A Fireside Chat With Greg Osby
In speaking with Andrew Hill and Muhal Richard Abrams and other people that I admire, they have had to endure the same trials so I guess it just comes with the territory. Artists grants as well as teaching positions, those things helped to sustain an artist through the dry spells and to subsidize the meager earnings they make actually performing their great music. I guess it is some of the perils of individualism and having a clue.
FJ: I shouldn't bitch since I participate in it, but have you seen the latest Downbeat Critics Poll?
GO: No, I haven't but I heard I was nominated in several categories, at least eight or nine categories, which is flattering. It's quite flattering, but I don't even mean to dismiss the whole thing, but I take it with a grain of salt. A lot of times, that acknowledgment doesn't translate into work. I win polls. I won the Jazz Journalists Association best alto saxophone award three years in a row and I looked around the room and I was the only cat there that doesn't work regularly (laughing).
It is interesting to me. A lot of the people in the journalists' community regard what I do as valid, but they don't book the gigs. It is the shortsightedness of a lot of promoters who don't hear my music or they may have seen me in a situation that was repugnant to them and they're mind's ear is tuned to that and they just can't get away from that.
People still make references to Greg Osby doing that hip-hop. I did that in 1993. They heard me with Jack DeJohnette or with Muhal Richard Abrams or Lester Bowie or the World Saxophone Quartet, way back in the '80s and they still can't shirk that imagery. So they don't acknowledge what I'm doing now or know the contributions that I've made, or where my music is going and the wonderful musicians that have come through my band. And they will give the gig to somebody else.
FJ: First impressions are a bitch in music.
GO: It is unfortunate, Fred. People don't go back and listen to things after they do a little bit of learning and a little bit of growth. We're obligated to do so because we don't know everything and after a little bit of life experience, that compounds our intellect where we can revisit things and get a different impression of it, get a whole different spin and a different take on it.
A lot of people don't honor themselves with repeated listening, which contributes to the lack of progress. There are many factors that contribute to that. The musicians themselves are at fault. Promoters are at fault. Record companies, they just put the records out and they don't do any kind of creative marketing. They just hope that the records will sell themselves or hope that the artists will get his own work. It's very different. Every hand should wash the other, but they don't. There's too many islands and we need more unification in the industry.
I've tried to do that on some small level. I've chatted with many of the writers in New York to try to establish a stronger rapport and keep the pipeline active. I've initiated calls on my own to talk to people and tell them what I think or what I'm working on or what I think should be there focus. As opposed to talking about what a musician isn't doing, talk about the people that are doing something and try to encourage some activity.
That us-versus-them mentality, musicians in direct opposition with the journalist community, that doesn't work. That's proven that it doesn't work because it makes for bad reviews. It makes for dissension and skepticism. That's not healthy. We need to join forces to thrust this music out there and to give it the shot of adrenaline that it needs.
FJ: With Tommy Mottola appearing on CNBC along with other music executives crying wolf that the music industry is losing their shirt to downloads and CD burners, do you foresee major labels even keeping a jazz division in the future?
GO: The wane is in effect right now. A lot of the majors are dropping artists because they don't concern themselves with the long run. They don't concern themselves with artist development. A guy was a young prot'g' or whatever and they snatched him up and the records didn't sell or the fervor died down and they drop the cat like a hot potato and now they're damaged goods. All they can do is get a deal with some independent label in Europe or some fly-by-night label or do something on their own and hope to sell it out of the trunk of their car or at their gigs, which are a lot more difficult to come by now because of the damage goods nature and they don't have major label backing.
But I whole-heartedly advocate internet sales, E commerce, file sharing, networks. I am totally down with that. Last weekend, I played with Phil Lesh again, ex-bassist for The Grateful Dead and I've been playing with him off and on for the past three or four years. As a result of my relationship with him and talking to him, I put six live concerts on my website in MP3 format, available for download.