Greg Osby: New Mission, New Label, New Responsibility
“ We need more soldiers - people that are honest, with integrity. Who have a reinforced work ethic and are willing to do the ground work and get the music out there. Greg Osby ”
Never one to mince words, Osby has built a reputation as a blunt spokesman willing to tell it like it is, whether discussing the state of art, his personal development, or the less appealing aspects of the music business. Now, launching a new label, Osby is even better positioned to formalize what he has been unofficially doing for many years, namely fostering the next generation of talent.
In discussion, Osby is both varied and volatile, moving much like his playing; alternately blunt and abstract, introspective and overt, elaborately descriptive and pointedly focused, articulating in strong terms the need for leaders like himself to take responsibility for the state of jazz today.
All About Jazz: Last we spokea little under a year agoyou were here in D.C. debuting your new band. You spoke a little about your plans, and it sounds like they have really come together. You've got a new album out and most importantly it's on your own label, which you've just launched. Let's talk about the label, starting with the mission statement. It's certainly not your typical statement. Right off the bat you say, "Inner Circle Music was formed based on the assumption that the needs of creative music loving consumers have not been adequately fulfilled of late." Can you explain what you mean by that?
Greg Osby: Well, it's everything. The implosion of the record industrythe recording industry as a wholeyou can see that's resulted in a mass dissatisfaction from consumers, as well as the participants. It's something that was timely and inevitable ... A lot of people have been disenchanted for a long timejust buying CDs and box sets, where maybe one-fifth of the project was worthy of production. I mean, it was either released prematurely or ill-conceived, ill-prepared, under prepared, or really just rushed to meet deadlines and satisfy quotas. They had a couple bucks left over at the end of the year and just slapped something together. Even in the pop field, there are 13 tracks on it and maybe you get one hit single.
So people got tired of that. People got tired of feeling like they were being shafted and ripped off.
AAJ: That raises the next part of your mission statement. Your assertion that the market "is inundated with releases that have no focus, cultural designation, or direction." You've already half explained that statement as diagnosing a structural problem with the industry, but it could also be read as a pretty sweeping criticism of other artists' work.
GO: Yeah, it's like if the shoe fits? [Laughs]. A lot of people record too soon, before they need to. I waited until I was 28 years old to record. I was being courted the day I stepped foot in New York when I was 22. But I took personal responsibility and recognized that I needed more apprenticing. I needed more instilling of the values that should go into performance and the documentation of these works. There were people in my peer group who took the carrot, so to speak. A lot of them are phantoms now because they didn't wait.
AAJ: Do you think there is a myth of the young new prodigy that reinforces that? We are always presented with the story of a 17-year-old genius or the 19-year-old, still in school, but here is their debut release.
GO: That is a commodity concept. Find somebody and wring them dry until we can kick them to the curb and sink our teeth into the next new flavor. We have to be wary of thatartists and their handlers.
Everybody wants to be successful. Everybody wants to be lauded, appreciated, and celebrated for their efforts. However, a career should be paramount in their consideration, a career of long-term development and the establishment of something to say. As opposed to that overnight sensation, that young s17-year-old who doesn't really have anything to say, who really hasn't experienced the blues, can't play them with any validityhasn't even lost a girlfriendcan't play a ballad with any kind of conviction. I don't want to hear that kind of story being told by kids. I just don't. [chuckling]
AAJ: Can you explain a little bit more the phrase "cultural designation?" It is tempting to read a lot into that.
GO: A lot of contemporary musicians who are beinglet me put this tactfullywho are being celebrated, their music doesn't contain any of the particulars that led us to this point in time, in terms of embracing the rich lineage of jazz music. To put it bluntly, a lot of their music sounds European. It doesn't sound African. It doesn't sound African-American, it doesn't sound like African-American jazz. It doesn't sound like jazz that was born of these shores. It sounds more like contemporary classical, or avant-garde, new music, third-stream or something like that. It floats, it meanders, it hovers. It has no propulsive element that gives it feeling and depth.
I've always tried to be careful not to have the scales tip too heavily in any one direction. There should be balances. If the scales become imbalanced, it throws off the continuum. It really kills what your intentions are. I'm hearing a lot of that. I'm seeing people winning polls, working constantly, but when I hear that music I question whether I'm listening to the same thing that I saw get rave five-star reviews.
This is no dismissal of an artist's right to choose their course and to present themselves in a mode that they feel is accurate or honest. They have a choice to do anything they want. Some of these things that I am saying have been said about my music too.
AAJ: It's always a tricky proposition to make these judgments. I've followed your music for a long time, and listening to your latest band, it sounds to me that you are blending traditional elements with a lot of avant-garde elements. It seems to set up a questioning of that very dichotomy between "modern jazz" and "traditional jazz," that there is an old school and a new school and they are at odds.
GO: The structure is still there. The quest for discovery is still there. And the age-old allegiance to group improvisation and being spontaneous is still there, but also I'm trying to meld a lot of the things, or bring to fruition a lot of things that never saw the light of day. Things that I've worked on for many years but never had the opportunity to display them properly, or develop them fully. But now I have a platform and I have a great cast of support players. Let me be clear. I never had any label interferenceno one ever was directorialbut now it is much more liberating. I can record whenever I feel like it.
AAJ: Going back to the statement. You didn't use the word "jazz" anywhere in it. Was this a deliberate choice because the label will present different genres of music?
GO: Not really. Every project will have an underpinning of the jazz ideology. I'm not going to move away from that. That was not done to move away from the term, to dismiss it, or to bury it. That was not my goal or my mission. Group improvisation, with a pulse; not overt blues elements because I don't think you have to emphasize the blues. Your music doesn't have to ooze with those elements. That becomes patronizing to me, a pantomime. When you are so deliberate it is borderline minstrelsy. I don't think anyone has to do that. That's just not necessary.
AAJ: Yet earlier you said that some of the music today lacks cultural designation because it doesn't have its roots back in African or African-American sounds. That begs the question of what it means to be tied back to that heritage considering not all of your roster is African-American.
GO: Absolutely. I can play classical music if I want to. But I don't wear a powdered wig, carry a snuff box, or have ruffles on my shirt. You can do your thing. You can make your choices. You can devote yourself to whatever compounds are necessary to bring validity to the context. You can do that. [But] to ignore certain grounding elements that define a genre, or certain premiseswe know what that sounds like. It just sounds like someone on a trapeze without a net, you know?
AAJ: So you will still be working within the constructs of jazz?
GO: Absolutely. Because we need help! We need more soldiers. We need more people that are honest, with integrity. Who have a reinforced work ethic [and] are willing to do the ground work and get the music out there. That are willing to attract new patrons. These are the people I hand selected.