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Terri Hinte: Co-Creating the Image of Jazz

Victor L. Schermer By

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The main change in the jazz industry has been the rise of the Internet, and of digital music, and of so-called free music and free everything. How is this economic model sustainable? —Terri Hinte
[This is the second of an All About Jazz series of interviews and articles on "The Many Faces of Jazz Today: Critical Dialogues" in which we explore the current state of jazz around the world with musicians, journalists, and entrepreneurs who give us their own unique perspectives. In the first interview of the series, saxophonist Bobby Zankel provided the perspective of a seasoned musician on his efforts to maintain his creativity and independence in an increasingly "homogenized" consumer-based environment. The interview below is with public relations expert Terri Hinte, who elaborates on how musicians promote their wares and what this means in terms of how the jazz industry evolved over the past half century]

Terri Hinte works tirelessly behind the scenes to make jazz happen. For four decades she has been helping musicians with their careers through writing, networking, and publicizing their recordings and concerts, first assisting Gretchen Horton and Orrin Keepnews at historic Fantasy Records, then becoming their Director of Press and Public Information, and for the last decade as director of her own firm, Terri Hinte Public Relations. In her work, she gets to see what helps and hurts musicians in their careers, finds successful ways to generate interest and attract audiences, talks with musicians about their satisfactions and frustrations, and obtains a birds-eye view of the jazz scene. She has witnessed first-hand the many changes that have happened in jazz during the transition from LP recordings to the digital age and all the shifts that have occurred in musical styles and audience preferences. One of her most enduring clients, Sonny Rollins, has relied countless times on her astute management and PR skills. Hinte works out of the San Francisco area, but she frequently travels to festivals and other events world-wide.

Since jazz, like any endeavor, depends in part upon how people perceive it and do business around it, we asked Hinte to give us her take on the present and past jazz scene from her perch as someone who works with the musicians to co-create their public perception and opportunities for performance and development.

Hinte's Vantage Point

All About Jazz: Tell us about the "perch" from which you view jazz. What is the experience from which you come to this discussion?

Terri Hinte: For the last 40-plus years, in my professional life, I've been tracking how, why, and where jazz and jazz artists get written and talked about and how they're perceived for better or worse by the public. I consume a heavy diet of newspapers and magazines. I also spend an awful lot of time online, reading and researching and just poking around in search of new outlets and new writers and those who are new to me personally. Fortunately I'm a newspaper and magazine junkie, because it's a full-time job in itself keeping up with the constant evolution of platforms as well as the volume of content and figuring out how I can maximize the current opportunities for the artists I'm working with.

AAJ: What's been your exposure to the music itself?

TH: Live music has always been a big part of the picture for me. Over the years I've been to innumerable festivals, where I've been witness to some extraordinary performances, but I really prefer the intimacy of small clubs. There's a certain glamour to it, even when the space itself is less than entirely comfortable, and I love the physical experience of the music—the vibrations, the audible breaths and squeaks and hums of the players and their instruments. The music is alive.

Probably most of the music I've experienced has been in many dozens of Bay Area venues, but New York takes second place. I'm from New York originally and return there at least annually. Third is Rio de Janeiro. During the 1980s into the '90s, I made frequent trips to Brazil and caught as much samba, MPB ["Musica Popular Brasileira"—Brazilian popular music -Eds], and jazz as I possibly could. But I make a point of seeing live music wherever I find myself: L.A., Washington DC, Chicago, Paris, London, Prague.

At home I listen to all kinds of music, including classical, bluegrass, samba, and salsa. I especially love Chopin and Jobim. When hearing an album for the first time, I like to arrive at the 'point of obsession'—the track(s) that, upon repeated listening, will truly capture me and eventually show up in my dreams. I imagine that the music writers I work with, as well as most fans, are in search of a similar transformational experience: the power of music. So I try to apply that in my work.

AAJ: Do you still think of jazz in the same way you did when you first got into it? Or has your perspective changed?

TH: My first exposure to jazz, when I started at Fantasy, was to artists like McCoy Tyner, Sonny Rollins, Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, Bill Evans. Before that, I was coming from rock, blues, folk, classical, pop, and r&b. Then I heard this new music and loved it, immersed myself in it. Good music is good music, and I've never been concerned, from a fan's perspective, with categories and boxes.

But boy oh boy, my perspective as a professional has changed all that! Evaluating music that I might be representing is a process that requires me to consider what 'slot' the album might be put into, as well as how it might be received by the writers I work with. Does it correlate with what I know of their tastes? This on top of my gut reaction to the music: can I listen to it repeatedly? Will it find its way into my dreams? But sometimes that's less important, on a professional level, than whether the music will somehow fit in on the larger stage.

Musicians' Public Relations Efforts

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