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Michael Musillami: Playscape Recordings Celebrates Fifth Anniversary

By Published: October 27, 2004
Another reason we've been successful is that the musicians are so close to their releases. When someone releases a record here—each cat is going to sell a certain number of records—but let's say somebody doesn't sell a high volume of records. That doesn't mean it's not necessarily successful. They get gigs and tours out of it. Whereas at a bigger label, they might not feel the reaction, or the ripple from the release. Most everyone here—we do pretty well on radio, considering the state of jazz radio in this country—and everyone gets work from it.

AAJ: As the founder, do you control the direction of the music? Do you push certain sounds and directions, or do you keep it totally open and eclectic?

MM: Well, I don't want to say it is closed off, but it is my final say whether something gets put out or not. I get a lot of submissions. I get a couple a day. The focus is on being creative, on not holding back in anyway. If you want to make an album of beautiful ballads, that's fine. Is it burning? Is it swinging? Whatever the intention, does it hold up? Is it realized? That's what I'm looking for.

AAJ: You have a core group you continue to work with.

MM: It's important to hear the development of an artist. Putting one record out by someone is silly to me. Let me hear three or four or five—and especially if it is the same group. Let's see how the group develops. That's what I'm focused in on now. Mario [Pavone] has I think eight releases with us. He's honed in on his trio now, and it's making its mark. The music, the writing, and the players, have all found their niche.

AAJ: Listening to the full breadth all at once, it becomes noticeable that some of the earlier recordings were a little more traditional. You've been moving in a more progressive direction.

MM: I guess what you are saying is that the music is in flux. And I don't mean any disrespect to any other label. Anybody who puts a label together—man—I'll wash their car. Because I know what it takes to make it happen. I give them all the credit in the world.

But I'm not interested in re-releasing record after record that sounds the same. That's not what this is supposed to be about. I'm interested to see what the last piece was and why the next one is going to be different. Different personnel? Different instrumentation? What makes this one unique? That's what I'm looking for. The music is moving forward. That's what makes us unique.

AAJ: You've also been able to attract a lot of very talented side-men in addition to the core group. I'm thinking of people like Donny McCaslin and Tony Malaby. What do you think keeps them coming back?

MM: It gets back to the fact that most of the Playscape artists are composers. When you are a composer you hear a certain sound, or style of play, that fits what you write. Malaby, he was on George Schuller's first record, but he's also been on a couple of Mario's [Pavone] records. He's just incredible. He's an incredibly powerful, strong musician. That's what these guys heard when they wrote this music. And Tony obviously digs it because he keeps doing it. And that makes me very happy.

AAJ: What about your own playing? Has working on the label influenced your style?

MM: Sure it has. I'm old enough now where I've done a lot. I've played in a lot of different contexts. God, I remember a steady gig with guitar and bassoon. Or trumpet and guitar. Or bigger groups. Anybody you rub shoulders with on the stand is going to effect you. But these guys, the core group at Playscape, of course'they influence me a little more. I respect these guys. They're the greatest players in the world and I'm honored to have them be a part of my life.

AAJ: I'm particularly interested in your relationship with Mario [Pavone]. He's on a large selection of Playscape's releases, and I know you'd played together before founding the label as well. I was wondering if you could explain what it is about Mario's playing that has kept you together for so long.

MM: Man, there're a lot of layers to that. A lot of layers. We've known each other—he was one of the first guys I met when I came to the East Cost from California. Our first meeting was a jam session. There were some sessions and we both ended up in the same room. Gigs came up, and we became friends. Outside the music as well as inside the music. You share these musical experiences and there starts to be a point of view... When cats play together a lot—and we played a lot—you converse musically on a different level then people who seldom play together. Through the years, especially the last five or six years, we've played together, toured together, written music together, put out a few release here at Playscape, and he's really a close, dear friend of mine.

And to be honest, I can't think of another player that swings as hard, in that kind of open Bopish style of play. His sound, his time, the weight of his notes just knocks me out.

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