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Savoy Jazz Reaches 60, But Looks Beyond

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AAJ: You're a jazz fan, beyond just the business side?

SV: Oh, yeah. You really have to be. Given how difficult the music business is right now, you have to have a genuine love for it to deal with the challenges we're all facing.

AAJ: The reissues are actually doing better than new music that comes out. Do you see that to be true and are your sales going OK?

SV: Yeah, the sales are doing fine. We're right on track to where I thought I would be. I spent a lot of time looking at the charts and doing the math. Last year on the traditional jazz chart, even with Dianna Krall there, 50 percent of the units that were sold were from legacy artists. The reissue business is still very vibrant. Those great artists that have left us classic recordings continue to sell. So I think there is some element of selling these recordings over to the same people because of new packages and new technology that has been used in the transfers. I think, though, a lot of people were influenced by the Ken Burns special [Jazz, the PBS miniseries] and we have new jazz collectors out there in the last year or so that we didn't have before. That's extremely healthy and that's very good.

AAJ: The technology sounds really good.

SV: We always go back to the original acetates, or the original masters, and we're using the best that we feel is available today to get those transfers done. It's amazing that those acetates are still in as good a condition as they are. Eventually, they are going to wear out, even though we play them maybe once or twice a year to do a new transfer for a product. So it's really important to use the best digital technology that we can use. We want to put as little stress on those original parts, those acetates and masters, as we possibly can.

AAJ: You've got even more in the vaults to reissue?

SV: Oh yeah. [laughter]. We've got ideas. It's kind of fun when you dig into this stuff. I thought I knew a fair amount about Savoy, but as you peel back and you look at some of the combinations on certain dates where guys — it's happenstance — where somebody would show up in the studio the night they were making a record. You have Mingus on some sessions. Charlie Parker wanted Miles Davis on some of his early sessions because Dizzy wasn't available. He had the presence of mind to see this young 19-year-old Miles Davis and want this kid on his sessions. It's just amazing.

So I think our challenge is to try and put collections together that will pique people's interests and give them a new viewpoint on a certain aspect of the recording of the big catalog of Savoy. Where you take a slice of it and say, "These people working together — there was some magic here. Something really interesting." And we've collected together on a single disc so you can experience the work of these artists together in a freeze frame. It's a lot of fun to go in and look at what the permutations are of those kind of combinations.

AAJ: Do you think jazz in general — not just Savoy — can get more of the market?

SV: I think it has. People like Dianna Krall help. People like Jane Monheit help. What Sony has done with Miles to keep that catalog fairly active in retail and really in people's minds. Working on all those levels, I think jazz is really holding its own right now, given what's been going on in the industry. In fact, jazz was one of the few categories on Soundscan last year that had an increase in sales. In a year when the overall industry was down 10 to 12 percent, with jazz being up 6 percent, that's a helluva statement. Part of it is our demographic: these are adults, they're less fad driven, they have disposable income, they're not burning and copying CDs at home.

That's all fine. That's allowed to help us. I feel pretty positive about jazz and some of the other adult music formats being able to not only hold on to the market share, but increase. Then every so often you'll have that artist that's a lightning strike where millions of records are sold. Or there's a movie where jazz music is used as a background and it becomes a phenomenon, and people refocus on it. Those are the kinds of things you hope for, because as more people purchase their first jazz record through that kind of a situation, you're hoping you can lead them to sample and experience other things.

Dianna Krall buyers I'm hoping are experimenting with Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. And I hope they buy a Miles Davis record and a Coltrane record. The Coltrane stuff with Johnny Hartman, those great sides with all those ballads. That's a record that if you like Dianna Krall and you've gotten next to what she's doing, that's a record you've got to hear. From there, you can get led into Hartman's other work, Coltrane's other work. The paths lead everywhere once you break through the forest and get to a point where you've had one good listening experience and you start asking, "Is there anything else out there like this?" Once that process starts' We have demographics working for us where we have a large adult audience that will continue to grow over the next 10 years.

That's good news, because as people mature, they're less interested in hard rock or rap, but they still love music, music is still a part of their lives. They're a candidate for us to go get them.

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