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. ”
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.
The record labels are trying to figure out how to create a way to monitor and codify it to control the revenue stream, but once that gets ironed out and the internet becomes more integrated, in terms of the commerce and the rhythm of the record industry, there's going to be a lot of growth there. I also think that jazz education becoming more integrated in our business can only do great things. How the IAJE has grown from a very insider's type of education driven conference to embracing the recording industry has created a lot of opportunities for record labels to have more visibility and market their artists at this conference, which is getting to the young kids early that are dedicated jazz fans and musicians who are going to be buying CDs for the rest of their life. That can only help the image and the outlook for the music.
This year, IAJE is going to stream Thursday night concerts and that's going to be uplinked worldwide by Global Music Network. That will take the IAJE to even a bigger audience. That's a way that the internet is playing a role in this conference.
FJ: I was informed that although retail sales are at that trifle number, internet jazz sales are right around ten percent.
DL: I've heard that number. We all know that the internet is definitely a growth situation. It's gone from three to six percent from last year, from what I've heard, in terms of overall sales retail. So it's doubled. Now six percent, ten percent, those are different percentages of different kinds of numbers. I think what they're referring to is ten percent of the genre, of all the genres that are sold, jazz accounts for ten percent of that, which would make sense. It is going to be more than retail because people who are logging on and plugged into the internet, it's the jazz demographic. It's the more educated, male adult consumer, who is primarily buying, historically have been buying jazz CDs.
FJ: Record companies seem to always be looking for the illusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow with the "next big artist," whom do you see as fitting that mold?
DL: There is a number of artists. I would look at Cassandra Wilson, Patricia Barber, Greg Osby, Kurt Elling, Joe Lovano, now, those are all Blue Note artists, but on that roster, those particular artists are all artists that have expanded their audience and have reached larger audiences. Joe Lovano went out with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra with Dianne Reeves on a huge tour. You look at artists that reach into other musical genres that have played with pop people so they can draw from different audiences like Brian Blade. He's an artist that has recorded and toured with Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Seal. That's going to really help things. It will bring more people into jazz.
Going out and doing a thirty-five city tour backed by Camel Cigarettes. Getting into cigar bars and pizza joints and alternative rooms, non-jazz clubs to an under-twenty market (Blue Note New Directions Tour), that's going to help the growth of jazz. Chick Corea doing a classical record ( Corea Concerto, Sony Classical), that's nothing new, but it all helps, trying to go beyond the jazz barometer.
FJ: As we close out the century, what do you foresee as the biggest challenge for the music in the century to come?
DL: For artists to get work and have their music heard by as many people as possible because that's really going against the grain. People don't want to go out as much. They want to stay home. There aren't as many jazz clubs as there used to be. It's getting harder and harder for artists to get work in America. The internet now is starting to stream concerts, so people have another reason to stay at home. There is nothing like the live experience and jazz is a love art form and it always has been. It's based on improvisation. It's based on feeling and energy. It all starts with that and if you take that away, you're really cutting the art form off at its knees. That's the biggest obstacle that the music has to continually try to overcome.
FJ: What is your goal for DL Media in the new year?
DL: My goal is to constantly get my artists in places, to go beyond Down Beat and the big three ( Jazziz, Jazz Times ). It is great to get a cover on Greg Osby in Jazziz. That means so much to an artist and to have him reviewed in the New York Times, I can't tell you what that does. It's great. It's great exposure, but, constantly trying to convey the importance to television executives to give jazz a chance when they have this stereotype that nobody cares about jazz and it's too static and there is no movement and people turn the channel.
David Letterman hates jazz and that's why you don't see any on the show. It all starts with the people at the top in television. 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. I've been fighting that battle as long as I've been in the business. Some years is better than others. It really depends on who is in positions of power. I've just seen an ebb and flow. It's not getting worse, but it's not getting better. It just depends on who is in the driver's seat at the specific show. But I'm always knocking on those doors.
FJ: Break out the crystal ball and give me your take on the future of the music?
DL: Well, I think the overall future is good as long as the curriculum becomes updated and modified, which it is. Jazz education is playing a very important role with what IAJE does as far as overseeing and administrating certain curriculums and certain funds and certain scholarship opportunities. They are able to really integrate the donors and the recipients and create great opportunities.
The NEA Jazz Masters Program, that's heavy. That's a program that has been running almost ten years now, where three jazz artists are selected by the NEA as Jazz Masters. They're given a significant sum of money. It's a great reward system. What Wynton is doing with his band academy, where teachers from all over the country are coming to him for guidance and instruction. This is going to happen in one place this year in Aspen, Colorado. This has never happened before. Usually, he will go on the road and if he has time, he will do a clinic. This is an actual program where important jazz educators are going to come to him to learn how to better educate their students.
All these kind of programs, the Essentially Ellington Program, where high school kids, different high schools around the country have the opportunity to play Ellington's music in a very high-spirited forum and be rewarded for it. There is a competition that takes place at Lincoln Center in May. Eighteen hundred and eighty-seven schools filled out an application for that program this year. They will send in tapes. When they send in that application, Lincoln Center then sends them out complete authorized transcripts of Ellington's music, so the kids learn the tune, play the tunes, record the tunes, and send the tapes into Lincoln Center and of those eighteen hundred and eighty-seven, fifteen of the programs will be chosen to come to New York and play in a competition. It started off five years ago as a local. Then it grew regionally and now, it's national for the first time. That's progress.
More kids are getting turned onto jazz. Whether it's through Ellington or whether it's through Bob Marley and they get to jazz that way. My kid got to jazz through Marley and Dave Matthews. I know kids that have gotten into jazz through Dave Matthews, through the Grateful Dead, whatever it is. David Murray working with the Grateful Dead. The Phish thing with Medeski, Martin, and Wood, that connection, which links them to Charlie Hunter, which links them to Scofield, Pat Metheny. Fusion is good, if the music is good because it helps grow the audience.
Visit DL Media on the web at www.jazzpublicity.com .