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Rufus Reid: Composer, Educator, Bassist, Gait Keeper… And Prophet

David Hadley Ray By

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AAJ: Wow?! I bet a lot of people don't know that!

RR: So I've seen things. My grandmother lived in Montgomery, so my family, my mother and them, they knew Martin Luther King Senior and Junior! So, when a lot of the church people, and some of the family friends, heard that Sylvia's son was going to be in Montgomery, I kind of had a connection. Although I didn't know how fortunate I was at that time. But, as volatile as that time was, that's when I really grew up to be a man. Because I didn't know my father, and in the military, if you mess up, then you have to clean up whatever you messed up.

AAJ: So it never...

RR: It never... and, even to this day has never... I'm sure some people, at some point but, even in Chicago, I never had any problems racially.

AAJ: Thank you, sir, for that answer. Some people would have run from it, but you tackled it.

AAJ: A lot of people in the pop and rock industry are bemoaning the state of record sales, and you gave me a little hint earlier of what impact the internet has had on you. So, how have you used the internet to your advantage? Well, since you're signed to Motéma Music?

RR: Well, honestly I think the internet is the best thing that's happened to us in a long time. We, as creative musicians, It's a double-edged sword as far as I'm concerned. Like I told you how, with my book, I had to learn how to, what they used to call... (thoughtful) We had to take [all of] the pictures. We actually had it printed and then we pasted [it] page by page. We put the little numbers on the bottom. We had to do all of that, and then take a picture of the whole page, and they used to call it the "offset." So now I can do it, but this edition, I did it all by hand.

Getting to your question for example, in Downbeat, for a hundred dollars, we would buy a one-inch ad. And my house used to look like a Bekin's van lines warehouse, I mean we had boxes everywhere and books. I mean, like I said, the book was our first child. Now, we were hoping that we could reach whatever circulation that Downbeat had. I was praying, [and] then maybe we could sell something, and then at least I would make some money off of the sale of the book. Then everywhere I went with Eddie Harris eventually, I would go to the stores and ask them "would you mind? I would like you to sell my book for me at the music store." They would say "Oh, we only use jobbers. We don't buy from the people." And back then, they had books like Mel Bay and all [of] those books. So, to make a long story short, the internet has allowed us to go to other parts of the world. Just being visible, but now it has exploded to the point where people are able to take stuff. Sort of like a photographer taking a picture of you instead of asking, "can I take your picture?" They just take it and then move off. I mean, now they've put out a magazine, or book, of jazz musicians, but they haven't even paid for [the right] or asked permission but, they're making money off of them.

And if they're prominent, then they're really making good money, but they won't ask you "can I give you ten percent of, whatever," or even the courtesy of giving you some of the book. "Sir, you're in this book and I'd like to [Give you a royalty or a percentage]," that's gone. Spotify, iTunes, Sirius, Apple Music, they have destroyed [the industry], because the people now it's a generation, two or three generations now, of people who really feel they don't need to buy it. They don't need to pay for anything. They don't care what it is. So, it affects us all.

It's kind of hard to explain right now. I mean, the book has been out since 1974. So, I'm blessed that it's still on the market. Okay, people still download and all that, but the people that really want it, and those are the only ones that I want to buy it, and [hope] that they get a hard copy of it. But, in terms of reaching out to more people? The only way the internet can be more helpful is that people have to know who you are, and then you have to have a presence. It took me awhile, my son said: "Dad, you're going to have to get a website." [I said] "what are you talking about?" And then, once I get this website [he says], "Oh Dad, your website is really static, you're going to have to get it up," and then, when the iPhone and the other things came out, he says "Dad, you're going to have to revamp it again so people can look at it." I said, "Damn, I don't really..." and my wife went berserk! (laughter) [She said] "I'm not doing everything!" (even more laughter!) but, when you think about it, there's nothing else here. Now, I can put in a boost on this gig and I just pay one hundred dollars? [and instantly] I've reached over fifteen thousand people?! I say, well damn! Now, I know all fifteen thousand ain't gonna come, but just give me one percent (smiles) if I'm lucky but, it's just getting it out there, even to my friends who live in Timbuktu, or other parts of the world that say, "Oh, man, I wish I could be there."

So there's that presence. But, here again, you still have to work for it. You still have to work at it, you know? The internet has made things easier sort of but, you still gotta work. If you really want to take advantage of the good stuff that's there. So, when I began to realize how beneficial it could be, then I just go there. Yes, I can bemoan not getting paid all of the royalties I should be getting paid, blah, blah, but listen, I was doing okay, before the internet, and I'll be okay after this.


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