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Leonardo Pavkovic: Nothing is Ordinary

Chris M. Slawecki By

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AAJ: You have obviously listened to a great deal of music. Did this enable you to use any other record labels as a model or guide for MoonJune, and if so what were they?

LP: No. I really never tried to model MoonJune after any other label. ECM probably ranks as my all-time favorite record label, and a major inspiration. There are others that I like, but each circumstance is different. I could not possibly compare myself to ECM: When I started I didn't have any infrastructure, any distribution, I didn't have anywhere close to the necessary capital to launch a real label. Honestly, I didn't even have any long-term plans. I just started releasing records in 2001, and suddenly became a label, without realizing at the full extent what that rally means. Once again, that live musical dialogue between John Coltrane and Rashied Ali is relevant here: It's all improvisation.

In retrospect, and to be completely candid, I'm not sure I ever had any model or guide in my life for anything! My life was always about improvisation, survival, pursuing my passions, and navigating "on the fly." I was mostly doing bookings, and the label was a side business. I released only a small handful of albums between 2003 and 2006, and wasn't even sure if I would continue. In 2004, I even thought about moving to Singapore in 2004, but I opted to stay in NYC.

AAJ: Have you ever explored the financial practicality of merging with another independent or a similar type arrangement?

LP: In 2006, I was approached by a major independent record company run by a good friend and music business veteran, Bill Hein. An offer was made for MoonJune Records to become an associate label, distributed, marketed and promoted by Rykodisk through a three-pronged line of products: MoonJune productions, Allan Holdsworth's back catalog and new releases, and progressive rock legends Nektar's back catalog. I saw this as a giant opportunity, and Bill Hein really liked my passion for music and my unusual way of thinking.

Unfortunately, these big plans got put on hold. Bill Hein left for a larger label—EMI—but promised that EMI would put together any even bigger, more lucrative deal. It wasn't until August of 2007, when I became aware of the impending purchase of EMI by the multinational corporation Terra Firma, that I realized this deal was never going to happen. It was not only a shock but a kind of epiphany: My destiny, and that of MoonJune Records, laid in being fully and truly independent.

AAJ: If it's all improvisation, is it all jazz?

LP: That's why I called my latest compilation It Must Be Jazz. In the light, it's really all jazz. Even music that is nearly impossible to categorize—our MoonJune specialty—is really all jazz in spirit, and all improvisation. So, you are correct.

While I was living in New York in the 1990's, I was privileged to meet Hamiet Bluiett. He used to do recording sessions and when producers would ask him if he could do another take of a song he'd say, "I can do another take, but it's not going to be "another take;" it's going to be another tune, entirely, because I don't know what I'm going to play." He always said, "Whatever I play, that's it." The same thing holds true for me.

AAJ: In a catalog full of instrumental and improved music, how did you determine what music to leave OFF that compilation?

LP: That was actually sort of an improvisation, too. When I promote my albums, I reach out to so many different people: people in jazz, progressive rock, fusion, in classic rock, all kinds of music. Many times—especially when I deal with progressive rock halls—I hear people say, "Music from MoonJune is fusion or "It's jazzy or it's this or it's that..." So I thought about it, and, yeah, I'm not a real jazz label, but actually I am. If that makes any sense. That's how I decided to make this sampler.

I grew up listening to a great diversity of music and never divided music into jazz or blues, or rock, progressive or fusion. I did not feel the need to categorize or "pigeonhole" artists or their music. I listened for the sheer love of music. When I was a teenager, I bought albums by Ravi Shankar, Black Sabbath, Sun Ra, Neil Young, Jethro Tull, Paco De Lucia, Ella Fitzgerald, Lucio Dalla, James Last, Ian Dury, and John Lee Hooker. That much variety. For me, it was simply about embracing the music that I liked, music that touched me on an emotional level. Of course, I knew that certain music was rock and other music was blues or jazz, but to me labels were not important. It was all music. After hearing thousands and thousands of albums over the last forty-plus years, I realized that a significant ingredient of many albums was certain characteristics and/or elements of jazz—and that this was true of my label, too.

I have a couple of albums on my label that would be considered "jazz" if you were to talk to someone at a jazz conservatory, a purist. I do have a lot of other jazz, so why not put together a compilation, promote that compilation, and fans can download this music and listen to different kinds of jazz?

The It Must Be Jazz compilation provides around three hours of music, and the song lineup works nicely, I think. Some tunes are more "jazzy," other tunes are less so, but it's all jazz in the end. The name comes from a tune on one of my albums composed collectively by Allan Holdsworth, Alan Pasqua, Jimmy Haslip and Chad Wackerman, for their album, Blues for Tony. I named the compilation It Must Be Jazz because, no matter what, it must be jazz.

AAJ: Your catalog features so many different guitarists. What do you like about the sound of the guitar and do you play guitar?

LP: No, I don't play any instrument. Zero. Of course, when I was a teenager, I fantasized about playing instruments, especially while I was listening to music. I didn't fantasize about any particular instrument, frankly, but about all instruments. When I was seventeen or eighteen, like many teenagers, I guess, I'd be listening to tunes and imitating Jimi Hendrix or John Bonham, or Keith Emerson or Jack Bruce, or another one of my heroes, playing air instruments!

Once I read an interview with Frank Zappa where he was asked, "What type of music do you listen to now? What have you been listening to recently?" His reply was that he didn't listen to music by other people because he had his own.

I am completely opposite. I don't have my own music, which is why I listen to so much music. I am all the time listening to music. The time that musicians spend doing a soundcheck or a rehearsal, then playing the show, and touring...I'm listening to so much different music, all the time, in different situations and settings. Ironic as it sounds, the thing that many of the busiest musicians do not have much time for is listening to music!

I don't play an instrument, and I actually think that's a big advantage for me; being a non-musician gives me much more time to listen and enjoy a variety of music. Musicians have to work their craft: They either compose their own music or learn music by others; they have to tour, which means regular soundchecks and rehearsals, playing live shows, travel, and preparations. That essentially means these musicians are always playing the same music. But me, I can invest that same amount of time to listening. If I was a musician, I would undoubtedly have far less time to digest new music, investigate new or emerging talents, and propel the label.

While my label features a few all-time legends of guitar, it's only their partial discographies. That said, I am very proud to have names of the incomparable Allan Holdsworth and the amazing John Etheridge among MoonJune's releases.

AAJ: Would you please share some impressions of Allan Holdsworth?

LP: Allan Holdsworth was a big part of my life between 2002 and 2017. He was beyond being a unique person. He was genuinely a self-tortured genius. We had a truly special relationship that was unfortunately spoiled in the last twelve months of his life by some negative forces and people who didn't understand what Allan was about at all. Many would claim they knew him, but I was the one who actually knew him very well. I was part of his life for fifteen years. I was often his best friend, his counselor, shoulder to cry on, personal financier, moral supporter, and I worked very hard to provide him with a lot of work. I never saw Allan as a "guitar hero" or "guitar god," maybe for no other reason than the fact that I am not musician. On the contrary, I always saw Allan simply as a human being, a beautiful person who wrestled with so many personal problems and demons.

Ultimately, his internal struggle proved to be his downfall. For more than a decade before his ultimate demise, "consumption" had displaced any real desire for production, I believe. I was heartbroken by what transpired in the months immediately preceding his death, and heartbroken when I heard of his death. We hadn't spoken for almost eight months, and he reached out to me one day before his passing. I planned to visit him secretly to clarify misunderstandings and obstructions which were, unfortunately, created by others.

AAJ: Indonesia has proven to be fertile ground for MoonJune, with such artists as Dewa Budjana, Dwiki Dharmawan, Tohpati and simakDialog. How did you find yourself and this music in Indonesia?

LP: This is a long story, but a quite interesting one, so I'll tell you. I was a big fan of Deep Purple; they're still one of my all-time favorite bands. While I was living in Italy, a friend of a friend of mine wrote a book about Deep Purple. I was also learning about Deep Purple through books and magazines (This was in the 1970's and early '80's). In one of the chapters in the book by my Italian writer friend, he revealed that in 1975 Deep Purple played one show in Jakarta, Indonesia, after their Japanese tour—information which I also later found in other music magazines. This was their "Mark 4" lineup, with Tommy Bolin and Glenn Hughes, after Ritchie Blackmore quit the band. This made Deep Purple the first major western band to ever play in Indonesia. They played at a stadium with a 75,000-seat capacity, but the concert drew more than 100,000 people! Unfortunately, as it turned out, there were also some major problems: a few fans in attendance actually died, and there were some issues with the local authorities because the promoter had provided girls for the musicians. It was all about "rock 'n' roll"—don't forget that this was 1976, you know? An Indonesian band called God Bless opened for Deep Purple. I was very curious about Indonesian bands, because in those days I knew of a couple of Asian bands, especially one Vietnamese band based in France called Taï Phong, a progressive '70s rock band. And I already knew some Japanese jazz and fusion artists, like Hiroshima, Ryo Kawasaki, Terumasa Hino, and Casiopea. And I am a curious person by nature, so I wanted to know more. But of course, those days weren't like today, and getting information from distant countries was challenging.

A few years later, I went into a record shop in Rome and bought maybe twenty LPs. One of the things I found was a cassette of an Indonesian progressive jazz fusion band from the '70's, called Guruh Gypsy. I talked to a clerk working in the store and told him the story about Deep Purple (which, as it turned out, he already knew). I had no expectations when purchasing that cassette tape. I didn't know the music. I guess the record store employee didn't know the music on that cassette, either. But when I got home the next day, that music simply blew my mind! Their music was exceptional.

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From the Inside Out Chris M. Slawecki Robert Wyatt Soft Machine Walter Becker Donald Fagen Marbin simakDialog Allan Holdsworth Alan Pasqua Jimmy Haslip Chad Wackerman Tony Williams john mclaughlin dwiki dharmawan Ligro Agam Hamzah Dennis Rea Moraine Iron Kim Style Zhongyu Michel Delville The Wrong Object Machine Mass douBt Elton Dean Finisterre D.F.A. John Coltrane Rashied Ali Soft Ware Keith Tippett Hugh Hopper John Marshall Joe Gallivan Marcio Mattos evan parker Mike Ratledge Banco Mona Lisa Supersister Peter Hammill Mark Hewins Daevid Allen Gong Dave Stewart Allan Holdsworth PFM Tony Levin Stick Men Pat Mastelotto Markus Reuter Gary Husband Jimmy Johnson Scott Henderson Yes Nektar Hamiet Bluiett Ravi Shankar Black Sabbath Sun Ra Neil Young Jethro Tull Paco de Lucia Ella Fitzgerald Lucio Dalla James Last Orchestra Ian Dury John Lee Hooker Jimi Hendrix John Bonham Keith Emerson Jack Bruce Frank Zappa John Etheridge Dewa Budjana Tohpati Deep Purple Tommy Bolin Glenn Hughes Ritchie Blackmore Discus Iwan Hasan Riza Arshad Little River Band Jeff Lynne Winger Styx Toto Asia Joe Lynn Turner Journey Thunder Survivor House of Lords Crush 40 Hardline Jeff Scott Soto Whitesnake Boston FM John Sykes Yoso Bobby Kimball Billy Sherwood Tony Kaye Jake E. Lee Texas Hippie Coalition Loudness Dominique Vantomme Maxime Lenssens Slivovitz mark wingfield Jesus Rovira Asaf Sirkis Yaron Stavi nguyen le Carles Benavent Sylwia Bialas Frank Harrison Kevin Glasgow Bill Bruford Vasil Hadžimanov Dusan Jevtovic Bernat Hernandez Dwiki Dharmwan Vasil Hadzimanov Boris Savoldelli Beledo steven wilson The Beatles Rolling Stones

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