Meet John Kelman
“ It's a big musical world out there and I want it all! John Kelman ”
I joined All About Jazz in: 2004
What made you decide to contribute to All About Jazz? After deciding to start writing about music in about 2001, and starting at smaller websites, I was approached by All About Jazz in late 2003, with the question: "We've been following your writing and wondering why you're not writing for All About Jazz?"
One look at the website and my answer was, "Good question!"
Within four months I'd moved to writing analytical content exclusively for AAJ; within six months I decided I wanted to do more, so began an involvement in the back end that led to my becoming Managing Editor in 2007... the rest, as they say, is history....
How do you contribute to All About Jazz? CD Reviews, DVD and Book Reviews, Live Reviews and Interviews. Since 2006 I've been fortunate enough to get invited, increasingly, to destinations around the world, from South Africa to Svalbard, from Montreal to Molde and from Burghausen to Bergen. So live festival/event coverage from around the world has become something of a special area of interest for me, and I'm a lucky guy that it's been made possible by writing for AAJ everything starts here.
I've also been Managing Editor from 2007-2013 (earlier this year I stepped down), managing the content side of the site, editing the vast majority of content, coordinating interviews, interfacing with writers, editors, musicians, publicists and labels. It's been a terrific experience that has helped me even further by educating me about all aspects of the industry, while leveraging on my own managerial background.
I also participated in AAJ's first curation in 2012, as the programmer of All About Jazz Presents: Doing It Norway, a series at the 2012 Kongsberg Jazz Festival that brought together nine separate performances in seven shows to give some idea of the breadth and depth of the Norwegian scene that has become increasingly interesting to me. It was successful beyond my wildest imagination.
What is your musical background? Studied guitar from the ages of 10-16. Began playing professionally age 16. Spent two years on the road, 1974-76 in a progressive rock band, only to discover the road (at least, not at that level; these days I seem to be a touring writer!) was not for me. Went back to school and got into computer technology, but remained a part-time professional musician, ultimately also picking up a bit of mandolin and banjo (and ultimately playing in a more diverse range of contexts and making more money than I ever did on the road!) through to 2005, when writing seemed to take over. Spent 10+ years as house guitarist in a local recording studio, back when that kind of work was the norm. Recorded on a number of albums, including one that's sold over 100,000 units and another over 35,000. Too bad, on the first one, the musicians weren't listed!
What was the first record you bought that you would still listen to today? Either Cream's Wheels of Fire or Jimi Hendrix's Electric Ladyland. In the jazz realm I cannot recall the first album I bought, but as someone with a passionate interest in the ECM Records label, my first ECM record was a gift from a friend on my 18th birthday: Ring, by Gary Burton Quintet with Special Guest Eberhard Weber. The beginning of a beautiful friendship. Who knew, nearly 40 years later, that I'd be in two books about the label (Horizons Touched: The Music of ECM; and Die Blaue Klang), contributing photos and liner notes to label releasesand, of course, continuing to review recordings for AAJ?
What type of jazz do you enjoy listening to the most? ECM figures heavily into the mix; what I've learned about musical diversity from that one label couldn't be articulated in something this short. While I have become known (and rightfully so, I suppose) as a specialist in the European scene and Norway and the ECM label in particular, my tastes are much broader. The best I can do to narrow down my tastes are that they lean to the modern, but from a "looking back" perspective, while I appreciate music pre-1950 (for the most part) from an academic and contextual perspective (you've gotta know what comes before to know what's coming now and in the future), it's music from around 1956 forward that seems to move me the most.
Aside from jazz, what styles of music do you enjoy? Pretty much anything except opera (subject to change!). Grew up on and still love progressive rock, with a lot of love for Steven Wilson these days; am particularly fond of singer/songwriters who have a way with words like Richard Thompson (a terrific guitarist also), Lyle Lovett, Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman, Tim Elsenberg of Sweet Billy Pilgrim, Shawn Colvin, Rickie Lee Jones (when she's on), Bob Dylan (though prefer his words to his music), Paul Simon, Neil Young and Peter Gabriel. Have a huge love of traditional folk music, whether it's British stuff like Fairport Convention, Bellowhead, Home Service, Albion Band's numerous incarnations, June Tabor, Martin Carthy, Dave Swarbrick or Sandy Denny, Irish music like Planxty, Bothy Band or Moving Hearts, American music from Nickel Creek, Punch Brothers, New Grass Revival, Jerry Douglas, Alison Krauss, Sam Bush, or Scandinavian folk musicians ranging from Sinikka Langeland, Karl Seglem (a great jazz musician who has a way with a goat horn!), Daniel Herskedal (who'd have thought tuba could be a credible folk instrument?) and others.
Also love some hard rock and pop like Led Zeppelin and 10cc (going through a huge revival these days); British popsters like David Bowie (certain periods) and American groups like Talking Heads; American roots-oriented bands like Little Feat and The Band (well, that's mostly a Canadian band), as well as Ry Cooder and David Lindley; more esoteric stuff like Jon Hassell, Brian Eno and David Sylvian; soul/blues artists like Etta James, Taj Mahal and Stevie Wonder; and classical music, leaning towards chamber music, such as Alexei Lubimov's incredible Debussy Preludes, Arvo Part and Kronos Quartet, as well as vocal music by Veljo Tormis and others. Finding myself reacquainting myself with the Grateful Dead these days, largely due to AAJ contributor Doug Collette.
On the Norwegian scene there are too many to mention, but amongst them: Nils Petter Molvaer,Arve Henriksen, Per Jorgensen, Jon Balke, Jan Bang, Terje Rypdal, Sidsel Endresen, Stian Westerhus, Stian Carstensen/Farmers Market, Trygve Seim, Supersilent, The Core, Elephant9, Bugge Wesseltoft, Eivind Aarset and so many others.
It's a big musical world out there and I want it all!
What are you listening to right now? Amongst the many: getting ready to review an upcoming Paul Motian box that collects his first six ECM albums together, from Conception Vessel to It Should've Happened a Long Time Ago. Also other new ECM titles from Eleni Karaindrou, Stephan Micus, Stefano Battaglia, and Tomasz Stanko; New recordings from drummer Antonio Sanchez (New Life; what a record!); In The Country and Splashgirl's latest, the forthcoming Jaga Jazzist/Britten Sinfonia live album, new music from Finish pianist Alexi Tuomarilla, Norwegian pianist Andreas Ulvo, saxophonist Marius Neset, saxophonist Martin Speake, bassist Mats Eilertsen, new Norwegian group Grand General, Taj Mahal (for a forthcoming box review), pianist Kit Downes and so much more. Folk music from Fay Heild, Bellowhead, Lau, Sam Lee, Kate Rusby, The Unthanks, The Punch Brothers, archival Fairport Convention. New boxes from Norwegian improv group Spunk, Tubby Hayes. There's more but that'll do.
Bottom line: I am listening to music at least 12 hours a day. Like the drug addict who, when asked what his drug of choice is replies "more," when asked about music, my answer is the same.
Which five recent releases would you recommend to readers who share your musical taste? Wislawa (ECM) by Tomasz Stanko New York Quintet; Grand General (Rune Grammofon) by Grand General;
The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories) (Kscope) by Steven Wilson; Guillaume Perret And the Electric Epic (Tzadik) by Guillaume Perret;
Arcade, Abercrombie Quartet and M (ECM) by John Abercrombie Quartet, to be released as a box set by ECM in the early summer.
What inspired you to write about jazz? A friend of mine suggested it, saying that I had a mind for meaningless trivia (!); truthfully, I began because I was looking for something to occupy my time, and it just made sense to take a lifetime of music pathology and focus it on writing. I like to think, on my better days, that I am helping to give something back to the multitude of musicians who have, throughout my life, given me so much.
What do you like to do in your free time? Any hobbies? Free time? What's that? :)
Seriously, my passion for music is pretty all-encompassing. When I'm not listening to music (rare) I'm thinking about it. When I'm not thinking about it I'm dreaming about it. When I'm not dreaming about it I'm listening to it. It's a pathology, but a benign one :)
I do read a lotlargely fiction, ranging from thrillers by writers like F Paul Wilson to human character studies by Russell Banks. And while I don't see as many movies in the theaters that I used to, I still love 'em and try to catch as much as I can by either buying them, checking out Netflix or, on my many transatlantic flights, picking them up there.
What role does jazz music play in your life? I'd rather remove "jazz" from the question, though jazz music definitely predominates. What role does music play in my life? Beyond my wife and my dog, it's everything. I cannot imagine a worse fate than to lose my hearing, though by now I suspect I could "listen" inside my head to more albums than I'd ever have time to play. Music is everything to me, plain and simple. People ask me if I ever get tired of it, need to put it away and take a break, and the answer is: never. I go to sleep listening to music, I wake up to music, music is with me wherever I go. Music is my life.
How does writing about jazz contribute to the music itself?
Hopefully, by writing in a way that doesn't so much worry about whether or not I like the music, but rather is concerned with what the music and the musicians making it are about. By contextualizing the music so that the reader, after reading a piece, can make up his/her own mind whether or not this music is something they should check out, that's what I hope I can contribute to the music. By providing informative (and hopefully interesting) articles that help readers new to an artist get a feel for the music, and for those familiar, maybe a different perspective. I'd like to hope that, in doing all this, I'm able to give something back to the many musicians who've meant so much to me throughout my life, and given me so much of themselves through their work.
What do you like most about All About Jazz? What don't I like about All About Jazz!
Seriously, the reason I parked my bench as a writer at AAJ and became more involved in the site was because it is the only jazz site I know of that looks at jazz from the broadest possible purview, and doesn't look to pigeonhole, reduce or restrict.
There is no other site in jazz (and, in many other kinds of music for that matter) that marries content with technology the way AAJ does, truly leveraging the power of web to do more than just be an online version of a hardcopy magazine; on the web, you've got to have more than just good content, you've got to deliver it in ways that are enticing, compelling, captivating. AAJ's integrated database makes it possible to put so much information at a reader's disposal without making it cluttered or hard to find, that it amazes me it's not more successful than it admittedly already is. And for that, the jazz world has Michael Ricci (AAJ founder/publisher) to thank; a friend and colleague with inimitable vision, he's always looking at ways to expand, improve and make the site easier to use, whether you're a reader, a writer, a label, a publicist or a musician. I'm a lucky guy to be associated with a site like AAJ, and to have Michael as a supportive friend and professional colleague.
And speaking of musicians, AAJ is not just a site about content. It's a musician advocacy site that's also all about the music. If you write enough and establish a name, folks will get to know who you are and what your tastes are without your actually telling them directly; so the writing should always be about the music and not you. You want it to be about yourself? Start a blog. At AAJ it's the music that's central, and the musicians who make it, and I'd not want it any other way.
What positives have come from your association with All About Jazz?
Wow. Well, aside from more free music than I can handle and access to more shows than I could ever afford, writing for AAJ has directly resulted in:
1. Travel: I spend 10 weeks or so on the road, largely in Europe but also have been invited to places farther afield like South Africa and Malaysia to cover festivals;
2. I'm being asked, increasingly, to participate as a speaker at daytime educational events tied into music festivals;
3. I've been getting increasing work writing liner notes and press sheets for artists like John Abercrombie, Terje Rypdal, Tom Harrell, Joe Chambers, Bill Bruford, Dave Liebman, Marc Copland, Alex Sipiagin, Wallace Roney, Joe Locke, John McLaughlin, Samuel Blaser, Jan Erik Vold, Arve Henriksen, Greta Aagre & Erik Honoré, and a slew of other independent artists, for labels including HighNote/Savant, Hatology, ECM, Criss Cross, Rune Grammofon, Fresh Sound New Talent and Motéma.
4. Writing about ECM for AAJ led directly to an invitation to contribute to Steve Lake and Paul Griffiths' book Horizons Touched: The Music of ECM (Granta, 2007) and Die Blaue Klang, another ECM book but, sadly, currently only available in German.
5. Shooting photos for AAJ has led to them being in liners and on covers for artists including Terje Rypdal, Tomasz Stanko, Ketil Bjørnstad and Jan Erik Vold/Arild Andersen/Bill Frisell, as well as for a number of jazz magazines including Jazzwise and Jazzthetik.
6. I have met more musicians (some, even, become friends) that have meant so much to me; met so many fine writers who continue to teach me things day in and day out; and a small but fine group of editors, who keep AAJ content moving smoothly. I've become so immersed in the Norwegian scene that I've now already curated a series at the 2012 Kongsberg Jazz Festival, and there may be more similar work on the horizon.
In a nutshell: Writing for AAJ has led to absolutely every extracurricular activity in which I am now involved. It's something I never forget and for which I am always grateful. Sure, I'm a decent writer, but there are plenty others as good or better. To them, I say: AAJ can lead you anywhere you please, all you have to do is take advantage of it by contributing solid content on a regular basis to build a readership, then take full advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. It all starts here, and can go absolutely anywhere you want.
John Kelman at All About Jazz.
Page 1 (with Dave Liebman): John R. Fowler
Page 3: Courtesy of John Kelman