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Matthew Shipp: Shipp Shape

Chris Rich By

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Matthew Shipp is a student of music, life and the constructs of the music business. He takes a deep dive into the marketplace with a fierce analysis of major, minor and truly microscopic movements. —Peter Gordon
Pianist Matthew Shipp is very keenly attuned to the details and nuances of what has to be the most forlorn and anemic environment imaginable for anything a sensible person would call business. Think of it as the sort of business ecosystem that resembles the least habitable places on earth, say a fumarole at the bottom of an ocean.

While showbiz jazz at least has a small business infrastructure commensurate with a mid-level touring rock band, free jazz has no such thing and tends to be a habitat for epiphytes or cacti.

There is resource scarcity in a disrupted wasteland of music industry failures, and shambles littering the landscape that intensify the level of effort needed to yield engagements or find willing purchasers for recordings.

The planetary economy sputters with weak, faint seeps of trickledown to track before evaporation takes a toll.

There are mirages and encroachments of touted imposters. Back in the days of national music retail chains, Shipp did his own market research on one such piano imposter encroachment. A new release was launched with enough frothy hype to float a battleship so Shipp was curious to see what sort of salutes would ensue for something run up so imposing a flagpole. He had befriended most of the retail shop buyers around Manhattan so he spent a month checking on sales.

The supersized jug of media bombast failed to convince anyone in the area to buy a single imposter unit across thirty days. Even then, it was clear that the notion of the "influential writer" was largely mythic, particularly in jazz, where the dirty little secret may be that many fans of the music could care less about writers, barring some unusually compelling content.

We now live in a time where unsupported lines of text are probably the least-favored form of content. It better be pretty compelling if people are to be expected to wade through it. It has to be helpful. A description is more useful than a review.

And this may well be the key to All About Jazz. It would rather be helpful than influential, rather be compelling than assertive, and description is a passion.

Shipp is alert to this change and roams the web to see where it meets him. It is an essential business tool for him. And, unlike some of his contemporaries, he makes less of a distinction about the content source. It can be a web version of an old media thing, a blog or a web publication. If anything, his adept engagement with web media has been a valuable aspect of how he earns a living, as it offsets the hazard potential and limited ubiquity that accrues from depending on old media.

He also uses the search engine system to keep an eye on piracy proliferation of his work, and has developed a good working sense of the process involved in applying what legal remedies there are, although there is extreme frustration on his part that piracy exists in a business with limited sales to begin with.

"Shutting down piracy sites is very difficult and something needs to be done with the big picture and in educating people that content is not free," Shipp says. "We pay for instruments. Our parents paid for music lessons when we were kids. Everybody in the food chain gets paid or you don't get the service, so why treat musicians and record companies as if they are dog shit that don't deserve cash for the immense time and effort given to do what they do?"

And he is attentive to the support elements, making sure his stuff is accurate and current.

His North America booking ace, Scott Davidson, uses the web extensively to find potential venue options. The main labels that have engaged him over the years, HatHut and Thirsty Ear, are in the leading edge among counterparts for deft use of web 2.0. Kevin Reilly, a devoted supporter of the teeming free jazz scene in New York and Philadelphia, obtains the additional leverage of a YouTube Channel to his own A&R efforts at Relative Pitch.

Chapter Index
Kevin Reilly Art Lange, Werner Uehlinger and Peter Gordon Performance and Touring Venues Near and Far Summed Up: A Hat Tip from Jim Steinblatt at ASCAP

Kevin Reilly

Reilly is like a 21st century counterpart to Dean Benedetti. Instead of a wire recorder, he uses a flip cam. And the trove he amasses goes straight to the world within a day or so of its creation, in an act of astonishing generosity. He's been so appreciative of the music made by Shipp and his community that he's organized his life around the idea of giving back without regard to the merits of credentials.

"I first heard Matthew Shipp in the David S. Ware Quartet," says Reilly. "In my opinion, he was the spark that drove that band. I'll buy anything with Matthew on it, he is a unique player and a singular musician in my mind. I really enjoy his solo performances.

"Initially I spent a lot of time in Philadelphia supporting the Ars Nova Workshop series. They did an AACM and Coltrane series that were just tremendous. I slowly started going to shows in New York at the Knitting Factory, Roulette, Tonic and then the Stone. Now there are new venues popping up all over Brooklyn. I have certain people in New York that play regularly that I try to never miss, like Tim Berne, Matana Roberts, Ingrid Laubrock, Nate Wooley and Mary Halvorson, but there are many others in New York that are criminally under-recognized that I see as often as I can. I'm thinking of Jemeel Moondoc, Connie Crothers, Catherine Sikora, John Blum, and the legendary subway player Tamio Shiraishi."

Reilly knows his way around the mix of venues and performance spaces with the thoroughness a field ecologist applies to his preferred ecotone.

"The venues in New York have all fled to Brooklyn," Reilly explains. "The only place in Manhattan that consistently books music I like is the Stone. I like maybe half of what Cornelia Street Cafe and the Jazz Gallery book. Brooklyn places come and go, but that seems to be changing. Roulette and Issue Project Room now have long-term homes in Brooklyn and the Shapeshifter Lab is the most promising venue to open up in a long time. Most places are door gigs which, sadly, is just the state of affairs these days. If the musicians don't get paid they will eventually stop hustling for gigs or pursue their art in the subways."

He is also a co owner of the well focused and thoughtful label, Relative Pitch.

"We are only a year and a half old so most of what I'm doing is busy work," says Reilly. "Emailing liner notes, credits and art back and forth. My label partner Mike Panico and I are always scrambling. We both have fulltime day jobs. For me the label is already a success. There are three great CDs out in the world that I'm honored to be associated with. And we have five more lined up for this year. I want to serve the musicians and help support the music.

As the Crow Flies"I'm particularly proud of the Jim Hobbs recording. I saw the chemistry between Jim [Hobbs] and Mary [Halvorson] the first time I saw them play together in Taylor Ho Bynum's sextet. I think that is an absolutely great record that was conceived, recorded and released in a year's time. As the Crow Flies (Relative Pitch, 2012) is among the best releases of the year, in my unbiased opinion. Our two prior releases were already recorded and just waiting for a label to want to release them.

"People send us work to consider for release, it's interesting to listen to stuff you have absolutely no preconceptions about. I wish we could put out more. I will give anything a fair listen and offer any help I can even if it doesn't fit into our schedule."

His YouTube channel may well be his most powerful contribution, and by free jazz standards it is pretty successful, with over 27,000 visits and 60 subscribers.

"The video thing was a fluke. I spent a great deal of effort tracking down Tamio Shiraishi. He was a founding member of Fushitsusha with Keiji Haino in 1978, and I heard about his solo playing in the subways. When I finally contacted him and arranged to see him in a subway in Queens at 1am I took along my son's flip cam to document it.

"Often, when Tamio plays I am the only person there and I felt that this incredible artist had to be documented—when Tamio plays the subway becomes a cathedral," Reilly concludes. "The other early videos I did were of artists I had become friendly with. I took video of Paul Flaherty, he has been a real friend and mentor to me along with Jack Wright, Vinny Golia and, more recently, Joe Morris. There is a real community somewhere in here; it is fractured and divided which is a real shame. There is strength in numbers."


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