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Interviews

Bruce Lundvall, CEO Of Blue Note Records

By Published: May 15, 2003
AAJ: So Lion and Wolff had an instinct'

BL: They had a very good instinct, and they always had a good concept of what they wanted in the studio. And the sound quality was always first rate, obviously. And the pressings were always excellent.

AAJ: Speaking of the sound quality, we're talking here in large part about sound engineer Rudy Van Gelder. I wonder what you see as the special abilities and personal qualities of Rudy that led to such exceptional recordings.

BL: He knew how to 'mic' the artists. He said that Alfred told him what he wanted to hear, and Rudy delivered it. It was as much Alfred or a team. We spoke often to Rudy about this, and he said, 'Alfred knew what he wanted. He wanted that 'presence' of the drums, of the horns into the microphone, and he came up with a sound that was very much his own. And it made the recordings so exciting. Alfred was also the one that got the players inspired. I understand that he went to Harlem and other places to pick up the musicians, drive them over to New Jersey, get food and liquor for them. And he created a very friendly and warm atmosphere in the studio- and all the musicians said that as well. But Rudy was very much a stickler for sound. And he would not let anyone touch the board controls. I think he's still that way, today. And apparently, he did wear white gloves! There were times when he wouldn't let the musicians touch the piano unless the green light was on, etc! So he was very much a stickler. But he was a very wonderful man. I had dinner with him not long ago.

AAJ: What's Rudy doing these days?

BL: He's still recording in that studio in Englewood Cliffs. We (Blue Note) still use him from time to time. These days, it's difficult because artists have their own choice of studios, while in those days everything was recorded there.

AAJ: Let me ask you one more historical question, and then we'll bring it up to date. What inspired you to make the groundbreaking decision to bring Dexter Gordon onto the label in the 1980's?

BL: Well, Dexter was always one of my favorite players. When I was at Columbia Records, I'd never seen him play. I was at John McLaughlin's wedding reception at the Plaza Hotel, and a friend said, you know, Dexter Gordon is playing in town. I said, 'My God!' So we made an excuse to leave the reception, and ran over to this club on 57th Street, and there was Dexter with Woody Shaw, George Cables. He was incredible! So I went back stage and I said I want to sign you to Columbia Records. He replied, 'CBS?' ' hilarious, in that deep voice. So we signed him. And Dexter and I became very good friends over that time, so when I went over to Blue Note, we signed him on here. And it's sad, because he never recorded for us, except for Part II of the Round Midnight film.

AAJ: Let's try to bring us up to date. We know that the hallmark of Blue Note Records is integrity. What has it been in your own life and experience that leads someone like yourself, who is in fact a business person, to put the quality of music equal to or above the financial considerations. What produced that idealism in a CEO such as yourself?

BL: My belief is that if you sign an individual artist, and artist that has their own sound, their own concept, and is doing something important musically, that in the end, you will win. Obviously, we have made commercial records just as Alfred did in his day, with the organ trios, etc. But we try to keep our roster focused on strong individual artists who are moving the music ahead. So well sign a Jason Moran or a Greg Osby. Or we'll stay with a Joe Lovano for a long time. Or we'll sign a Gonzalo Rubalcaba from Cuba, or a Patricia Barber. And I think the label has to speak to its time. It is an art form. And as long as we're making a profit for the company, and we have since we began, basically because of the great catalogue that Alfred built, I've never been bothered by the corporate 'suits'- Oh, you've got to drop this artist or that artist because he's losing money. We have some artists who are losing money for us, but they're so important because they're building a catalogue for the future. And that's what I'm really aiming at. And when we have a Cassandra Wilson who does sell a lot of records, or a Norah Jones, who sells millions of records- Dianne Reeves does very well for us. Medeski, Martin, and Wood sells and makes a profit. Lovano makes a profit. If you keep your eye on costs, and you don't do crazy things'I've seen it happen that when an artist gets hot, a record company pays a fortune for an album. Well, you can't do that in jazz, unless the artist is selling well enough to justify that. We have a very close relationship with the artists on the label. There are times, for example, when Joe Lovano has wanted to make a more financially ambitious record- like a big band or orchestrated record- he'll take a smaller advance. We can discuss it, because he knows he can trust me. And that we're not trying to get in the way of his creative vision.


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