A Fireside Chat with Publicist Don Lucoff
“ Television is still the most powerful medium in our culture. I believe that if we had jazz on television more regularly, exposed to a wider audience, jazz would be in a lot better place. ”
If you are not a member of "the industry," you've probably never heard of Don Lucoff. If you are a member of "the industry," Don, Brad, Diana, and the other folks at DL Media are probably as familiar as members of your own family. DL Media handles the publicity for the most prominent labels in this music. Blue Note trusts DL Media with their artists and so the opinion of DL Media is pretty important in terms of how Blue Note artists like Greg Osby, Joe Lovano, and Kurt Elling will be presented to you, the viewing and listening public. So when DL talks, I would listen. As always, it is brought to you unedited and in his own words.
FRED JUNG: Let's start from the beginning.
DON LUCOFF: I have been working professionally in public relations, in jazz public relations since 1983 and I started with the Playboy Jazz Festival in Los Angeles, moved to New York in '84, working for Peter Levinson Communications, an independent public relations firm that handled at the time, older generation artists, primarily the Basie Orchestra, Woody Herman, Rosey Clooney, Mel Torme, Artie Shaw. That's how I got into the New York scene in terms of jazz public relations. After a couple of years of working there, I moved over to MCA Records, which is really the label that broadened my awareness and scope and understanding of the music business. It was a national position and it was exciting because it was at a time when jazz labels were just getting back on track.
In the '80s, that was right around the time Wynton was signed by Columbia and there was really no jazz departments at any of the major labels and MCA was the first, actually, the second. Verve had just started a jazz department before MCA did. It was very exciting because they reissued a lot of great Impulse! records and signed a lot of hip artists, Michael Brecker, Henry Butler, Jack DeJohnette. I worked there until MCA bought GRP. At that time, all the MCA artists either moved over to GRP or they left the company and sought employment elsewhere. That was an opportunity for me because I wasn't part of that shift, to go independent. I felt that I had enough contacts and experience to try it on my own.
There really wasn't anybody doing it, in 1988, independent jazz PR, other than Peter Levinson, who hired me. Since I started in the business eleven years ago, there's probably ten independent jazz publicists out there that I know of that are working in this music. That just shows that there is a lot of potential.
FJ: Realistically, what is the growth potential of the music?
DL: Well, it can only go up because, truthfully, in the last five years, according to the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), jazz has slipped from five percent to three percent of the retail market. That's a barometer of certain things. That's a barometer of shifting demographics, people who have more options for utilizing their entertainment dollar, internet, just other activities. Getting people focused to go into a CD store or going online and making a sale, buying specifically a jazz CD, it's a very targeted, conscious purchase. It's a target customer. It's a conscious decision. I think the internet will help further the cause of the music because the internet is very niche oriented and jazz is a very niche oriented music.
People are tired of going into record stores and getting crappy service and asking for help and not being able to get it because people who work in record stores don't know anything about jazz and a lot of the stores don't stock what they are looking for and people don't have time to go to malls and go to stores. "I heard this on the radio." And they try to give their impression of what they heard and the people in the store look at them with a dumb look on their face, so I think the internet is the answer to that problem, will solve that riddle.
Obviously, Fred, I'm telling you something you already know. The internet is going to play an amazing part in the resurgence of jazz. I also think satellite radio will have a big impact on jazz. That's a little further down the line, but it will be great that you and I will be driving in our car and I can tune into jazz at KLON in Long Beach or WRTI in Philly. It will just bring more jazz fans into the mix of the music as to what is being produced, what's being played, and what's being recorded. I think that will get more people excited and that will increase sales.