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Leonardo Pavkovic: Nothing is Ordinary

Chris M. Slawecki By

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AAJ: So that's festival one. Festival two?

LP: OK, so in September 2000 I attended ProgFest in Los Angeles, and got to catch up with several of my favorite 70s progressive rock bands: Italian legends Banco, French legends Mona Lisa, and Dutch legends Supersister, an old favorite of mine who I never thought in my whole life I would be able to see! Since we were in L.A., many progressive rock fans came to the festival from Mexico, and, out of curiosity, I began chatting with many of them.

I met another person at this festival who wound up being one of the key people in starting MoonJune. A guy who happened to be passing by suddenly entered into a conversation I was having with a few early Soft Machine hardcore fans. I guess we were talking loudly and proudly about Mike Ratledge, and that's how I met Ken Kubernik, who jumped right into our conversation. Ken and I went for a coffee break during another intermission and began talking about several of our favorite music subjects, such as Soft Machine, the Canterbury scene, British jazz, and much more, and during our conversation, I told him about Elton Dean, Soft Ware and Keith Tippett situation. Little did I know the fruit that this conversation would later bear!

AAJ: So where did this story move to next?

LP: In October, I flew to North Carolina to attend the third prog festival of 2000, ProgDay, and had by this time also made plans to attend BajaProg festival in February 2001, in Mexicali. Through all this time, I continued to correspond with the aforementioned Andrea Soncini, and since I had made a number of contacts from Mexico at ProgFest, in LA, I decided to try to book Finisterre—and actually succeeded! I booked them at BajaProg 2001 in Mexicali, for another big gig opening for the British prog icon Peter Hammill in Mexico City, and for six more shows in Central and Northern Mexico.

So: I had never been to Mexico before. I had never met Andrea Soncini nor had I met the band Finisterre in person before. But thanks to a few guys I met at ProgFest in L.A., I booked Finisterre in Mexico. Thereafter, I negotiated their gigs, arranged and purchased their flights, and the rest. That was the first tour I handled in my life, and that's how MoonJune Music, my booking business, started.

AAJ: When and how did MoonJune Records follow?

LP: In the meantime, Elton Dean was asking me to help him with a live recording, a duet with the English midi guitarist Mark Hewins who I also knew from his association with the reformed Daevid Allen's Gong. D.F.A. had just sent me the live recording of the fabulous performance I'd witnessed at NEARFest 2000. In April 2001, I made the decision to release those three live albums together, and that's how MoonJune Records started!

So, in May of 2001, I had three releases on MoonJune: Dean/Hewins Bar Torque, Finsiterre Storybook and D.F.A. Work In Progress Live. That summer, I decided to go to NEARFest 2001. I rented a merchandise table on a whim and, accompanied by the curious 17-year-old nephew of a friend as my helper, MoonJune Records officially became a label!

AAJ: So how or where do the Soft Machine variations come back in?

LP: At this festival, I ran into many friends I had made at some of the festivals I mentioned from the year before. One was a friend from Japan, Tatsurou Ueda, and we started talking. I asked him pretty casually, "Hey, is Soft Machine popular in Japan?" He said they were, so I shared with him that story of Elton Dean, Soft Ware, and my dream and Elton's dream to reform Soft Machine or a sort of Soft Machine. It's hard to believe, but he informed me that he had a very close friend who was a major player in the Japanese music business market, and that he would introduce me to him.

He went back to Japan and then a few weeks later I received an eMail from Tatsurou, introducing me to Masa Matsuzaki. I will never forget his eMail: "My name is Masa Matsuzaki, my company is interested in Soft Machine reunion. If you can make it possible, my company will arrange a deal with Universal Japan, and give you big advances. Well, I was very excited, and so I contacted Elton, even though we still hadn't recruited the fourth band member yet. Keith Tippett still wasn't interested, but Hugh Hopper and John Marshall certainly were.

The following month, July 2001, I met Ken Kubernik back in LA. When I explained the situation, he immediately became excited and suggested that he could contact his old friend in London, Dave Stewart. When I suggested Dave Stewart to the other three, John Marshall, who was mainly a jazz drummer, wasn't very familiar with Dave or his playing. But Dave Stewart was "persona non-grata" with both Hugh and Elton. It is one of those things that only musicians know—or don't know, maybe—why they dislike or hate each other. But we were left still searching for the elusive fourth member to round out the group.

That November, I met Ken in LA yet again. Smiling from ear to ear, he gloriously announced: "The next time you are in LA, I will drive you to San Juan Capistrano and will introduce you to the greatest guitarist who ever walked the Planet Earth!" I answered, "You mean, I will meet the mighty Allan Holdsworth, one of the all-time greatest heroes of mine?" Ken answered, "Yes, sir—and THAT will be the most amazing Soft Machine reunion humanly possible!" So as soon as I got back to New York, I phoned all three. Hugh Hopper was evidently very excited: "Holy Cow! Allan Holdsworth! YES, I want to play with Allan Holdsworth ... he is a genius, I always dreamed of playing with Allan Holdsworth!" Hugh and Elton had never played with Allan before, but John and Allan had a history together in Soft Machine and several jazz projects, back in the '70's.

So, in January 2002, I found myself back in LA, and Ken drove me down to San Juan Capistrano, where I met the mighty Allan Holdsworth. I immediately liked Allan's vibe, and he liked mine. It was our first personal encounter, even though I had seen him perform so many times before, and after about ten minutes of chit-chat and quality draft ale, I asked this mighty, gnarly geezer: "Allan, would you like to join Soft Ware, the Soft Machine reunion, with Elton Dean, Hugh Hopper and John Marshall?" Quickly, he responded: "You mean John fucking Marshall? THE fucking John Marshall, one of the greatest drummers in the world? Oh yeah, I want to play again with my old buddy, the great John fucking Marshall!" So, we toasted to each other and shook hands! I really didn't have any idea what I was doing, really. Again, it was my "improvisational spirit" driving me to something that would change my life forever.

AAJ: That is an amazing story of persistence and dedication. It worked out well?

LP: You have to know about Soft Machine and be a fan of this seminal band to understand the dynamics and excitement that propelled our conversation. We had, in hand, four former members of the band, representing different periods of the band between 1969 and 1975. After talking to just a few people and several journalist friends, we realized that this would be something more than merely "special." And after some brainstorming, we decided that the name "Soft Ware" should be changed to "Soft Works." I immediately communicated our good news to the three musicians in London, who were all very excited. John Marshall actually phoned Allan, and the two spoke for a really long time.

I was already thinking ahead and eMailed Masa Matsuzaki in Tokyo. In a matter of only 15 minutes, I received an eMail screaming with excitement: "PLEASE, PLEASE, MAKE IT POSSIBLE!" A few days later, we received an official offer of a $50,000 record advance, with an additional sum available for a potential live record from Japan whenever the band was ready to tour there. Ken and I quickly formed a small joint company in LA and in a matter of weeks received half of the advances. What a deal! We had funds before the band rehearsed one single minute, played one single minute or even met, because three gentlemen lived in London and one in Southern California! We flew to London in June 2002 to record the album Abracadabra.

So "in a few words," that's how I started both MoonJune Records and my main business, MoonJune Music Bookings, which covers my bookings, management and general schmoozing and dealing in the music business around the globe. Once the Soft Works album was recorded, it was licensed to Universal Japan, to Mascote Provogue in Europe, and to Shrapnel Records in the US. The band played its debut gig at "The Progman Cometh" Festival, in Seattle, August 2002. They toured Japan a year later; toured Italy in January and February 2004; and played their last show at BajaProg, in Mexicali, Mexico, in March of 2004. In the meantime, I toured Japan, South and Central America with PFM in 2002, and that's how I became a tour manager!

As is the case with most everything I've done in my life, nothing can really be explained fully in just a few words or a few sentences. What happen with Soft Works, which became Soft Machine Legacy and how I started working with Allan Holdsworth, is a huge chapter in my life. And how I started being a label, booking rep, tour manager—it simply cannot be explained in a few sentences, paragraphs or pages. It's more like a book, and a thick one. My life has been filled with magical and completely unpredictable moments!

AAJ: You have literally seen, and recorded, performers from all around the world. Who are some of the artists you've seen perform the most?

LP: I was very lucky to see so many shows: first as a fan, then working with musicians and booking their gigs. Booking some of my heroes was both satisfying and fun. I actually counted all the Allan Holdsworth shows I saw, and saw him perform 245 shows.

A few years ago, I took over booking duties for Tony Levin's Stick Men with Pat Mastelotto and Markus Reuter, so I've seen them close to 100 times. I saw many shows by Soft Machine Legacy. I saw the Italian prog legends PFM a lot as well. Among individual musicians—besides Allan Holdsworth and Tony Levin, whom I have seen perform live almost 150 times across many bands and projects—the musicians I've seen the most are probably Jimmy Haslip, Gary Husband, Chad Wackerman, Jimmy Johnson, Markus Reuter, Pat Mastelotto, and Scott Henderson. That's one of the best parts of working as a booking rep: In the course of working with these great musicians, more often than not, they wind up becoming my friends. Most everything that I have done has arisen from necessity, to help friends.

AAJ: What's the difference between a good performer and great performer?

LP: It's all relative, I believe. I was just talking to a friend of mine, a fairly well-known musician, who said that sometimes he does amazing shows then reads a review and the reviewer said the show sucked, and vice versa. This is a very relative thing. Take Allan Holdsworth: He almost always complained about how he didn't perform well, when, in reality, his performances were often quite brilliant. It's very subjective. What does "a great show" mean? It's very difficult to say. To me, a great performer is the one I liked and enjoyed during his performance. Basically, that's it. We all have different perspectives. Sometimes I can feel that a performance was not very good, but another person may think it's the best show they ever saw. Musical performances are a personal experience for each listener, and everyone's tastes and evaluations are different.

Of course, certain performances suck. In recent years it has been painful to watch one of my all-time favorite progressive bands, Yes. I will not comment further other than to say that, for me, it's sad. Even so, many YES fans believe they remain an incredible, great group. Music is truly a most subjective art.

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