Jeff Gauthier: Fiddling with the Future
“ At some point everybody in this business has to start asking the question, how long can we keep selling these things? ”
With over three decades playing in some of L.A.'s most innovative and interesting musical projects, violinist/composer Jeff Gauthier threatens to succumb to the irony of being better known as the founder/CEO of Cryptogramophone Records. Now in their tenth year, Cryptogramophone has outgrown underground status, even meriting a feature in trendy Details magazine. Boasting a roster including Nels Cline, Vinny Golia, Peter Erskine, Don Preston, Steuart Liebig, Alex Cline, and Gauthier's Goatette, Cryptogramophone also provided a safe haven for the long awaited creative rebirth of Bennie Maupin. Gauthier produced sessions regularly win glowing notices, and the label's artistic cred far outweighs its founding inspiration: Gauthier's desire to keep alive the profound compositions of his late friend, Eric Von Essen.
Despite the label's enviable achievements under Gauthier's guidance, all his committed efforts on behalf of L.A.'s creative music community have left him with little enough time to pursue his own musical visions. Even this interview, which intended to limit itself to Gauthier's musical present, frequently veers into Crypto talkafter ten intense years the boundaries blur. Inspired by his acclaimed new album, House of Return (Cryptogramophone, 2008), an enthusiastic reception at New York's Jazz Standard, and an exciting solo project, Jeff Gauthier, esteemed artist, seems poised to step out from behind the shadow of his savvy business self.
AAJ: Tell me about New York.
Jeff Gauthier: New York was amazing. We had three nights sell out at the Jazz Standard, almost every set had a full house. Nels Cline did yeoman's work. On Wednesday night he played with my band to open and the second set was Alex and Nels Cline playing a duo, which is something they hadn't done since their fiftieth birthday a couple of years ago, and before that, God knows how long it had been. Thursday night was the Nels Cline Singers and they just totally rocked the place. They played some new tunes, some older tunes from the old Nels Cline Trio. This was the first time the Nels Cline Singers, which is a trio, played some of the tunes from the old trio. And then Friday night Scott Amendola's band opened for the Nels Cline Singers. That was great, Charlie Hunter sat in with them. Pretty exciting.
AAJ: Did anyone get this on tape?
JG: Yeah, there was a taper there. I haven't had a chance to listen to it yet, but there's a good chance that we'll put everything up on our blogsite. Saturday night we had Myra Melford and Ben Goldberg's Quartet opening for Benny Maupin's ensemble, a really rewarding evening of music to have all these great musicians playing on the same bill together. And Benny's deal is really exciting with all these really interesting Polish musicians that nobody in this country has heard of, but they're pretty well known over there.
We went over to Warsaw to record Benny's new record, Early Reflections, and I was really astounded to see how strong and vibrant the jazz scene is over there. We recorded in Warsaw, but I also had an opportunity to go to Krakow. When you get off the train and walk to the center of town, there are four jazz clubs right in the main square, and there's a couple others within walking distance. There are some really strong players who don't get out of Europe very much, and don't get out of Poland very much. They have a national radio station called Polish Jazz, 24 hours of jazz programming a day blasted all over the country.
AAJ: How long had it been since you'd been to NY?
JG: This is our second year of doing Cryptonights at Jazz Standard, so we went last year around the same time as well.
AAJ: Did you record that?
JG: No, sadly. Wait, I'll correct that. There were a couple sets that were recorded, and there were a couple of sets that were video taped, including Nels Cline's set playing the music of Andrew Hill. That video is on the DVD included on our compilation CD which was just released, which is two CDs of Cryptogramophone music over the last ten years, and then a DVD that includes Nels Cline playing the music of Andrew Hill, and that was a combination of video taping at the Jazz Standard, video taping at the Club Tropical, and also some tape from the recording session with interviews with all the musicians.
AAJ: Isn't Bennie Maupin on the DVD, too?
JG: That's right. Aside from having two cuts represented on the audio portion, there's a twenty minute feature of Bennie playing with his Polish band playing, 'My One and Only Love,' and also one of Bennie's tunes as well, called 'Atma.'
AAJ: That's two CDs for the price of one, and a DVD?
AAJ: How do you stay in business?
JG: This one was a little bit of a miscalculation. We license all the tracks from the artists, but they're already recorded, so it didn't cost that much to put the recorded music on CD. So, I thought I'd really go crazy about the packaging, because part of the company's aesthetic has to do with the packaging, and giving something beautiful to the people willing to shell out the money for our CDs. The packaging ended up costing a little more than I'd intended.
Compilations are notoriously poor sellers, so I figured we had to give people good value for the money. So far, sales are going pretty well. We had a couple of good reviews. We got a feature in Details magazine. It was just something I wanted to do for the artists just to foster the sense of community, I wanted to do it for the fans, and to let everyone know after ten years, we're still here.