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All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource


Kenny Barron

By Published: November 14, 2003
AAJ: New York was pretty happening.

KB: Oh it was. And compared to other places, it still is. There's still no place like New York.

AAJ: Any advice for young musicians?

KB: Well, beyond just being patient and practicing, that's it - just hang in there. You do have to go out there and hustle. You can't just sit by the phone; so sometimes you have to create opportunities for yourself. Going to a club that doesn't have music, for instance, and trying to start something, which has happened. The club may not have a piano, so let's try and start something there. It may not be a lot of money at first, and you may get rejected, but you just have to have that kind of attitude of moving forward and trying things, and approaching people, and seeing if it will work. And it's unfortunate that that's the way it has to be now; you really have to just approach people, approach bars and club owners. I think that's how Augie's may have started. It was kind of a hot house for young players for almost no money, but it was a place for them to get together and network and play. And it started a lot of them on their way, as a result of that. And a similar thing happened at Small's.

AAJ: The record industry, what's happening with that? It seems that when you read anything about it, labels used to be out there looking for stuff, but now it's all about the bottom line, the next "diva" or something like that.

KB: That's unfortunate, but that is the way it seems. There aren't that many major labels anymore, and they seem primarily interested in vocalists. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but to the exclusion of instrumental music. And jazz allegedly only accounts for 1% or 2% at most of the entire recording industry. So when they get somebody who sells millions and millions of records, they figure that's a "winning formula" so record companies try and jump on the same bandwagon. And there hasn't been an instrumentalist that's sold that many records ever.

AAJ: So do you think that maybe the wave of the future is just people putting their own records out by themselves now.

KB: Well, yeah, I think that might be. First of all, you can do anything that you want, musically. You don't have a producer trying to talk you into recording all of the music of Elton John, or something - that name just came out of a hat - but you know what I'm saying. And, yeah, it's not that expensive as you may think. A pianist can always record solo, as can a guitarist. And the technology is as such that you can almost do it in your house. And from a business point of view, if you sign a recording contract and the record company sells about 1,000 CDs, you get a very small percentage of that. But if you sell a thousand copies on your own label, then you get to keep all of the money. Which means that if you sell a record for $15, you get all of it, as opposed to say, 10 cents from a record label. So that's a big difference. Again, I'm just using that figure, but you don't get that much. Again, as far as royalties go, you don't get any until the cost of producing the record has been recouped. Then you start to get royalties. So if it costs $100,000 to produce your record, you won't see any money until that $100,000 is paid off. And with a jazz record, that rarely happens. Unless the overall cost was very low. But if you record for three or four days, you have a cast of thousands, and the cost of doing the cover - all of that is your money, all of that gets charged to your royalties. So where a lot of musicians make money is on publishing. So when they record, they record their own compositions.

AAJ: I've heard that a lot of record companies take your publishing.

KB: If you let them. That used to be something that happened, especially when musicians had substance abuse problems. Record companies would say "we'll record you, but you'll have to give up your publishing". And a lot of musicians would do that. But I don't think that happens so much today.

AAJ: It seems like such a modern day thing, with all the contracts and the like.

KB: Many musicians 30 or 40 years ago weren't interested enough back then, so they would get jerked around, especially in terms of publishing and stuff like that. But, again, that doesn't happen so much anymore. Musicians are a lot more aware, and they hire people like managers who know the business and are looking out for their interests. But the best situation is for musicians to know. For any musician, pop, classical, or jazz, it's important to understand, because it is a business. And it's very necessary.

AAJ: How do you feel about jazz education?

KB: I think it's a very valuable thing, and I enjoy doing it. When I look at some of the young players coming out of various schools, it's amazing. The knowledge that they have, the way they play—they really play with the right feeling... Education is a great thing. I think probably the only negative thing I see from it is that sometimes a lot of the young players get so bound up in technique, that they forget about their hearts. But as they get older, they get more experienced and pay more attention to the soulful part of their playing. Most of the young players are at a level where, when I was their age I was not at their level. I had some students at Juilliard who were just unbelievable! So I think the educational system in terms of jazz is really great. It's just that one aspect that more attention needs to be paid to somehow, though I don't know what the answer is, really, developing that emotional side. A lot of them play ballads, for instance: they play all the right stuff, and their touch is good, but one thing that I always tell a student when they play a ballad is, "I want you to make me cry." They haven't been able to do that yet. But that'll happen. As Ben Riley says, "They just need to have their hearts broken, then they'll have something to be emotional about." But other than that, I think the educational system is great; the things they're learning, they get to deal with all kinds of music, from very early to the very latest.

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