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A Fireside Chat With Greg Osby

AAJ Staff By

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I've been able to get a younger crowd due to some of my collaboratives with alternative musics. That's been good, but it can still use a lot more work. I think college activity is the key. The problem is that that is so selective. I talked to the people at Blue Note and I am just this close with convincing them about my idea of caravans. We get four or five vans and emblaze them with the Blue Note logo and just travel across the country and hit every venue from little bars to school gymnasiums to retirement communities or whatever, wherever people will have it and just do a showcasing of the artists on that label presenting their new work. It was proven a few years ago when we went out with the New Directions group that playing in alternative venues and hitting these different markets like clockwork, it can be effective. We sold a lot of product and got a lot of new, instant fans.

I don't know. I don't know what people are thinking in marketing and promotion, I really don't. I don't know how they are earning their money and how they're figuring that their job is secure when no creative ideas are flowing.

FJ: A model is the Empty Bottle in Chicago. A dive with ten dollar covers and beers are a buck. Shows start at 10 and go into the wee hours of the morning. Artists play to a packed house and indie labels that sell their records consistently sell out pressing, twenty-five hundred, four thousand CDs with zero marketing and no record store presence. I can't recall the last record on Verve to sell four thousand copies of anything. The artists, clubs, and labels sell T-shirts and the kids eat it up. I haven't seen an Osby shirt.

GO: Right, thing is Fred, a lot of these companies, they work off of precedent. They may have done something like that before and it was ineffective for whatever reason and so as far as they're concerned, that won't work for anyone. I've run up against this with my label and other labels. We tried that with so and so, whose music was infinitely a lot more different or less provocative than my music and so they say that they can't do that because they did it before. If that didn't work, how do you justify putting these ads in these jazz rags.

FJ: I have never heard of anyone ever buying a record because they saw an ad in Jazz Times.

GO: Right, people don't buy records just because they see a record in Jazz Times, Jazziz or Downbeat. Take that money ' which is a great deal of money ' and put it somewhere else. Try something else and see if that will stimulate some sales or activity. They are steadfast to certain things because it is standard. The record comes out and they place it here, here, and here, but things that are potentially innovative and could make a lot of noise, they won't do.

It's difficult to convince people. Also, people are challenged because they figure you are trying to tell them how to do their job. They just want you to be the lowly musician and play the music and they do this. I've run up against that from everyone from people in the record company to promotions people to club owners to agents to even recording engineers.

FJ: Last time we talked, you were still on the fence about Jason and whether he was staying on. Is Jason still in the band?

GO: He is, but only a few gigs left because he has become excessively popular with his own trio, which is outstanding and I've encouraged it. It's time. It's been a six year run and I need to stimulate myself and look around and see if there is somebody else. Even though we have a marvelous relationship, a marvelous connection, I can't allow myself to be crippled by that. Just like I found him, I have to find someone to cultivate as well. It is time. It's time.

Like I said to you in the beginning, Fred, I'm revamping my sound and my direction, composition and the band. At this point, I am kind of leaning towards being guitar-based. There are a couple of guitarists that I am interested in because to be quite honest, there are not any other piano players that I like enough to come behind Jason. I'd hate to put it out there like that even though there are some great stylists in their own right, but a lot of people are too established and too set in their ways to follow my lead or to give me what I think I need unless I find another unknown.

I pulled Jason out of college and so if I find another youngster in college that has prodigious talent, then it may happen, but it has just become difficult to travel with piano. It will be a lot easier to travel with guitar and it will change the sound too. I look forward to change.

FJ: Trio or quartet?

GO: Quartet. I'm going to do some trio things too, but without piano or guitar, just sax, bass, and drums. I have some guys. I have Damion Reid on drums. His father is Richard Reid (bassist). He's from Los Angeles and he's an outstanding young drummer. I fluctuate between him and Eric Harland. Eric Harland is back in the fold again, as well as I've been doing a couple of things with Ed Simon again on piano. We will just see.

The bass chair, I am kind of playing musical chairs with that because I haven't really settled on somebody who is solid enough to give me what I need. They have to be very, very well versed in a great deal of music, not just jazz, swinging real hard and walking bass and all that kind of stuff. Somebody who is too entrenched in that, I would recognize it as a debilitating situation because they will play up to expectations and I really don't want that.

FJ: Do you have another album in the can?

GO: I don't have anything in the can, but I have about four albums worth of material already ready and I don't know which one to do first yet. Bruce Lundvall, he wants me to do a standards recording.

FJ: Not another concept record.

GO: No, I'm giving it my own treatment. I had to tell him that if I do the recording, you won't recognize these songs at all. They will sound like I wrote them and he said that that is exactly what he knew I would do. So I am kind of considering that and I have a tentative lineup of either Jack DeJohnette or Terri Lyne Carrington, Dave Holland or Christian McBride, Jason Moran or Gonzalo Rubalcaba.

So we will see what happens. I have everybody on hold and so it is kind of an availability thing. I already have my arrangements together and like I said, these songs will barely be recognizable unless I do an obvious melodic quote.

FJ: How many records do you have left on this contract?

GO: I don't really know. It may be one, but we've already discussed re-upping because it is just my home. I don't really know any other thing, any other situation. I would be a fish out of water anywhere else because they know me, they know what to expect from me, they don't bother me.

"When are you going to do another record?"

I tell them when and I deliver it. They don't come to the studio. They don't make questions or suggestions. Bruce has just made this request because it is just something he'd like to hear. He likes the way I interpret the standards that I incorporate in my sets.

Of course, I wouldn't leave any stone unturned. I also have this organ trio with Jason and Eric Harland and guitarist Liberty Ellman that I would like to record too. I did a few of those tracks on my Zero recording, but I'd like to do a whole thing and really revitalize that institution. I also have a trio with Bobby Previte and Charlie Hunter. We played the Knitting Factory two weeks ago and we intend to record that as well. There are a lot of irons in the fire. There are many things happening. I would like to do a duo recording with Jason, but now, I spoke with Andrew Hill yesterday and now he wants to do a duo recording.

So there is so much to do and so few opportunities. I can't record all these things for the label. They only grant one a year. That's when this whole independent thing keeps coming up. I should do my own recordings and I should put them out on my own because that is the frustration that Prince had when he was writing slave on his face. They want him to do one record a year. Cats are too prolific to be confined to that release schedule.

There is also the element of saturation and just because you crank out more, doesn't mean that they're all good. I know a lot of people that are very prolific, but the quality is questionable at best. That would have to be mapped out because anything that is in direct competition with contracted products, it could get pretty hairy, but that could be done.

Often times, I do go into markets and they don't have any of my product in stock at all. I'm talking about major retailers. I will call the guy at Blue Note whose job it is to do retail roundup and ask how come he knew what my dates were on this tour, and how come he didn't call Tower or Virgin and made sure they had what was necessary.

What can I say, Fred, you try not to tell people how to do their jobs. You try to sit back and wait and see if people are going to honor their position by doing it and then the record doesn't do what it should do and all fingers are pointed at you. Like I wear all of those hats.

FJ: You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't.

GO: Yeah, I have to try to just keep cranking out interesting music that is interesting to me, and hopefully I can share with others and they can embrace it and find it interesting too. I am in the middle of this study period. I took off two months really and turned down a whole lot of work. I have a couple of little gigs, but I said that there was too much on the line here and I had all these journals and approaches and all my journals and notebooks and things, unfinished concepts and things that you can't do on the road because of jet lag and the fatigue and hairy schedules.

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