A Fireside Chat With Greg Osby

AAJ Staff By

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GO: No, I haven't but I heard I was nominated in several categories, at least eight or nine categories, which is flattering. It's quite flattering, but I don't even mean to dismiss the whole thing, but I take it with a grain of salt. A lot of times, that acknowledgment doesn't translate into work. I win polls. I won the Jazz Journalists Association best alto saxophone award three years in a row and I looked around the room and I was the only cat there that doesn't work regularly (laughing).

It is interesting to me. A lot of the people in the journalists' community regard what I do as valid, but they don't book the gigs. It is the shortsightedness of a lot of promoters who don't hear my music or they may have seen me in a situation that was repugnant to them and they're mind's ear is tuned to that and they just can't get away from that.

People still make references to Greg Osby doing that hip-hop. I did that in 1993. They heard me with Jack DeJohnette or with Muhal Richard Abrams or Lester Bowie or the World Saxophone Quartet, way back in the '80s and they still can't shirk that imagery. So they don't acknowledge what I'm doing now or know the contributions that I've made, or where my music is going and the wonderful musicians that have come through my band. And they will give the gig to somebody else.

FJ: First impressions are a bitch in music.

GO: It is unfortunate, Fred. People don't go back and listen to things after they do a little bit of learning and a little bit of growth. We're obligated to do so because we don't know everything and after a little bit of life experience, that compounds our intellect where we can revisit things and get a different impression of it, get a whole different spin and a different take on it.

A lot of people don't honor themselves with repeated listening, which contributes to the lack of progress. There are many factors that contribute to that. The musicians themselves are at fault. Promoters are at fault. Record companies, they just put the records out and they don't do any kind of creative marketing. They just hope that the records will sell themselves or hope that the artists will get his own work. It's very different. Every hand should wash the other, but they don't. There's too many islands and we need more unification in the industry.

I've tried to do that on some small level. I've chatted with many of the writers in New York to try to establish a stronger rapport and keep the pipeline active. I've initiated calls on my own to talk to people and tell them what I think or what I'm working on or what I think should be there focus. As opposed to talking about what a musician isn't doing, talk about the people that are doing something and try to encourage some activity.

That us-versus-them mentality, musicians in direct opposition with the journalist community, that doesn't work. That's proven that it doesn't work because it makes for bad reviews. It makes for dissension and skepticism. That's not healthy. We need to join forces to thrust this music out there and to give it the shot of adrenaline that it needs.

FJ: With Tommy Mottola appearing on CNBC along with other music executives crying wolf that the music industry is losing their shirt to downloads and CD burners, do you foresee major labels even keeping a jazz division in the future?

GO: The wane is in effect right now. A lot of the majors are dropping artists because they don't concern themselves with the long run. They don't concern themselves with artist development. A guy was a young prot'g' or whatever and they snatched him up and the records didn't sell or the fervor died down and they drop the cat like a hot potato and now they're damaged goods. All they can do is get a deal with some independent label in Europe or some fly-by-night label or do something on their own and hope to sell it out of the trunk of their car or at their gigs, which are a lot more difficult to come by now because of the damage goods nature and they don't have major label backing.

But I whole-heartedly advocate internet sales, E commerce, file sharing, networks. I am totally down with that. Last weekend, I played with Phil Lesh again, ex-bassist for The Grateful Dead and I've been playing with him off and on for the past three or four years. As a result of my relationship with him and talking to him, I put six live concerts on my website in MP3 format, available for download.

Now, this doesn't compete at all with my legitimate record sales. I do have a problem with people downloading legitimate property but live concerts and outtakes and bootlegs, that's great because that stimulates. It creates a buzz. It keeps your music and what's going on with your band in circulation, even when you're not actively touring. The Grateful Dead and these jam bands, they allow people to tape. You look out to the audience and you see people with their boom mics and mics on tripods and after the concert, they get the set lists and they put the stuff into global circulation. How come the jazz community couldn't embrace that?

Now I've been on gigs with my peers and elders when they just stop tunes in mid-flight and tell people to turn off the video camcorders and to turn off the mini-disc players and to turn off the cassettes. They huffed and puffed off stage thinking that people recording a couple of tunes or recording a set is going to adversely effect their sales, not realizing that that tape might wind up in the hands of somebody in the farthest reaches of the earth or the continent or whatever, who did not have access to it. They could download it or it may get mailed to somebody and they may talk to a promoter or somebody that may want to book your band, and they may in turn become interested in what you do and they may encourage a young player to start playing the instrument that you play. You may even get a few new fans. There may be some legitimate sale activity and so I believe in it. I think it is a great thing and cheap promotional vehicle.

Back in the '80s, I used to do a lot of sampling sessions for hip-hop music, for hip-hop producers. I had a group called Sample Bandits and we would go into the studio and replicate samples of recordings that they couldn't get sample clearance for. So we would do that and dirty it up a bit and change it so it wouldn't be a direct plagiarization.

And the thing is, they would give me passes to their shows and when they would do their shows, they would throw out cassettes to the audience, like whole boxes of cassettes of an artist that they were producing who had a release that was about to happen in six months. So six months later, when that artist's CD was released, it would ship platinum and everybody on the scene would already be aware of it because they got these free singles six months prior.

How come jazz labels can't do that? How come they can't go in the Village Vanguard and put a CD single of the table because CD-Rs are dirt cheap now, so that when those artist's recordings are released, everybody will be familiar with it and they probably will go out and get it. They'll say, "Oh, I know that guy. I got this at the Vanguard." It just becomes a sharing thing and once again, my experience with Phil Lesh has shown me that people will support you legitimately when they know that they can get something from you for free, when they can get free music or they get a pass out of it or they get a download. When you do a record, they will buy it. There are a lot of grassroots techniques that people in improvised music could stand to embrace that would do wonders.

FJ: Jazz artists are capped off at the knees because of the perception of jazz today is not cool, but rather a gauge of age. It isn't helped that club covers run north of twenty bucks and then bangs the kid for a two drink minimum. This has created an avalanche that has jazz being Humpty Dumpty, where all the king's horses and all the king's men will be useless.

GO: That's right. Well, the bar is raised when a host of artists and their greedy managers demanded a whole lot more. So everybody followed suit and now, musicians have out-priced themselves in the marketplace. That is a lot to play for one set of music. At least if you go to a rock concert or a pop concert, at least you get fireworks, scantly clad girls, and you get a show. It is more like a revue. It's not just one set of music and then they kick you out after the set.

That's too much. Artists, they will just have to embrace the reality of the situation. I'm not, I've never been a money guy. I've been an activity guy. I'd rather work a lot more and receive less. It will all balance itself out. I don't want to do twenty concerts a year for high money. I'd rather do a hundred concerts that make the same amount of money because you reach more people and you're able to develop more as a group and as an individual.

The institution of double bills, that is all but defunct now. You get more for your money. Musicians would collaborate with one another and you'd have like minded bands or like sounding bands on the bill and that would be a lot more enticing to patrons and you could fill clubs a lot more readily. Who wants to see the same group that you just saw a couple months ago playing the same material, and it is obvious that they haven't developed anything? They haven't been doing anything, so labels as well as clubs and concerts, they're going to have to think about presentation and think about how they're going to package the music and make it appealing to that slippery demographic, that host of money bearing individuals who elude these venues.

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