A Conversation with Dave Grusin
Mike Ragogna: Hello, Dave!
Dave Grusin: How are you, man? It's great to meet you and talk to you, Michael. I'm really impressed that your radio station is running on solar power, that's incredible.
MR: Thanks, Dave. I appreciate. And GRP ran on digital power! Since this is the 30th anniversary celebration of GRP, the digital master company, let's go into its history, maybe beginning with the partnership between you and Larry Rosen?
DG: Yes, that predated the recording thing by quite a few years. If anybody remembers, back in the sixties, there was and is a singer named Andy Williams. I was a music director for Andy, and Larry was a nineteen-year-old drummer. When I finally talked Andy into letting us take a drummer along, it was Larry, so that's when I met him. He was playing with something called The Newport Youth Band, which was an incredible all-star young band affiliated with the Newport Jazz Festival. Anyway, I got him to go on the road with us and we played a lot of gigs together in those days, and quite a few years later, we formed a production company to produce albums. Our first artist was a guitar player named Earl Klugh, and this was not for GRP, this was for another label, but it was the first time Larry and I worked together strictly as a production team. It was so much fun that from there, we got involved with a lot of young artists like this. One time, Larry was on an airplane and Clive Davis was on the plane. Larry, being the kind of Type A he is, went up to Clive and said, "We have a production company and you ought to sign us to produce new artists for your label." So that was how that started, in terms of the record company.
MR: So GRP came through Arista for a while.
MR: And from there, you moved to MCA?
DG: Yes. Well, we went independent for a while and MCA turned out to be the prime distributor for us when we were independent. They finally said, "Why are we doing it this way? We ought to own you guys," so we actually sold the label to MCA and continued to work with them for a number of years.
MR: Yes and you ended up being their primary jazz label.
DG: That's right. We kind of supervised the other jazz labels they had, like Verve and Decca Jazz and some of the older things as well. But yes, we were the jazz deal at that time, so we were the only game in town over there.
MR: Now, it might have been evolving on its own anyway, but GRP's identity has always been with smooth jazz over the years, establishing the concept of "smooth jazz" with everyone.
DG: Yeah. You know, there's a term everybody uses for a lot of different genres of music called "fusion," and in the early days of GRP, our fusion direction--if you took the definition of the fusion of jazz and whatever other genre--that would be R&B or what became urban music. That was how we kind of got it rolling, and then the other aspect of fusion was the stuff Chick Corea was doing, that kind of high-energy, high tech, unbelievable piano playing and writing and so forth. That was part of the mix as well, and any kind of pop fusion that was going on at the time. I'm thinking about an artist we signed named Angela Bofill, that became known as "smooth jazz," but we didn't invent the term. In fact, I hate the term. But that's how it ended up being called that. There was a heavy, pure pop market and a pure R&B market and then there was the fusion market that tried to mix jazz into these other genres that became jazz-fusion or smooth jazz.
MR: The term is almost a derogatory one at this point in the same way that one would say "singer-songwriter," and the like, with corresponding stereotypes. But when you look at the production values of what was going on in the eighties -- a lot of the new synthesizers, the emulator, all those new samplers -- I have a feeling that the jazz of the time embraced those sonics to become more marketable, even aiming at being a form of pop since everyone else was successful using them. Maybe that's how we ended up with "smooth jazz"?
DG: Yeah, that's a very good analysis, I think. That's absolutely right. It took a number of years. It wasn't a one-shot deal, and it took a number of years for it to develop into that point, but marketing people and people in the business -- almost any kind of business -- they love titles they can grab a hold of and categorize. It makes it simple for them to talk to people about what they're doing and what they're selling. So I think that was part of it, and the sudden advent of smooth jazz radio stations and so forth in those years was incredible. It seriously was a good thing for us commercially. There was an outlet for us to get these kinds of records out and have a home for them in some ways.
MR: Yeah, and also, when you look at a music entity like Windham Hill, it had a clear identity. Theirs was new age, but it took on the sounds and the sonic currency of what was going on at the time as well, only in the realm of acoustic instruments, at least in the beginning.
DG: Yes, exactly.
MR: But speaking of marketing, there's a catchphrase that's associated with GRP -- "The Digital Master Company."
DG: Right. That was another Larry Rosen stroke of brilliance. For some reason, in the beginning of CDs, there wasn't a lot of capacity in terms of pressing, at least in this country, so most of the artists who got the first shot at these things were big names like Barbra Streisand and big-selling artists at major label companies. We didn't have any of those kinds of restrictions because we weren't a major label. We found that everything we released, at a certain point, was in the digital format, and I'd say one of the advantages we had was about a year and a half jump in that category of having everything released digitally on the major labels, so we sort of had a marketplace to ourselves for a while, if I could say it that way.
MR: Yeah, yeah. Let's go into some of the artists on your label. One of my favorites is David Benoit, plus you had Dianne Schuur, Dave Valentin, Larry Carlton, Don Grusin, The Brecker Brothers, The Rippingtons, George Benson, and of course, one of my favorite events was when you guys did The GRP All-Stars and everybody jumped-in.
MR: With this roster of artists I guess the obvious question is how did it function as a company? Everybody seemed to guest on each other's records from time to time, so it's almost like you guys had -- I don't want to say a "Brill Building" paradigm -- but at least some of that creative atmosphere.
DG: You're right. There was another label during that time called CTI, Creed Taylor's record label, and they did a similar thing in terms of having a lot of people in their stables signed to the label on each other's albums. I think, still, it was a very productive kind of format in the sense that it gave everybody a lot of exposure, not only on their own releases, but as guests on everybody else's.
MR: Right, and look at the caliber of these players. You guys were on the lookout for talent and were like an oasis for these musicians. Yes, CTI also had their identity, and CTI may have actually been a more progressive or "fusion" label than you guys were. But GRP's roster is so impressive that I'm not sure there's a jazz label, besides maybe Concord, that rivals or comes close to what you guys created for the longest time.
DG: Yeah, we were very fortunate. One secret I'll let you in on is that when we were starting, we had no money to make records with, so everything was kind of on a budget basis, and we found that the people we could afford were young artists that didn't have a deal at all, so they were willing to come and make records for probably not what a George Benson would require in terms of signing to a label contract. That's how we got underway. You mentioned Valentin, who was one of the first guys, and I think he was the one who recommended Angela Bofill to us, who, for our little label, was kind of a pop diva-type star. When I think back about how all of that worked, I think a lot of it was almost like having a school that we would have these graduates from and then the alumni, if you will, would recommend other people from the same ballpark. It was just a fabulous way of getting to know and record some of these young artists.
MR: Yeah, and I imagine some of the artists who would be mentors would have been Tom Scott, Patti Austin... You inherited Spyro Gyra from MCA, right?
DG: Yeah, and we never got involved with production of Spyro Gyra. They had their thing rolling and they were all doing it. They were underway. We kind of ended up with them in a supervisory position, kind of as executive producers, but it wasn't any hands on stuff with them. They had their own thing going.
MR: All right. I want to get into Dave Grusin the artist and Dave Grusin the arranger, pianist, et cetera. You have an amazing catalog yourself, sir, and I think that most people would be amazed to find out just what projects you've been behind. For instance, I think everybody knows the classic from Tootsie, "It Might Be You."
MR: What's the backstory?
DG: The backstory in a lot of these things, particularly the film stuff, seems to happen by accident, for instance, Tootsie. I did the score for my old friend Sydney Pollack who I'd done a lot of films with and he thought maybe we should have a song. He was seriously interested in finding songwriters. You can't see me, but I'm putting quotes around "songwriters" here. I'm definitely not a "songwriter," per se, but I have written quite a few songs over the years, mostly affiliated with films. He was such a team player and he had everybody on the same page including me about who we ought to get to write a song. In those days, there was a young whippersnapper, a talented kid named David Foster who was just tearing it up with a lot of different acts, and we decided he was the guy. He had an agent named Irving Azoff, who was legendary and still around and still hitting it hard. The lyric would be written by Boz Scaggs, so that was the attempt at getting a song for the film. Then time went by, and these guys were so busy doing all of their stuff they didn't get around to jumping on this song assignment for Sydney, and he got very worried. He said, "I think we ought to have a backup plan here. What if these guys don't get it done," and I said, "Well, what does that mean?" He said, "Well, why don't you and Alan and Marilyn Bergman...," we were all close friends, "...write a tune for this film?" So we did, and when I say the eleventh hour, it was probably within a week of when we were going to score this thing. Of course, we had no idea if Sydney would even like the idea, but he did, and I think there was enough of a panic to get it done that that's what ended up in the film.
MR: It's wonderful. That's a great story. And how about The Graduate, that also has all that Simon & Garfunkel music?
DG: Oh wow, yeah.
MR: That must be one of your favorites, right?
DG: Well, it was my first. I don't know what the category is for these things; it was kind of a pop music score, and it was one of the first ones and one of the most successful ones, and when I think back about what happened right after The Graduate was a success, everybody in the business was trying to make a song score. No serious question about where they got the idea for that. It was such a big hit for Mike Nichols, but when I think back, I keep remembering that usually, there's only one time something like that happens and everything you hope will turn out the same way, but there's only one original at any given time. That's not to say that there weren't other song scores done, there were a lot of them done, and a lot of good ones, but that was sort of the lead-off.
MR: That's the earliest one that I can remember. On the other hand, you have had many soundtracks out there to various movies and television series. You wrote the theme songs to things like Dan August, It Takes A Thief, Maude, and a couple of my favorites -- Good Times and Baretta. St. Elsewhere was rerecorded buy you during your GRP run of Dave Grusin albums. And you've got The Wild, Wild West, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., one of the TV movies from the Columbo block -- that was one of those six-week runs, right?
DG: That's right, yeah.
MR: You even did the theme song to One Life To Live.
MR: I think I'd like a further television recap before we go to your movies.
DG: Well, you got most of them. The ones I can remember at least. You guys may not know this, but my first television chance was when I was at a point where I would do anything. I would write any kind of score I could just for the benefit of doing film work. So back in the sixties, I got a chance to write the score -- I don't think I did the themes -- for something called The Flying Nun.
MR: Oh, my God! You did The Flying Nun?
DG: With Sally Fields, yes.
MR: Oh, my God, so to speak, of course.
DG: [laughs] And then there was another one called The Farmer's Daughter, with Inger Stevens who was a knockout girl. So I got my feet wet in terms of working in the film area, per se. I'm talking about working with film as opposed to television tape and so forth. That was my trial by fire in those days. And right after that, Bud Yorkin and Norman Lear -- who were executive producers of The Andy Williams Show, when I was first there -- had done a film called Divorce, American Style, and they called me and asked me if I had any interest in doing this score. I would die to do the score for anything, so they really kind of gave me that shot that everybody needs before anybody knows who you are; you can't get arrested in the business when you haven't done anything. But once you've done something, then maybe you're on your way, maybe you're not, but at least you had a shot at it. So they're the ones that gave me that first opportunity and I'll always be grateful for that. I can't tell you enough how valuable that is to a writer.
MR: And I also want to throw out there that Norman Lear is one of the owners of the biggest jazz conglomerates right now, Concord, which I mentioned earlier.
DG: It just boggles my mind about this six degrees of separation! I've known Norman since the old Andy Williams days and I've watched him through the years. He gave me the shot to do Maude and Good Times. When you look back and say, "Who's responsible for my being able to do these things?" it's just an amazing list and the longer you live, the longer the list goes.
MR: It's got to be very fulfilling to be a part of that, when you see the successful career of an artist you've worked with years later, to know that you had some sort of good mentoring or an effect or help pushing those along. I bet there's almost no better feeling than that.
DG: Absolutely right. It's incredible, particularly in a business like this where there's no sort of ground rules. Things happen and if you happen to be there at the right time, you're on your way.
MR: Speaking of being on your way, we were on our way to talking about your movies. You've had so many Oscar nominations, Grammy nominations, Golden Globe nominations; you're a winner for Best Original Score of The Milagro Beanfield War. You also won Best Album of Original Instrumental Music Written for Motion Picture or Television for The Fabulous Baker Boys. What a great sleeper movie that was, huh?
DG: Still one of my best experiences.
MR: You got Grammys for "Bess You Is My Woman/I Loves You Porgy," "Mood Indigo"...it just goes on and on. You've also worked with all sorts of iconic artists such as Paul Simon and James Taylor.
DG: I'm still working with James, as a matter of fact. We just finished a little project now.
MR: Back to the movies. You've worked on The Champ, The Firm, Reds, Heaven Can Wait; we mentioned Tootsie, and there's On Golden Pond, which was one of your most touching scores. What are your thoughts on your movie scoring career?
DG: Well, it's amazing. As I say, these things happen sort of without you knowing they're happening. What you're thinking about at a certain point when you start to work a lot is not how appreciative you are of what's going on with your life, you're just worried about if you're going to finish this next score in time or if you're going to get the writing done in time to make the recording day. You get into habits like that and mindsets, and so the years go by and you don't have a full appreciation of all the great stuff that's happening to you and how lucky you are to be doing this stuff, until the time comes when you're no longer first call. You're like an antique, and maybe it's time to retire or hang it up, and there are a lot of new directors and new producers who know what they want to do and they have their favorite people. It's kind of a natural evolution of when you have to move on. So that can be..."devastating" is too big a word for it, but it can be irritating to think, "Why aren't I doing all this stuff that sort of used to happen automatically?" The truth is, it's like every other industry. There are a few exceptions. Walter Cronkite is one, but there seems to be a retirement time for a lot of people. People have said to me, "So have you retired?" I don't know if I'm retired or just out of work. If anybody calls, I'm not retired. I've managed to adjust my life to continue to deal with music on any basis.
MR: Beautiful. Oh, I skipped over your work on The Goonies, which I think every kid has seen or owned in their life at one time or another.
DG: All the ones I know. That's incredible, how many people emerge that I meet, who, that's the first thing that they think of is The Goonies. That's how I identify how old everybody is. My daughter was just the right age when that came out and she's watched it I don't know how many hundreds of times, and all her friends as well.
MR: And speaking of kids movies, you did the scores to one of my all-time favorite, not-so-underground "underground" movies, My Bodyguard.
DG: Oh, wow! Nobody really mentions that. I don't know how many people actually saw that film.
MR: Yeah, it's unfortunate because that was a beautiful little movie.
DG: It was. It was very nice. Very nice.
MR: It had Martin Mull, and wasn't it Ruth Gordon's last performance?
DG: I think it was, yeah. I think it was Ruth's swan song.
MR: All right, I have a traditional question for you wonderful, high-falootin' industry moguls. Well, everyone, really. What advice do you have for new artists?
DG: You're talking about musicians in general, or film people?
MR: Let's talk about music.
DG: Yeah, music in general. Here's what I believe: There are no magic beans here to find. If you're serious about it and if you love it enough, you don't have anything to worry about because you'll find a way to happen. It may not be the ideal way to make a living, but as I say, if you're serious about music, that's not going to be your first consideration anyway. You're going to be thinking about how you can spend your time making music. It may sound like a platitude of some kind, but I mean it, because there's nobody I know who's a good musician who would be doing anything if they weren't making a living with it. It's just what they do. I wrestle with this all the time, too. "If I am what I do, and I'm not doing anything, who am I?" If you're a musician, I don't think you have to worry about that. If you're a true musician and truly in love with the form, you're going to find a way to make it work. As I say, making it work as opposed to making a living at it may be a little more difficult, but even that's going to happen if you're serious about it. So I guess my long-winded advice isn't even advice. It's "Don't worry. Don't worry, be happy," to quote Bobby McFerrin. I think it's going to work for you and I wouldn't say this if I hadn't gone through this with countless friends and young people that I've known over the years. I really believe all of that.
MR: Nice. All right, we'll tail down this interview now, but I'm kind of sad because it's like I'm looking at half of the pop culture knowledge that I have. You've been associated with so much of it. If you had told me that you had been associated with The Carpenters, Battlestar Galactica, The Partridge Family, Lost In Space, and The 5th Dimension, I'd be like, "Okay, I'm done."
DG: It would have been complete!
MR: Well, closer, anyway. [laughs] Dave, I really appreciate your time and thank you very much for coming to us and giving us your time, as well as saying those nice words about solar power in the beginning.
DG: Well, listen, we're heavy environmentalists. I've been on the board of American Rivers and we spend a lot of time supporting environmental causes, and we need to keep it going. I know it's in serious danger on a national level of everyone worried about tax credits as opposed to saving the planet, but I'm truly impressed when I hear that somebody's actually using it like it ought to be used, so thank you.
MR: Wonderfully said, and thank you again.
MR: Wait, we didn't even talk about Harlequin.
DG: Yeah, we didn't talk about the whole Brazilian thing, which is our secret second country of all the musicians who were born at a certain time and lived through the beginnings of Bossa Nova and so forth. But Harlequin... My good buddy Lee Ritenour and I are going in to play The Blue Note in New York for a week in a couple weeks, so come and see us there, anybody.
MR: Dave, thank you for your time, I really, really appreciate it.
DG: Absolutely. My pleasure, thank you.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
A Conversation with Larry Rosen
Mike Ragogna: Hi, Larry!
Larry Rosen: Hey, how are you, Mike?
MR: I'm good, how are you, sir?
LR: Great. Very good.
MR: Larry, what chose a signing, and when you had an artist, how did you work with them? How did you develop them, record them, all that?
LR: Well, it's a very personal kind of thing. Dave and I, being musicians, were playing together for many years back in my drummer days and Dave was a pianist and a conductor for Andy Williams, and then we played on records together, so we had a certain sense of what we both like from a musical standpoint of view. That obviously became a very key component of it. The next part, we'd see fine young artists that we were really interested in and we both thought, "This is an artist to deal with," then we'd decide what kind of music we'd do with this artist, how we would frame the music he or she's basically doing. So that was how the decisions were made. Early on, we were in the studio with every artist. We actually made the records. I was involved in doing all the engineering and recording and Dave was doing the writing and arranging, but prior to going into the studio, we'd talk about what kind of material we should do with them, what kind of arrangements should there be, who are going to be the other players on the record, and so on, and then we'd go into the studio and make those records. It was really very personalized, especially in the beginning. Then GRP got bigger and bigger and we had bought us way beyond what we had the bandwidth to go in and produce all these records we were making. We brought in additional producers, but at the same time, we stayed in touch with that producer that we'd hire and those artists and worked very closely with what kind of music they were doing and how we were going to market and promote it.
MR: On this new double disc GRP collection, there are so many highlights as far as these artists' careers. For instance, David Benoit's "Kei's Song" is one of those tracks that you'd hear non-stop on "smooth jazz" stations of the time. Now, we talked about the identity of GRP earlier with Dave, and debunked the concept of "smooth jazz." It seems Jjazz evolved into -- I don't want to say "junior pop" -- but it took a cue from what was going on in the pop scene. Would that be accurate?
LR: Well first of all, let me start by saying that three of us are totally in agreement. I don't like that term at all. I certainly wouldn't be characterizing anything we're doing as "smooth jazz." I never really thought about it from that point of view. That was kind of like a thing that was created by the radio industry somewhere down the path when these kinds of records got an exposure and there was thought to be a very large audience for it and the record sales were very high. All of a sudden, someone created a formula or factory version of what it's supposed to be, what it wasn't to start with. There's so much creativity and there are so many elements in this music and it was narrowed down to this very narrow smooth thing to be played primarily in stores as background music, I think, and it kind of turned a real negative cast on the development of the music. So I agree with you guys. I don't like that term at all.
MR: The other concept is "GRP -- The Digital Master Company." What inspired your emphasizing the digital recording aspect?
LR: Well, as I said, I got involved in the engineering of these records, and both of us were always very interested in the sound quality of anything we made in music and in general. We were always striving for the best possible sound and looking at technologies that were emerging all the time. We were traveling all around the world presenting this music and being in Japan, who was pretty much on the leading edge at that point technologically as far as audio was concerned. We saw a lot of things that were happening there and we came back to the United States and we met a guy named Dr. Tom Stockham from MIT who developed this whole system to take analog signals and translate them and store them in digital format. We said, "Let's test this thing out." We flew the guy and the equipment into New York City for a record while we were doing Dave's record called Mountain Dance and we said, "We'll record this the way we normally record analog, and we'll also record it with this new digital technology we've been hearing so much about." It was used primarily for classical music. When we heard the first playbacks, we were just so blown away by this digital technology, we said, "Wow, this is the way to go," and from our trips to Japan, we saw that on the horizon. It was going to be two years coming on the market, what was going to be the compact disc, which would be a digital format, so you needed to have digital masters so you didn't have that analog generation to generation [loss] every time you want to create a new product line. We said, "Let's just deal with this digital area," and we got very, very focused on it, and we were obviously one of the first ones to release compact discs in America. It helped formulate the whole company and we did it so much, we created "GRP -- The Digital Master Company." From a marketing perspective, it was really brand marketing from that point.
MR: Well, for a while, everybody began to use complete digital recording as opposed to using the analog to digital route. Then again, there were a lot of the analog-to-digital conversions that were going on.
LR: That is true.
MR: Many analog recordings stayed analog until the last moment, then they were converted to digital.
LR: Yeah, and that's why on the disks themselves, that was like "AAD," and very few records would be DDD -- digitally recorded, mixed and mastered. We were the DDD part of this thing.
MR: Yeah, and I have to say, GRP projects had a nice dynamic range, considering the limitations of the digital top and bottom.
MR: You made the most of it. Do you have a couple of stories of your prouder moments of GRP, maybe involving some of the artists?
LR: Well, for us, it happened in a couple of steps, because Dave and I started out producing for various record labels, and that started out with people like Earl Klugh and Noel Pointer and Jon Lucien, and then, eventually, we got into starting our record company with Arista called Arista GRP. At Arista GRP, we started with Dave Valentin who was one of the first artists that signed, and after that, it was Angela Bofill and Tom Browne and so on. There was a lot of funk jazz and Latin jazz all combined together into kind of fusion-y music, it was called that at that particular point. And then with the digital technology, in 1982, which is where we're getting the 30th anniversary right now, it became GRP as an independent company. At that point, we went out and started to find new artists, but also established artists, and that's where we found people like Chick Corea and Gary Burton and so on, so there were a lot of well-established artists that we'd bring to the label. But finding young artists or new artists is always an exciting thing, I must say. Diane Schuur was one of those kinds of artists. One day, I happened to see a program from The White House and Dizzy Gillespie was bringing on an artist that he thought deserved more recognition, and that was Jon Faddis. And there was Stan Getz, and he brought on this singer that he found who was Diane Schuur. Well, I heard her sing, and I immediately made a phone call to Stan Getz and to a whole bunch of other people, brought her into New York and signed her, and it was like finding a jewel out there. Those kinds of things, when you make the first record with an artist like that, it's always an exciting thing.
MR: Yeah, it's beautiful. There's so much energy from the artist because they're all excited about their first project, and you're all excited about the first project, and it's nothing but up from there.
LR: It is, you're absolutely correct.
MR: So cool. Larry, you're a drummer. How did you resist those impulses?
LR: I tell you, playing is not only a creative endeavor, but there's also an athletic component to being a musician, too. That's why musicians play all day long. You talk to Sonny Rollins, he still practices eight hours a day. The reality of it is unless you're doing that, that's the only way you can stay at the top level of performing. Once I got involved in producing and engineering and then ultimately running a company, I didn't have the time to devote to keeping my chops up as it's called in the music business. If you're not going to keep your chops up, you might as well just cut it right off, because you don't want to go out there and play something you don't feel proud of. So I said, "Look, if I could hire Dave Weckl, Steve Gadd and Harvey Mason and all the greatest drummers in the world, I may as well just stay here and tell them what I'd love to hear and let them do it because they'll do it better than me anyway at this point." I don't have any problem with that. It's not that I don't miss playing, but there's so much creative juice that's going on in my body all the time with all the things that I do musically that I'm fulfilled on that end.
MR: On the other hand, it's added to your knowledge and your being, at heart, a musician has brought that much joy working with all these artists, right?
LR: Absolutely. And, of course, the communication, because when you're producing a record, a show, a TV show, a live performance concert, whatever, when I'm dealing with musicians, I'm speaking the same language. I'm in the band, basically. I'm a guy in the band who can translate exactly what we're discussing to whatever the medium that we're presenting it in at that point. I feel a very close relationship with the artists and they feel it as well. It's the music business speak that you have, being a musician, that cuts through a whole bunch of other nonsense. I'm well versed in that because that's what I come from. It's a benefit on all ends.
MR: I bet there's that dynamic in the marketing and business end as well. For instance, GRP was so influential and successful, it basically took over all of Universal's jazz departments as it grew and as it started to swallow up labels like MCA's Acoustic Series.
LR: Right, and then also, we took the Chess label, which was an archival label, and the Impulse label with John Coltrane, and the Decca label, which went back to Louis Armstrong and Ellington Recordings and Ella Fitzgerald, and released all those and re-released them. It's a lot of fun going back through the history because this music's all based on the legacy of how one guy learns from the next guy who learns from the next guy and he adds his own piece to it, so you've got to pay homage to the tradition and remember those guys who really created this music.
MR: You mentioned John Coltrane and Impulse, Impulse being one of the major jazz labels. Let's talk about Jazz Roots, speaking of heritage, the concert series you're overseeing that's kicking off in September.
LR: I have like five or six concerts going on in cities and performing arts centers all around the country. I'm producing the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal competition at NJPAC in Newark, New Jersey, where Sarah comes from, and in Miami, I started this whole Jazz Roots series to bring jazz to Miami, which we're doing in a 2,000-seat theater, and I do it in Las Vegas at the new Smith Center, which is just a wonderful, beautiful, magnificent facility. All these jazz concerts around the country that I produce are all tied together with education programs. I want to bring this music to schools and bring young people to the theater to see what this music's all about and meet these artists. In fact, I had Al Jarreau go through the school system in Atlanta. I was getting emails all day long with pictures showing him with bands and talking to young people. It's the most rewarding thing you can imagine.
MR: When you look at your career, who you've been associated with, who you've established in the jazz culture, and the success of GRP, what are your thoughts?
LR: I'm trying to bring this music in these new years of technology. The industry has changed so radically, where we are right now as a business, whether it's media business associated with it like radio or television or cable or internet or iPods or downloading or uploading or whatever it is, it really is amazing all the platforms that exist out there. So the question is how do you use all of these platforms and all of this technology to just bring this music to more and more people. For me, it's always connecting the music, the artist, and the audience. That's really the name of the game. It's that middle part that keeps changing all the time. The artists want to present their music to audiences, audiences want to receive this stuff. The question is how do you make the connection? That's kind of a creative endeavor by itself. I think that's where I'm at, at this point. I'm working on this big project with Quincy Jones on the history of American music. I am just totally blown away by all the research that we're doing and all the interviews I've been shooting with major artists. Seventy major artists. I've done interviews now with everybody from Quincy on to Billy Joel, Dave Brubeck, Paul Simon, Norah Jones and Smokey Robinson to talk about music and where did it come from and how did they get turned on by it and what does it mean? What does it mean to our culture? Why does this represent America more than almost anything else does, and it's respected all over the world. And why do Americans not quite connect the dots together between Louis Armstrong and Jay-Z? Something's missing here, and I feel I have a mission to fill in the blanks.
MR: Quite a mission. If you don't mind, can I ask you to fill in some blanks right now, which would be what advice do you have for new artists?
LR: You know, you've got to look at the people that came before. I think understanding Duke Ellington and John Coltrane will give you a better insight into where all this should be going and where it's going to go, because the other influences you have, which are in your life everyday -- what you're hearing on the radio, what you're seeing on the net, what's on YouTube -- that's the most current element, but you've got to understand the roots of where this all comes from. Then when you go from there, the advice that I have for any artists -- and I can tell you this from putting on my record company hat -- I always looked for individuality. I remember I had managers that would come and call me up and say, "Look, I have the greatest guitar player, you've got to hear him. This guy sounds just like George Benson," and I'd say, "Why would I want to hear this person, then? There is a George Benson. I want to hear somebody who doesn't sound like anybody. That's what I want to hear." So an individual voice is really a very important thing in music.
MR: When you look at the state of music right now, what do you think?
LR: I think it's incredibly exciting. I think it's an exciting time, because the world has gotten so small that the exposure to so many different kinds of rhythms and colors in music are available to everybody. When I see young people and what they're doing today, they're really bringing things together. We talked about "fusion" and "smooth jazz." That's really coming full circle. There are so many musicians bringing together so many elements that I think are incredibly creative endeavors. I only see a great future for music. I've got to tell you, I have people that come to me all the time and say, "Well the music business is nothing like it used to be," and I say, "Of course it's not like it used to be!" Everything is moving forward. But it's not going away, that's for sure. It's getting more exciting from my perspective. That's the way I look at the world.
MR: Yeah, and there's so many more ways to market and present your music to the public.
MR: All right, let's go out talking about The GRP All-Star Big Band. Can you spend a few seconds talking about that act? I know it was a conglomeration of the GRP acts, but whose idea was it to bring everybody together and make a record or two like that?
LR: Well, that's my schtick, you know? "Come on, I want to get all these artists together just like they do with Motown. I want to bring our artists together and present them as one unified team, basically." It's not just a whole bunch of separate artists, because they have so much respect for each other. So to bring together an all-star band like this, I thought it was just incredible, because they were all great players and it was just one of those things like, "Leave your ego at the door. Here's the chart, sit down and play your part. Let's hit it." Everybody was blown away in that band playing with each other, so it was tremendously exciting. It was the GRP All-Star Big Band and we made a number of records, won some Grammys, and this track on the collection is "Blue Train," so talking about respecting the people that came before, this is in honor of John Coltrane.
MR: In honor of Mister Coltrane. Thank you for all your time, Larry. I really appreciate it.
LR: Well thanks Mike, it was a pleasure.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
GREAT AMERICAN TAXI AND THE "GIVE US YOUR POOR" CAMPAIGN
Americana band, Great American Taxi, has partnered with Give US Your Poor: The Campaign To End Homelessness, trying to raise awareness about homelessness in the United States. The video features singer-songwriter Vince Herman speaking about homelessness and disparity in the US relating to the Great American Taxi song, "Poor House," evoking the power of music to address social issues.
Great American Taxi is a Colorado based country, bluegrass, and rock-infused Americana band with strong political convictions. Their last two recordings took a hard look at how the coal industry is destroying our environment with songs like "Appalachian Soul" and "Blair Mt." Their latest album, Paradise Lost, is the last in a trilogy dealing with the difficulties many people now have to face on a daily basis in this country. Their song "Poor House" from that album focused directly on homelessness today in America.
Taxi's video is interspersed with comments from Vince Herman, the band's spokesperson. And Great American Taxi believes in the power of music and song to create energy for positive change. Check out the video...
Great American Taxi
Brian Adams - bass
Vince Herman - guitar/vocals
Jim Lewin - guitar/vocals
Chris Sheldon - drums
Chad Staehly - keyboards/vocals.
Video Producers: Eric Peter Abramson, Vince Herman, Cliff Seltzer, Chad Staehly and Burt Stein
Edited by Tony Whaley
LOVING ON THE FLIPSIDE!
Loving On The Flip Side is a collection of long overlooked sweet funk and beat-heavy ballads from the b-sides of funk 45s from the vaults at Now Again Records and Truth & Soul. This lovingly compiled anthology documents a great burst of black American creativity during the late '60s and early '70s that melded the harmonies of sweet soul with James Brown's rhythmic pulse. The CD is packaged within an 80 page soft cover book that includes the genesis of each song, full annotation and never before published photos. Download the premiere of Eddie Finley and The Cincinnati Showband's heartfelt plea on "Treat Me Right Or Leave Me Alone." Backed by James Brown's New Dapps collective -- members of whom would later go on to form The Gap Band -- this song was recorded in Dallas, Texas, and first released on Finley's tiny Rapturea label. Loving On The Flipside is out September 25th on Now Again Records. Go to http://www.nowagainrecords.com for more info.