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An AAJ Interview with Steven Joerg of AUM Fidelity

By Published: March 1, 2004
AAJ: Are there any underlying and/or unifying aesthetic policies or criteria that define what is or is not fitting for AUM Fidelity to release? If so, could you please explain these?

SJ: When I first met all of the musicians that I am working with, the underlying aesthetic I had for AUM was mirrored in their musical concepts and lifestyles. Which, in short, is the understanding that music is a powerful collective and universal force all it's own that is inherently pro-creative. It takes gifted musicians with solid vision (of which compassion plays a large part), and commitment to consistently bring music into being for the players and listeners both to experience.

AUM is of course the mantra of mantras, representing "the soundless sound of the universe," the original tone and the source of all creation. The music which comes out on AUM—all of it—displays a fidelity to this original tone. Not low fidelity or high fidelity, but AUM Fidelity.

Also, I'm very much into making albums. The studio or live session tapes are sequenced into the arc of a great album, like Mingus Ah Um, which is the original inspiration behind the label name. There are way too many good and mediocre records out on the market. I feel it's not worth making an album unless it will be great. Sure, this type of judgement is subjective, but time will tell further.

I also believe strongly in the subsequent promotion of the music, as making great records is only half of the work.

AAJ: What is a typical work day for you like? (or alternatively, what demands or obligations does AUM Fidelity place on you personally and professionally?)

SJ: Well, I don't know that there is ever a typical day. AUM Fidelity has been my full-time and only gig since January 1997, with the exception of six months part-time at a bakery and occasional content providing for a web-site, when I've found myself a few months rent from the street. I've literally done everything here from the top—commissioning and producing the recordings, designing the albums and adverts, distribution, promotion, occasionally booking shows and tours, all the lovely bookkeeping, etc. Since David S. Ware got signed to Columbia Jazz, I've also been his official manager. Further insight into the other side of the fence, no greener sir is the grass.

AAJ: What is your favorite story about life with AUM Fidelity? What is the most satisfying or rewarding part of your job? What makes all this effort worthwhile? (i.e., WHY do you do this?)

SJ: My favorite stories come from touring with the groups. The first OTHER DIMENSIONS IN MUSIC tour ever—six dates through the South East with a path that converged with Hurricane Floyd—now that wrought some good stories (buy me a drink when you're in town and I'll give you an animated version).

The performances that I present here at my space (so far, Other Dimensions In Music, Joe Morris Quartet, Test, William Parker & Hamid Drake, and Mat Maneri + Joe Morris) are always filled with a very diverse audience full of new faces. Seeing the fresh-eared folks respond with amazed smiles to the sounds is a distinct joy.

The most rewarding part of this is communicating and working together with these musicians, who are all incredibly deep artists and human beings.

I do this because I still feel it NEEDS to be done. It remains an imperative for reasons that are beyond what I can go into here, except to say that the world is a sad and dangerous and beautiful place. Adding to adjective #3 is key.

AAJ: If possible, could you briefly describe the process that a recording might go through from being a "release candidate" to a "finished product"?

SJ: All but a few of the albums were recorded after a commitment was made to release the recordings. In the case of Sunrise In The Tone World, the album was already mastered. Before hearing this music, I read the writings of William Parker, which were to accompany the release, and I remember committing then.

Vision One was a benefit compilation made for Arts For Art (the organization that produces the Vision Festival). I agreed to do this because I knew I could I could put together a great 2xCD—I was there for the performances, and knew that Alen Stefanov had done a fine job recording them.

The process for the rest, basic: studio recordings have yielded from 2-3 hours of music; live AUM sets have been pulled from twice that. The tapes are listened to, selections are made and possibly re-made, a sequence is decided upon, and the tapes are then mixed and mastered into the final album. This is all done in collaboration with the artists. At this point, I design the package on computer while listening to the album.

I take the subway up to Queens early the morning after, where my man Ray makes the films. He does a great job. Then it's off to the plant and the printers. Yup.

Once you've got the "finished product," the hardest parts of being a full-service recording label begins, which is of course letting people know it exists and maintaining a good distribution network.

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