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Interviews

A Fireside Chat With Concord's John Burk

By Published: October 1, 2003

What was amazing was that not a single artist left the label, not one. It was an amazing show of dedication on their part. That was one thing that I was really proud of because they held together for us. They believed in the company and believed in us. Everybody stuck together and rode it out. The hard part was finding owners that had the wherewithal to win the bidding war and had the same vision for the company and the same passion for this music and dedication that we had and fortunately that is exactly what we found in Hal Gaba and his longtime partner Norman Lear.

FJ: Norman Lear has had a distinguished legacy in television, but he also has a real passion of jazz.

JB: Yeah, I have to give credit to Hal Gaba. I met Hal before any of this started to happen, purely because he was a fan of the music. I was doing a Mel Torme record and he was a friend of the drummer on the date, Greg Field, who said, 'Would you mind if I brought down a buddy of mine? He loves music and he would love to go to a session.' I said to bring him down and we hung out a little bit afterwards and had a couple of scotches and sort of kept in touch.

It wasn't long before Alliance fell on hard times and right away, Hal came forward and said that maybe he could help. I had no idea. I didn't know that much about his background and I didn't realize how helpful he could be. I just thought of him as a guy who loved jazz.

There is an interesting parallel because here is Jefferson in his early fifties who embarked on this after being very successful in other businesses and Hal has been extremely successful in the entertainment business, but not necessarily in music. My understanding is that at some point, he and Norman as partners sat down and Norman said, 'We have always followed my passions, what are your passions?' And Hal said, 'Music.'

So he began to look for a record company to get involved in just about the time that our parent organization began to fall apart. So it worked out perfectly and it is interesting that he is pursuing this very much out of a passion for the music and that is why it works so well.

FJ: How many artists are on the roster?

JB: Probably about forty.

FJ: And the release schedule?

JB: We release about thirty-five and forty new releases.

FJ: And how many reissues of catalog material?

JB: About the same. It is a lot. We are humming.

FJ: What is selling?

JB: Right now, Peter Cincotti is really selling. He is number one on the charts. He is a new kid that I signed last year, a nineteen-year-old pianist that I signed last year. It has been out seven or eight weeks now and he has been number one on the charts for the last two weeks, ahead of Diana Krall and Tony Bennett. He is an incredible talent. It will be awesome what he does in the next twenty years.

Our Latin jazz releases, the last two Poncho Sanchez releases we released, won the Billboard Award for best selling record in the genre, and we won a Grammy last year with the Caribbean Jazz Project. That has always done very well. We have always done very well with vocalists. We have always emphasized that. We do a lot of Latin jazz and we do a lot of vocals. That tends to be the areas where we are strongest. Chick Corea does great. They are all my children and I love them equally. An instrumental jazz record these days does not do as well as vocalists, for whatever reason.

FJ: What is the size of the jazz market?

JB: What is the size of the jazz market? I don't know. I would say 50,000 units or so and you have really saturated the jazz world. You have really connected with them and if you go beyond that, you are stepping outside of the jazz world and getting a wider audience.

There are a lot more people that like jazz and are interested in jazz than go out and buy these records. The problem is the pipelines to the consumer and the ability to put records in front of them is somewhat hindered by the current setup of the media and the music industry.

It is not easy to get in front of an adult consumer with a jazz artist. It is not easy to get them on evening talk shows. It is not easy to get them to perform on television. Jazz radio is not based on repetition, which typically drives record sales. Even the publications are somewhat limited in their circulation. It is kind of an underground thing until we break through and Diana Krall completely broke through and is now covered by major media.

It begs the question that if more artists broke through the media, would this music be more successful? I think it would. We just have some constraints. We are bombarded with advertisements everyday and this is what we are competing with. We just don't have enough outlets.

FJ: And the future?



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