David Chesky: Making Music in the Moment
AAJ: The interaction certainly comes off in your new record.
DC: Yeah. Most of the time I played quietly. When I have to play loud, I play loud. Most of the time I leave space because I listen. There’s no point in clouding it up.
AAJ: Things are going well at Chesky? I’m sure there are frustrations along the way, but you’re happy with thing?
DC: It’s tough for everybody now in the record business. There’s a big recording company going out of business today and they’re having an auction. It’s a company that rents things to all the studios. It’s a statement that there’s no more big studios for live music. Everything is pro tools in your house. It’s a whole metamorphosis. I think this young generation that grew up with MTV and the Internet has lost the ability to listen to music attentively. It’s become background. Let’s listen to music on a $10 computer speaker while we surf the net. When I grew up, you went home with your friends, you sat down and put the record on and you listened. Music was for listening, not background. That’s why you have all this compressed music now. It’s an aural wallpaper for most Americans. I hate to say it, but that’s the way it is.
AAJ: Do you see that changing at all?
DC: I don’t know. It’s not going to change unless we educate people. People are lazy. If you don’t have it, you don’t miss it.
In this country, we talk a good game but at the end of the day we don’t have music education in schools, we don’t hip people to music, we don’t teach them about it. Believe me, all these young kids growing up in inner city schools, before they get into the rap they should know who Coltrane and Ellington were. For some reason in this country it’s not important to preserve our history. We live in the disposable era. You go to a fast-food restaurant, you take it out in a carton, you eat it and you throw the stuff away. That’s how we look at music. It’s hot for 10 minutes and then it’s gone.
Go to Italy, go up to the most ignorant truck driver, he still knows who Puccini and Verdi are. If he doesn’t know the operas, he knows something about it and not only that, there’s a respect in his voice for it. We don’t have this. We should respect artists. Jazz is an American art form. Kids growing up should know who Ellington is and Coltrane and Dizzy. It should be taught in school, and if they don’t like it and they listen to rap, no problem. But they have to know where they came from. It’s part of their culture.
They teach math, the civil war and all these other things. This should be included. But it’s not a priority in America.
AAJ: No it’s not. That’s kind of a pessimistic view, but accurate.
DC: You know it’s accurate. But at the same time, I still do my thing because I believe people will do it. But you can’t stick your head in the ground like an ostrich.
I had heart surgery a year and a half ago. I could say: ignore it, it doesn’t happen. I’m fine. But you don’t. My heart valve was no good. I went into the surgeon and they fixed it. It’s now better. I work out everyday and I run and all that stuff. It’s a problem. You have to adjust it and fix it. It’s the same thing in music, if we have a bad educational system. I’m sick and tired of people telling me how great it is. I’m sick and tired of when I go to orchestras and they tell me what a great job we’re doing educating kids in music. At the end of the day, I can’t sell a Brahms’ Fourth. So that’s the judge. So when Brittney Spears and whoever sells 10 million copies and Brahms sells 2,000, there’s a reason for that. So we talk a good game, but at the end of the day you’ve got to put your money where your mouth is.
AAJ: What’s next on the horizon for Chesky?
DC: Plugging away. We’ve got some interesting concepts we’re trying to put together. I’m trying to do this cool chamber music group, jazz musicians but doing the chamber style. That’s something interesting we’re working on. The usual suspects.
AAJ: Player, producer, composer. Is there one you call yourself over the others?
DC: And I develop new ways to record too. I do a lot of recording development. We do multi-channel. I’m very involved in technology as well.
AAJ: Is there one thing you call yourself above the others?
DC: My identity, if it was a perfect world, I guess would be a composer. Unfortunately, the music I write, I have to do something to subsidize it. I want to record my violin concerto, and my clarinet and guitar concerto. If I want to do that kind of music, I need to subsidize, because the problem is with the society. We don’t put value on it. So I have to do this, or teach. A lot of great jazz musicians are teaching at universities because they can’t make it.
What perplexes me is that we don’t really need skill in art anymore. If I go to a brain surgeon, that guy better go to school. I went to this IJAE thing, and I was just so humbled by all these young, talented, brilliant kids we have in this country. There were so many great groups. I heard the North Texas thing, the U of Miami band, the Oregon State Jazz Choir. What talent. And you know what the sad thing is? We take the best of this country and we squash them. These kids will be playing weddings and bar mitzvahs and christenings. And then we take the worst of this country, people have no education in music and just do it, and we make them our idols. It totally perplexes me. It’s inverse. The taste in this country has been going down ever since the ’40s. In the ’40s, Glen Miller and Artie Shaw and these guys, they were pop guys, but they were such schooled musicians. And then you get to the rock and roll era, and it gets lower. And now it’s so dumbed down that the people who create music know nothing about it.
I just think we don’t require skill in art anymore. That’s what perplexes me, because it’s totally commercially driven. The lowest common denominator. But we have great musicians in this country. We just need to water them, like a flower, and let them grow, and respect them and encourage them. But we don’t.
Visit Chesky Records on the web at www.chesky.com .