Greg Osby: New Mission, New Label, New Responsibility
AAJ: Let's take a look at the first release for the label, 9 Levels. A tremendous work, owing its success in no small part to the new slate of band members, including vocalist Sara Serpa who is heavily featured. You discovered Sara on the Internet, correct?
GO: Right, right. I was surfing. I was on a friend's page and she happened to be [pictured] there and I said, what a charming looking young lady. Which isn't really what I said, you understand. Wow. She's fine! [Laughs]
Then, I was listening and on the first tune she was singing this tricky rhyme and she was perfectly in tune. And her delivery had this really nice lilt to it, a nice bounce. Man, she sounded like a flute at times then she sounded like a trumpet, then at times violin tendencies and guitarist, percussion things. It wasn't necessarily a scat thingmore like a horn.
And I had been thinking for years, who am I going to employ to be my trusted second? I'd had guitarists, other horn players, tenors, trumpets, trombones. For a long time I'd be like: If I could get a singer that could sing my melodies in tandem with me and ghost my melodicism, I'd be there. Now there are a couple of other people that I've considered, but they don't have the improvisational prowess that Sara has. She can look at chord changes and negotiate them like a horn player. She has perfect pitch. Great range, incredible stamina, and just a fearlessness that is necessary to get on stage with a group like us.
AAJ: It also sounds like this band has pushed your own playing to new places.
GO: Well, I had to create custom material for the individuals' personalities. Which was challenging because I didn't really know them that well. I knew them enough to know that I would have to step up my game. So given that, the music I wrote was the most difficult music I've ever written in my life, technically. I had to actually practice it for a really long time to execute it. Then I heard Sara singing it and she was nailing it a lot more accurately than I was! That was impressive.
I sent everybody the music and they really poured their hearts into it. They questioned specifics, phrasing, interpretationsoh, ok, they aren't playing around. They are really getting inside the music. They really want to embody the effects that I employ in the music. I was flattered and very excited that this would be the first release of the new label.
AAJ: Now this is a bit abstract. Do you feel like there is a built-in trajectory, a vision in your mind, of where you are trying to go as an artist and that each project is a step toward that vision? Or is each project its own challenge attacking its own set of parameters and contexts?
GO: Both of those are true. This may sound a little lofty. I'm trying to capture a projection of possibilities. I don't want to use the term "hope," because that is very Obama-ish. A projection of possibilities in music that I don't hear being done to a large degree.
That's not to say that I'm the first to have ever done them, but they definitely aren't being done on a large scale today. Because some thingsto use your wordare so abstract that nobody can get with it. Musicians have become so self-indulgent and selfish. I mean, really. "It's all about me. It's all about the art. People can't get with what I'm dealin' with. They aren't advanced enough and I don't want to deal with them anyway."
This kind of glib, throw-away attitude toward people that you really should be trying to reach. You don't have to make concessions as an artist, [but] to be original, to be challenging, to be contagious people can still tap their foot and bop their heads. It doesn't have to be swimmy, meandering, aimless. What's my image of that? There was an episode of "Lost in Space" in the 60s. One guy gets untethered and is floating around in space. That's kind of an abstract reference. But that's what a lot of this music sounds like to megravity-less, airless, nothing to grab onto.
AAJ: What's next for the label?
GO: We're doing the releases throughout October. We'll have a showcase in New York. We'll be releasing the albums then. But I wanted to launch the label first with myself so I could promote everyone else. Then launch them all en masse, so it would be more like I was launching with a catalog. Not just my CD.
I have a strategy, people working with me and for me, photography, publicity, designers. I want to give it a polished, major-label look. A lot of these individual releases look like someone did it on their desktop with clipart [chuckles]. They look slipshod. You know, that's the first beacon. It has to look good. I've had a heavy hand in designing all my covers from the very beginning. I'd be very, very detailed. The colors, the fonts. I really, really want to do this the right way and present these artists in the right light. And hopefully I'll be able to do more things for more people.
That's the stage I am in with my career. I've done everything I wanted to do; I've realized a lot of my dreams and goals as a musician, as a saxophonist, touring, recording artist. Now, I'm trying to help some other people. I think it is important. I feel obligated to do it. Seeing the failures in the industry, the failures in the way young artists are nurtured and presented. There is a void. So you have a choice. You can either lament or step and do something about it.
Greg Osby, 9 Levels (Inner Circle Music, 2008)
Jimmy Herring, Lifeboat (Abstract Logix, 2008)
Paul Motian Trio + 2, Live at the Village Vanguard (Winter And Winter, 2007)
Greg Osby, Channel Three (Blue Note, 2005)
Greg Osby, Public (Blue Note, 2004)
Marc Copland/Greg Osby, a href=/php/article.php?id=14879 target_=blank>Night Call (Nagel-Heyer, 2004)
Greg Osby, St Louis Shoes (Blue Note, 2003)
Greg Osby, Inner Circle (Blue Note, 2002)
Greg Osby, Symbols Of Light (A Solution) (Blue Note, 2001)
Greg Osby, The Invisible Hand (Blue Note, 2000)
Sam Rivers' Rivbea All-Star Orchestra, Inspiration (RCA Victor, 1999)
Jason Moran, Soundtrack To Human Motion (Blue Note, 1999)
Greg Osby, Banned In New York (Blue Note, 1998)
Greg Osby, Zero (Blue Note, 1998)
Greg Osby, Further Ado (Blue Note, 1997)
Herbie Hancock, Quartet Live (Jazz Door, 1994)
M-Base Collective, Anatomy Of A Groove (DIW/Sony, 1992)
Greg Osby, Season Of Renewal (JMT, 1990)
Steve Coleman, Sine Die (Pangaea, 1988)
Greg Osby, Sound Theatre (JMT, 1987)
Jack DeJohnette, Irresistible Forces (MCA/Impulse, 1987)
Top Photo: Govert Driessen
Center Photo: Madli
Bottom Photo: Cees Van de Ven