An AAJ Interview with Steven Joerg of AUM Fidelity

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AUM is of course the mantra of mantras, representing 'the soundless sound of the universe,' the original tone and the source of all creation. ...[it's] not low fidelity or high fidelity, but AUM Fidelity.
AUM It's curious to note that in the world of science, schools of thought are often labeled after the founding father of the discipline in question. For example, Euclidean geometry, Newtonian physics, Freudian psychology (although whether this latter qualifies as science or not deserves scrutiny and debate outside this forum).

Conversely, in the world of music, seemingly arbitrary words are used to describe genres (and sub-genres). The meaning of the word "jazz" itself is subject to great debate (is jazz a style? A set of styles? An attitude? An aesthetic principle? All or none of the above? And why should we care?). The various sub-genres, swing, cool, bop, fusion, smooth, etc. blur, intermingle, and become increasingly irrelevant as tempus goes on a-fugit-ing (despite their inherent convenience in marketing, commerce, and for publications such as this, the reality is that many of these words have not only been used to define styles but also discrete eras of jazz history).

So why is it that we don't have "Duke music" or "Bird music" or "Monk music" or "Miles music" or "Trane music" or "Ornette music" or "Mingus music" or "Braxton music" or?? Well... heck don't ask me, I'm just an ordinary guy who gets to ask some questions around here (bear with me gentle reader, this really is going someplace—or at least I hope it is?)

But seriously, it can be readily asserted that the music which each of these gentlemen played (and of course that of many others too numerous to mention'so apologies in advance if I have omitted your jazz legend of choice) has largely created, innovated, and spawned jazz as we have come to know, understand, and love it over the past 50 years.

However, it's not only the notes they played, when they played them, or how they played them that allows their legacy to help define the very best of modern jazz. Instead it's their common denominator of giving voice to powerful, positive, passionate, life affirming, uplifting energy that enables music to transcend being ear candy, empowering it to be food for the heart, mind, and soul. Just as a light bulb changes electrical energy into light, or a speaker changes electrical energy in turn to magnetic energy, to mechanical energy, to sound, so have these musicians transformed profound thoughts and deep innermost emotions into music. Perhaps, in the end, this is what defines jazz as opposed to traditions or formulaic blends of composition and improvisation.

Then again, jazz could simply be the emotions created inside of you when listening to this music?

In light of the all of the preceding speculation, submitted for your approval is the independent recording label AUM Fidelity. Originally inspired by and named after the legendary Charles Mingus album Mingus Ah Um, it could be suggested that the core principle behind the label and the musicians who record for it is to articulate that which cannot be articulated.

As example, consider these words from guitarist Joe Morris, extracted from the liner notes to SOUL SEARCH, a recently released set of duets with violinist Mat Maneri: 'Mat and I reach for the place that touches our sense of meaning in the most contemporary way. The sharpest listeners are on the same quest as we are. They will understand the title Soul Search because they will listen to this music with their hearts as well as their minds... they also know better than to suggest that thinking and feeling have to be separate??

Or these words from bassist William Parker, extracted from the liner notes to MAYOR OF PUNKVILLE: "The theories of Cosmic Music, Spirit Music, Winti Music, Tone Music, Om Music, are based on the ultimate music theory which is love of GOD. The acknowledgement that the Universe and everything in it is connected and is music." and "This music is not polarized into any camp. The word is not Jazz. The word is Universal Music."

In order to help celebrate the releases of the Joe Morris/Mat Maneri duet CD Soul Search and the William Parker/Little Huey Orchestra double cd MAYOR OF PUNKVILLE, All About Jazz is pleased and honored to present the following dialogue with AUM Fidelity founder Steven Joerg in which he shares some insight as to the hows, whys, and wherefores that this label valiantly strives to present music of true vision and integrity. This interview was conducted via e-mail in July 2000. Thanks to modern jazz editor Glenn Astarita for facilitating the interview. Special thanks to Steven Joerg for his continued support of All About Jazz.

All About Jazz: Would you please give us a brief history of AUM Fidelity? Please include an explanation as to why or what inspired you to found this label.

Steven Joerg: A brief history...hmm, well...in dreams begin responsibilities, right?

The first impulse to start my own label took place back in the early 90's while I was working for peanuts rather than bananas at a small indie label in Hoboken, NJ. The brightest highlight of that time was getting to work with the group Shrimp Boat—who became my favorite band for the remainder of their active lifestyle. They had quite a bit more recorded material than what could fit on their "official" annual album releases, and I very much wanted to put out some limited vinyl issues of this music. However, I don't believe I was ready yet, and at any rate, I didn't have the money.

My next extensive labor of love took place from 1992-96, running Homestead Records in NYC, which was an adventurous underground rock imprint. I became more intimately familiar with many of the nuts and bolts and washers and super-glue required to operate an independent label. During that time, I steered some 40 odd records into the marketplace. It was at Homestead that I met and first began working with Matthew Shipp, David S. Ware, William Parker, and Joe Morris. We did some mightily creative 'damage' together there, introducing their music to a new realm of folks hungry for the real, and it was good. While on HMS salary time, I put out my first "AH/UM Fidelity" records in the form of a couple fabulous 7" singles. I learned how to lose money in short order—a very good lesson.

The effective inspirations to start my own small business took place while at Homestead. There was no label in the world at the time that was fully focused and committed to the modern masters of jazz based here in NYC (and Boston in Joe Morris' case)—whose work in my extensive and obsessive listening experience resided at the very highest level of profound expression. At the same time, I didn't like all of the ways in which the owner of Homestead handled his business. In December 1995 I made a vow to myself to start up in one year, and over the next 12 months I took care of the commitments I'd made to artists I had signed to Homestead.

AUM Fidelity officially came into being on December 2, 1996 when I brought David S. Ware and his Quartet into the studio. I left Homestead at the end of that month, took a week off, and have been devoted to the AUM ever since.

The first two AUM albums were released in September 1997—Wisdom Of Uncertainty by David S. Ware Quartet and Sunrise In The Tone World by William Parker & THE LITTLE HUEY CREATIVE MUSIC ORCHESTRA. The remainder of AUM Fidelity's history to date is in and on the records; I've been averaging three masterworks per annum.

Ah, and the initial inspiration is finally coming full circle, as I'm currently working on an archival collection of unreleased works of beauty by Shrimp Boat—currently due for release in Spring 2001.

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