A&R person?

There really is no typical day and I think that's maybe what I really love about it. When I was doing radio promotion, I'd have to be in the office by 8 a.m. because I'd be calling radio stations in the East and there would be certain times when I could catch these guys. I had to get there and get on the phone, or I'd miss them. Now I spend my time either at recording studios, meeting with managers, meeting with artists or going out to hear music, and quite a bit of time at the office. But I don't really have a set time I have to be there at the office. It's a much looser kind of environment.

Are you listening mainly to artists that you're already working with, or do you listen to a lot of new music?

It's a combination of both. It depends on the time frame. If I'm gearing for a record to start, then I'm going to be submerged in the songs that we're going for, for the project and working with the producer or the artist if I happen to be producing or co-producing. I do get locked into the project at the time. But, if I'm between projects, that's the time that I'll use more for listening to things that have been sent to me.

Do you accept unsolicited material?

We're not supposed to but if it's anything that has been suggested to me by a manager that I work with, or an attorney that I know or whatever, I'll always listen to it.

So how do you mainly find new talent, then, other than that path with people you know or work with?

I'd have to say that that path may be the main way—suggestions from either a manager or an attorney. Or maybe a radio guy in another city might say, "Hey, you've got to check this out' - a local musician - and then I will go out to clubs around town. There aren't a lot of Jazz clubs for the up-and-coming. In Los Angeles, the known Jazz clubs like the Jazz Bakery or Catalina or Baked Potato seem to be geared more toward nationally booked acts. I'll go to the Temple Bar sometimes and there's the Little Temple now over near Silver Lake. There's a place called Café Cordiale in Sherman Oaks. So, yeah, I'll go out, especially if someone suggests that I check something out.

Is it easier for musicians to be session musicians rather than to become artists themselves? It seems like the market would be wider for jazz session musicians or for touring with Kenny G or whoever.

As far as being a professional player and making a living at it? Yeah, especially in a town like L.A. or New York, you get sort of categorized as a "musician". Guys will become known as, "Oh, he's a guy that plays casuals," which are weddings and bar mitzvahs, etc., or "He's a guy that goes on the road," or "He's a guy that does studio work," or TV shows, or movie stuff, or "He's a guy that plays on records." You get somehow pegged in a way.

For people who want to do that, because they obviously want to make a living, is it hard to cross over to become an artist?

I think it depends on how long you wait to try that. It's a lot harder if you're in your forties. If you decide to do it at a younger age, you have a better shot at it. That's probably true in any genre of music, really.

What happens with me a lot is that I'll get a CD from a musician friend from my playing days who has made a Smooth Jazz record. So I'll play it, and it has all the elements that fit that style of music, but there's nothing about it that stands out and makes it special. That's the criteria. That's the hard part, especially in that format of music. There's so much generic music that gets played on the radio because it does fit all the elements that they look for, but to the listener in their car, it's just sort of background music. But every once in a while there will be... We have a young sax player named Mindi Abair, and she's had great success in this format because her songs, when they get played on the radio, they stand out. She's sort of created a combination of Pop and Alternative and Jazz. She came up with something that was unique.

So would you say then that when you're looking for new talent, that you're looking for something that just strikes you and stands out, or are you looking for a package with star quality?

Well, you know what? That's all part of it. In Jazz, sometimes, I know people have a tendency to think that if they're just a great player then that's all they need. But it's still show business. Just like today at the Road Rally panel, I heard something that was played and my comment was, "This is something that in hearing this, or if I got it in my office and heard it, I'd want to know more about the person, who happened to be a vocalist." It's one thing to hear something that catches your ear, "You know, this is pretty good. Let's see if there's something there."

Like, Jamie Cullum, he's a twenty-something guy. He's amazing. He comes out and he's got jeans on and a T-shirt. He looks like an Alternative Rock guy, but when he sits down, he can burn on the piano. He plays great Jazz piano, and he has a very cool, distinctive vocal style. The last time I saw him here was at the House of Blues, and I'd say the majority of the people in the crowd were in their twenties. Jamie is something special. It's what you're looking for. You're looking for something special. You just are.

How many artists are on a typical jazz label's roster?

There are only two major full-time Jazz labels: Blue Note and Verve and there are a lot of independents. Warner Bros. had a very sizable Jazz department; as so did Atlantic and Columbia. Warner and Atlantic don't do Jazz anymore, and Columbia just has a couple of artists now.

Why do you think that is?

Well, it's like I was talking about on the Road Rally panel, that over the past several years, traditional Jazz especially has really had a hard time; sales have really diminished.

My friend Rick Braun, who is a trumpet player, always says, "It's like the person that listens to The Wave and they're driving down the freeway in their SUV and they're thinkin', 'I've got to buy a new set of tires. Should I stop at Tower and pick up the CD of what I'm hearing, or should I go to Pep Boys and get this done?'" You've got so many things in your life that are on your mind.

So therefore, to get to the younger audience that does still go out and buy CDs... I think a lot of them, when they hear traditional Jazz music, they hear the melody for a little bit, then the soloing starts, and once the soloing begins, it starts to go over their heads and they get bored. I think that's been a problem. We're trying to find ways—I mentioned the Verve Re-mixed project—where maybe a young person will hear something like this at a dance club or wherever and discover Nina Simone or Ella Fitzgerald or whoever the track is that they've remixed, and get them a little more interested.

I think that's true because I find a lot of younger people reference those artists when they're talking about influences. Maybe artists like Jamie Cullum will also revive an interest in Jazz for the younger generations.

Exactly. He has found a way to combine that Jazz element with Pop, and that's magic right there.

Did you see the Ken Burns Jazz series? In that series, in the early, early days of jazz, it was a party. It was fun. People were dancin'. It was swing. But once the bebop came in, and don't get me wrong, personally I love bebop, it got more serious. Then it was like "sit and listen." That worked for a while—those guys in suits and everything. Maybe now with the Jamie Cullum and Norah Jones, it's shifting back to the "let's enjoy ourselves" kind of thing.

At Verve, how many artists do you sign in a year?

Our roster usually hovers around 35 or so artists. Blue Note is probably similar, I'm guessing. The independent labels, I would guess, would be smaller in size—maybe in the twenties. But for our major full-time Jazz label, it's about 35. As far as signings in a year, gosh, I don't know, maybe five or six.

I should also mention that our company—and Blue Note is like this too—we're really stretching the boundaries as far as the Jazz category. You've got your traditional straight-ahead Jazz, for which we use the Verve logo and then we have Smooth Jazz, which we use the GRP logo and pretty much anything on the Contemporary Jazz side - Al Jarreau, George Benson, Mindi Adair, Gerald Albright - stuff like that would be on the GRP label.

We are now kicking off a reintroduction of an old label called Verve Forecast, which back in the '60s had Laura Nero, Ritchie Havens, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. So we're dabbling in the singer-songwriter area. We're signing an artist, Teddy Thompson, who is Richard and Linda Thompson's son; we're talking to a guy named Rhett Miller, who was the lead singer of the Old 97's; we signed the blues artist Susan Tedeschi. So it's a pretty wide spectrum that we're covering.

Even though we are a Jazz-oriented label, it's really adult music that we're dealing with. We're not putting any restrictions on anything, really, except we obviously wouldn't be going after the Britneys or rap or punk, but, you know, adult music.

Do you get into bidding wars over artists like your pop/rock counterparts do?

It can happen. There have been situations where an artist may be talking to both Blue Note and to us, or maybe Blue Note, Columbia and us. I really can't recall a situation though where we got into an actual bidding war, but I think there have been times where we knew the artist was talking to other labels. And you know, we want to be in the ballpark, but we won't necessarily always make that pitch to give them more money just to come with us. We'll make sure that we give them what we think is a reasonable offer for what the artist brings to the table, and hopefully they'll feel that we're the best place to be.

Has the Internet had any affect on Jazz?

At first, when there was the really heavy pirating and downloading, but I don't think it affects us to the extreme that it affects the Pop labels. But, especially in our higher profile artists like Diana Krall or maybe Natalie Cole, we were seeing the affects of downloading. We did actually get studies that showed how much was being downloaded—especially Diana, who was up there with the big Pop acts. That's tapered off now, and with the advent of iTunes and the other services that you can purchase [from], that's been great for us. iTunes has its own Jazz section that you can go to. That's been a very positive thing for us. We have a person at our company that works totally in new media. That's his whole thing, making sure we're tied in, whether it's or iTunes or whatever it is.

What about lifestyle marketers like Starbucks? Does that help improve jazz sales?

Yeah, and we've worked very close with Starbucks in the past. That's been great, and they do feature Jazz a lot in their store. We're very in touch with all those kinds of things, and that has been kind of a positive step for us, getting music out in front of people.

How many units does a huge Jazz CD sell?

Our biggest-selling artist is Diana Krall, who can sell a million plus. Natalie Cole did a Jazz record a year or so ago, and it's up into that 300,000 category. I would say for us a big success would be if it gets into the 200,000-to-400, 000 range. If we sell 100,000 in Smooth Jazz, we're very happy and excited. With the more traditional straight-ahead Jazz, we can get up to that 50,000-plus range. It's all relative in that it takes less sales for us to start to be profitable on a record because our budgets are lower and we're not trying to compete with Maroon 5 or whoever.

I know in the Pop and Modern Rock areas with independent artists there's a whole "do-it-yourself" culture emanating. Can that be said for Jazz artists? Do you see a lot of jazz artists trying to do it themselves, selling their own CDs, and going out playing as much as they can?

Absolutely. I think the artists are better off when they're getting this thing off the ground, to get out there and play live as much as they can, and try to make a CD and sell it at the gigs or on the Internet. Any of these things are great because then they have a story to tell. Then they can come back and say, "Look. I've sold 8,000 records in the last three months."

Have you ever found about anyone that way?

Yeah. There are cases of an up-an-coming artist that has come to us, we like the music, we think there's something interesting about the artist, and then we discover that the artist has sold quite a few CDs on his own. Absolutely, that's been a selling point for us in the past. And sometimes it's maybe just in New York or just in L.A. where they've sold a bunch of CDs, and that shows where their home base is and where they're able to get out and play. They've built a following and there seems to be something there that people are connecting with.

If your son or daughter is 22 years old and just graduated from the University of Miami's Jazz department and wants to be a recording artist, what advice to you give your kid?

Well, someone just asked me this at the Road Rally. Is it important if I go to New York or L.A.? I think, realistically, if a young person really wants to try to be a recording artist, they have to go to where the recording business is, and that's New York, L.A. or maybe Nashville, depending on what you want to do. Yeah, you could break out of Cleveland or someplace, but your chances are so much better if you are where the A&R guys are and they can just drive out and see you play somewhere.

I think another key is that once you are where you're gonna be, somehow get the attention of either a manager or an attorney, an agent, someone that has some connections in the record world. Again, if it comes as a recommendation from someone that I know, I am much more apt to give it a listen.

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