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Inner Circle Music: Creativity and Community Spirit

Jakob Baekgaard By

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We are the classic grassroots operation. My role is to review new submissions and to aid and help my artists to design and establish a career trajectory and performance situations for themselves. We do not operate with the typical business structure or label model as has been done in the past. —Greg Osby
The music industry today is defined by a strange paradox: there are too few labels and too many. On the one hand, the major labels have merged and sign less jazz artists, meaning the dream of a company with plenty of promotional muscles becomes harder to achieve. On the other hand, more and more musicians have started releasing their own music, but their labels are often one-man operations with none of the benefits that come with a true label: a brand, an aesthetic profile and most of all: visibility.

The idea of a label based on a collective of artists is an attempt to solve this conundrum and they exist all around the world: ILK in Denmark, Kuai Music in Argentina and Whirl Wind Records in England, just to name a few. The concept has also taken root in the country where jazz was born. Inner Circle Music is run by the acclaimed saxophonist Greg Osby and is a prominent example of a label based on the ideas of creativity and community spirit.

All About Jazz: When did you form Inner Circle Music and how did it happen?

Greg Osby: Inner Circle Music was formed in 2007, one year after my final release for Blue Note Records. I had been signed with them since 1989 and my experience as an artist there was overwhelmingly positive. I was able to express myself entirely in the manner that suited my tastes and creative aspirations. However, near the end of my run it became increasingly obvious that the music business, as well as the priorities of the label itself had shifted. The primary focus was directed to artists who were more of a "sure thing" and who represented guaranteed sales, as opposed to artists like myself who didn't produce records that adhered to a contemporary model or industry expectations. The company president, Bruce Lundvall, asked me what direction I would be pursuing for my next project and I told him that it'd be better if I didn't offer yet another recording that only my die-hard followers would appreciate and support. He understood and begrudgingly agreed. So basically, I quit and was let go all at once, with absolutely no regrets. I enjoyed an amazing run with one of the most iconic companies in recording history. Not to mention, by that time I already had the blueprint for Inner Circle Music charted out anyway.

AAJ: Is there a story behind the name of the label? Why is it called Inner Circle Music?

GO: An inner circle usually is represented by a private group or a select society of like-minded associates. Inner Circle Music represents a group of able bodied and capable minded musicians and artists that I personally selected because I felt that what they were doing was both noble and full of potential. Many of them are primarily new artists that I endeavor to use my connections to help enable them to develop a more receptive and enthusiastic audience. I also sought to have a label that brought emphasis to more global-based forms of contemporary music expression. This idea is illustrated by the multi-national makeup of our roster.

AAJ: How many people are involved with the label and what is your own role?

GO: We are the classic grassroots operation. My role is to review new submissions and to aid and help my artists to design and establish a career trajectory and performance situations for themselves. We do not operate with the typical business structure or label model as has been done in the past. That method has often led to regret and big debt. We are completely independent and self-reliant and thus, we use our combined resources and tenacity to make things happen for ourselves. Our artists are obligated take on operational tasks or work for the label on an as-needed basis, which helps to keep our overhead low.

Sara Serpa and Greg Osby at the Inner Circle Music Festival at the Cornelia Street Cafe.

AAJ: You are a musician yourself. How does that influence the way you run your label?

GO: Being a musician myself allows me the ability to objectively hear projects that are not completely developed or to recognize the potential of an artist who may not be very experienced and has some growing and conditioning yet to do. I use my acquired knowledge, my perspectives and my practical vision to try to help my label mates realize who they are as contributing, progressive artists. However, most of the time I say nothing and don't interfere with their process because the entire reason that I signed someone in the first place is that I felt they were artistically complete and self sufficient. I truly feel that too many so-called "producers" assert themselves to much on the works of artists who would fare better without such unnecessary commentary and suggestions. I only step in when my opinion is requested or if I see that things are getting off track and are at risk of not representing our label in the manner of which it was conceived.

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