Jeff Richman: Solo Artist, Entrepreneur, or Chatterbox?
JR: Well, actually I grew up on the east coast and we moved to Hawaii when I went to High School, so I was just so used to better weather. There was just one summer in New York when I'd had enough of it that I went out to LA. See, before the Barretto gig I got a gig with Flora Purim and Airto and that was out in LA, with Jimmy Haslip and Ricky Lawson (note: that's the Yellowjackets original rhythm section).
AAJ: Wow! Like I said, you have been associated with the best of the best forever. Well, more like two decades anyway.
JR: Actually when I auditioned for that gig, I had come out to audition for George Duke's band, but he already had a guitarist, so he turned me on to the Flora gig.
The day I auditioned for that gig was the first day Ricky Lawson and Jimmy Haslip had met! The three of us all auditioned together for the gig, and we all got it. So I was out on the west coast and I lived there for about a month or two, where we rehearsed. Then we did this whole tour. After that is when I came back to New York and played with Barretto.
AAJ: No wonder you can smoke all kinds of grooves, including authentic Afro-Cuban and Latin stuff.
JR: Oh yeah. While I was with Ray for that year , I kind of fantasized about living in LA because it was the best of both worlds, a music center with the great weather of Hawaii. That's what made me do it but I have to tell you, I've regretted it for years and years; even to this day I have some regrets because moving from New York was kind of moving from...it was better in New York ultimately.
AAJ: This is what makes interviews important. I would never have expected to hear that from you. You mean music-wise, right?
JR: I think as much as I like LA and I'm still here, it's more political here. There's this kind of thing here where it's just impossible to get in on the scene. It's even still impossible to get in on the studio scene. Whereas, in New York, it's still more like if you just do a good job and you're a good guy, you eventually y'know ..get in.
AAJ: Right now, as an observer from afar, it seems like the incredible shrinking New York jazz scene.
JR: But that's what everybody says all along. I think it's always like that. I think if you get to New York and you start hangin' out, things start happening eventually. Even though it might seem like it's more difficult to break into New York, my opinion is that it's more difficult to break LA. It's just way more spread out and there's not enough radical shit going on. I'd say as a good musician living life in New York , there's more of a chance of things happening for you than in LA. But I'm still here and it's still pretty good, although I find myself fantasizing about getting back to New York.
AAJ: I see that your doing a bit more than fantasizing. I've seen the listings in AAJ New York for your gigs there lately.
JR:Occasionally, I'll try to get some gigs there, like at the 55 Bar. Right now, I'm hoping to get some Blue Note gigs to promote these albums, and they seem to be receptive to that.
AAJ: It's funny, you're touching on the New York versus LA thing much differently than I'd intended to do it. I think most people, including myself, perceive LA as the fusion-y type of electric jazz and the New York thing is the more straight-ahead or modern jazz.
JR: You could look at it that way, but LA really isn't the fusion scene anyway, it's the pop-rock scene. There's only a couple clubs here, like the Baked Potato, which is obviously the best club. The Baked Potato is better than New York, but it's only the Potato. Without it, I don't know what I'd do. I play there about once a monthI just do whatever I want and I get different people to play with me.
AAJ: Different people? That's putting it mildly (laughs). You get the best-of-the-best of the LA cats, man, Abe Laboriel, Simon Phillips, Vinnie, Forman, Brandon Fields, Haslip, Gottliebit's nuts! The activity is like exploding it seems.
JR: Y'know what? It's been happening all along, really. I feel like I really haven't made it yet, man.
AAJ: But the recorded output has exploded as well!
JR: Yes, but... we'll talk about that, but I gotta tell you man, it's still hard to get gig! I can't get a tour happening in Europe, I can't get anything happening in Japan, and it seems like there are still all these guys like Henderson, Frisell , Sco and Stern who are killing it all over the world and I'm, like still, really the underdog.
AAJ: Well, there you go Jeff. You have simply summarized why we needed to do this interview. To my mind you're as good or better than any of those guys, you've been doing it just as long or longer and yet it seems like something more needs to happen for you to get some name recognition, publicity, notoriety, whatever you want to call it.