Pop Superstar + Jazz Singer Born in 1926 = Great Idea

The first time I witnessed the names Lady Gaga and Tony Bennet in the same sentence, it was in the sky – on an aerial banner. I see these very often, especially during the summer, so I almost ignored it as I always do. But then I looked up again. First of all this form of advertising is highly unusual for musical projects. And second… Lady Gaga and Tony Bennet? Really?

Lady Gaga sang with Tony for the first time for “The Lady is a Tramp”, a single in recorded 2011. This came his just after Bennett’s “Duets II” album which featured a wide range of artists such as Mariah Carey, Willie Nelson and Queen Latifah. The Bennet Gaga single was a success, so much that this year they decided to release a full length album together. Its called “Cheek to Cheek”, and its quite good. If you are wondering what style of music the two play when they collaborate, it’s all jazz. Gaga sounds very natural as a jazz singer, especially on the track “I Can’t Give you Anything but Love”, which she sings with a strong, bluesy confidence.

This collaboration is actually a terrific idea. Obviously “Cheek to Cheek” hasn’t sold in numbers anywhere near what Lady Gaga usually does, (in the first week it sold 131000 copies – about half of what “Artpop” did, and a small fraction compared to “Born this Way”) but for Tony Bennett, an 85 year old jazz singer, these types of collaborations have proven to be a huge boost in sales. Meanwhile, Lady Gaga gets a boost in respect and credibility for performing with the one and only Tony Bennett.

The brains behind this project? Danny Bennet. The singer’s son and manager, Danny is always thinking of new ways to keep sales rising despite the low popularity of jazz and the prevalence of streaming and illegal downloads. Collaborations have proven to benefit not only domestic sales but also foreign sales with “Duets II” peaking at #2 on the Canadian Albums Chart and at #5 in the UK. Danny also made an effort to increase international sales with the release of the trilingual “Viva Duets” in 2012.

Also to maximize profitability, Danny emphasizes timing and packaging. He makes exclusive distribution deals with retailers such as Target (for limited edition versions of “Duets II”) and Barnes and noble (for “Tony Bennett: The Complete Collection”). Releases usually fall around the holiday season, or just before a major tour. Danny also loves bringing a video camera to the studio, so there’s plenty to check out on Youtube.


The Freshest Voice in Jazz

Steve Cohen is the founder and CEO of Music + Art Management Inc. The firm represents several talented artists from different genres. But one of his clients, the main reason I am interested in Cohen’s work, happens to be a jazz musician that everyone is talking about – Vijay Iyer. Aptly dubbed, “The Freshest Voice in Jazz” in his 60 Minutes feature, Vijay has captured the attention of jazz musicians and listeners everywhere, especially young ones.

In an interview with CelebrityAccess, Steve Cohen boasts that all of his artists are “on the ascending portions of their careers”. This is certainly true for Vijay. He recently became a professor at Harvard University and signed a publishing deal with Schott Music. At 43 he is not only a MacArthur Fellow, but he is the only jazz musician to win the Downbeat Critic’s Poll “Quintuple Crown” (winning Artist of the Year, Pianist of the Year, Jazz Album of the Year, Jazz Group of the Year, and Rising Star Composer) for 2013.

So clearly, Vijay’s talent is to be credited here, but Steve Cohen seems to be doing is his job as well.

Steve got started in the industry playing bass in a regional Upstate NY band, the Units. He worked as manager and agent for the unsigned band, learning the ins and outs of the bands. Eventually, when his performing career never really took off, he took a job as the personal assistant of Linda Goldstein, manager of Bobby McFerrin. He took the job very seriously and eventually promoted to Vice President of the firm, which is called Original Artists. During this time he worked with Bela Fleck, Dianne Reeves, and David Byrne, in addition to McFerrin. Finally after 9 years, he decided to start his own firm, Music + Art Management. Today he represents DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid, and poets, Carl Hancock Rux, and Haale, in addition to Vijay Iyer.

In the interview, he described the job of a manager in a nutshell: “Getting all of the zillion details right while still having the time to brainstorm and contemplate the big picture.” He also advised aspiring industry professionals, “Don’t go into this business to make a lot of money. Get into it because you can’t bear to stay out of it.”


What do Darin Atwater, Sean Jones, and Christian McBride have in common? Take a Guess.

Guessworks, a management firm, represents three great jazz artists: Darin Atwater, Sean Jones, and Christian Mcbride. The president and CEO, Andre Kimo Stone Guess, previously worked as Vice President and Producer for Jazz at Lincoln Center, and as the President and CEO of the August Wilson Center for African American Culture.

Darin Atwater is the founder, artistic director and conductor for Soulful Symphony, an orchestra that incorporates jazz, blues, and gospel sounds. Soulful Symphony was founded in 2000 and in 2004 began collaborating with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to organize and promote shows throughout Maryland.

Sean Jones is one of the top trumpeters today. He played lead trumpet for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and has played with Joe Lovano, Illinois Jacquet, Jimmy Heath, Frank Foster, Dianne Reeves, Gerald Wilson, and Marcus Miller. He now serves as artistic directors as BOTH the Pittsburgh and Cleveland Jazz Orchestras. Recently he has hired by Berklee college of music as Chair of the Brass Department. It is unclear whether or not he has left his teaching positions at Oberlin (woop woop!) and Duquesne. An article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette reported that he was leaving Duquesne, but it also erroneously stated that he played lead trumpet at the JLCO for 6 years (instead of six months). Meanwhile the Oberlin Jazz Faculty website seems to have replaced him with Eddie Henderson – who can also play a note or two 🙂

Finally Christian McBride is Christian McBride. I can’t think of a much better compliment than that. I have seen him play numerous times at the Newport Jazz Festival, and once when he came to Oberlin. Each time he is amazing, both technically and artistically. He is always bluesy and soulful, but can play any style of music. My favorite group of his – a trio with Chick Corea and Brian Blade. For those who don’t know, he has appeared on more than 300 recordings and won 3 Grammys.





A Classic Rock Album by a Jazz Trombonist… Managed by a Ballerina.

AMS Artists, which exclusively represents some of the best jazz musicians working today, is named after its founder Anna M. Sala, who has had quite an interesting career. In her twenties she made a name for herself as one of the best ballerinas in the US, being chosen to represent her country at the International Dance Competition in Moscow. After retiring from ballet in her late twenties, she transitioned into booking and management particularly for jazz artists. Over the years she has worked with Joshua Redman, Christian McBride, J. J. Johnson, Ray Brown, Cedar Walton, Ron Carter, Billy Higgins, and Dave Holland.

Today, she works as a manager only. The AMS roster includes Ravi Coltrane, Robin Eubanks, Benny Green and Nicholas Payton. These are four of the top musicians in jazz.

Robin Eubanks is a long time member of the San Fransisco Jazz Collective and faculty member at my former school, Oberlin. He has just released an album with the help of crowdfunding platform Artistshare. It is called KLassik Rock and it is exactly what it sounds like… You heard correctly. A classic rock album by a contemporary jazz trombonist. And it is outrageously good.

Speaking of the SF collective, Ravi Coltrane will be visiting their home at the SF Jazz Center this week to celebrate the 50th anniversary of one of his father’s most iconic albums, A Love Supreme.  Nicholas Payton will be there as well on the 13th.







Two Great Guitarists – One Agency

On the Upper East Side of Manhattan, David Passick runs one of the most important agencies for jazz artists. Over the years, Passick has worked with Herbie Hancock, Don Was and Art Garfunkel. He is also highly active in the film and television industry. He worked as a music supervisor for the television show Miami Vice and co-produced an award winning documentary about the life of Brian Wilson called I Just Wasn’t Made for these Times.

Passick’s partner, Jack Leitenberg, got started in the industry as the promotor for a Nightclub in NYC called The Bottom Line. During this time, artists such as Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Miles Davis, Carlos Santana, and Tony Bennett performed there.

David Passick Entertainment’s current roster includes Kris Bowers, Nir Felder, and one of my personal favorites, Lionel Loueke. Loueke surely was connected to DPE through Herbie, who has performed and recorded with Lionel Loueke quite a bit. Nir Felder has just come out with a terrific album called Golden Age featuring Aaron Parks, Matt Penman, and Nate Smith. Felder and Loueke are truly a couple of the top jazz guitarists today. It’s fitting they are working with the same agency.



On the Road with Sonny

Sonny Rollins had been managed by his wife, Lucille, until she passed away in 2004. They started working together in 1971, after she persuaded him to come back from a hiatus.

Eventually, Lucille, who had been doing all the tour work, was looking to hire a tour manager. Ted Kurland in Boston (Sonny’s agent) put her in touch with Peter Downey. Downey, a Berklee alum, had admired and studied Rollins’ work and was excited for the job. He had already worked as a tour manager and audio engineer for musicians like Henry Connick Jr. and Whitney Houston.

In an interview found on Noodle.com, he says that there are two parts to the job of a manager. 10% of the job is logistics, and 90% of the job is personality. “Personality”, mainly referring to Sonny’s preferences regarding accommodations. He says that after years of working with Rollins, he rarely needs to ask for his preferences because he knows his personality so well. I might guess that for smaller artists, the ratio is a bit different, because they can’t afford to be as picky about accommodations.

There aren’t many legends from Miles Davis’ generation still around. Sonny Rollins is definitely one of them. He hasn’t been touring lately however. His latest album, Sonny Please, was released in 2006, and he did headline the Newport Jazz festival in 2008. This isn’t the first time he has taken a step away from performing though, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a come back.



Thinking of Becoming a Manager? Do Something Illegal.

There is no single way to become the manager of a great artist. There is an interesting story behind how Marty Salzman became Buddy Guy’s manager. If you are a lawyer, you might want to think about giving something like this a try…

Salzman was Guy’s manager for 11 years (from 1981-1992). It is unclear why they split. Perhaps, Guy was talked in to doing a few too many illegal things (a complete guess, I really have no idea). Salzman has also managed Magic Slim and Junior Wells. Both of whom have passed on. At this point it is unclear weather or not Salzman is managing anyone at the moment but he is still practicing law.

Salzman in another video talks about what it means to be a manager. He names PR as the most important part of the job and defines the role of a manager as to constantly take the artist to the next level.




If You’re Wondering about Stevie’s Manager (Ha!)

Keith Harris has managed a number talented artists during his 40 year career in the music industry. At a recent You are in Control conference he was asked to name his favorite artist to manage. Of the artists he has represented, his answer was my own favorite: Stevie Wonder.

Harris began working in the music industry in 1974. He went from an indie label called Transatlantic Records to EMI two years later. While at EMI he joined Motown (an EMI label at the time) and worked with artists such as Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, The Commodores, Rick James, The Supremes, Thelma Houston, and of course, Stevie Wonder. After two years of that he left Motown to work exclusively with Stevie Wonder in 1978. However four years later, he formed his own management company and began managing other artists as well.

Though Stevie Wonder had countless hits by the time Harris became his manager (including possibly his greatest album, Songs in the Key of Life), the 80’s marked his highest highest period of commercial success. He recorded numerous no. 1 hits including “Ebony and Ivory”, “I Just Called to Say I Love You”, and “Part Time Lover”.

When asked about changes in the music industry, Harris complained that labels today put too much pressure on developing acts rather than developing artists over time. If this is the case, I can’t help but wonder, how do artists deal with such pressure? More importantly, what can we do to change this practice?





Chick’s Manager

After 20 Grammy awards, it is no secret that Chick Corea is one of the most important jazz musicians today. His modern style as a pianist and keyboardist is exceptionally compatible with a seemingly endless network of notable collaborators, especially in latin settings. His work as a leader has also led to some new sounds that we are all grateful for. Return to Forever is often the first of many such projects that comes to mind.

Naturally his manager, Bill Rooney deserves some credit for keeping things rolling since he took the job in 2001. I was able to dig up some info – particularly a 2011 article in JazzTimes – which gave a little bit of insight as to how he operates.

Prior to being Chick’s manager, he was the Vice President of Marketing and Investor Relations for Digital Lightwave. From what I understand, this is a company that develops test equipment for telecommunications companies. How this job leads to a career in the music industry I have no idea, but the transition seems to have worked out for Mr. Rooney. Apparently he was an admirer of Chick’s (as everyone should be) long before taking the job. This I can only imagine feeds the motivation necessary to do a job which is not for everyone. Similarly he has worked with Dweezil Zappa, who’s father Frank is someone Rooney disguised himself as in his high school yearbook.

Rooney has been instrumental in setting up tours for Chicks various ventures in the past 13 years (including 2 RTF tours) and is often sighted as “Executive Producer” on recordings. Chick is currently touring Europe with Bobby McFerrin and will be in Mexico on December 29 with The Vigil. I am not aware of any upcoming albums but recently released a 3-Disk recording of one of my favorite groups – his trio with Christian Mcbride and Brian Blade.






The Management Behind a Leading Leader in Jazz

In this blog I will be talking about managers for some of my favorite musicians, many of whom are jazz artists. If you check in every week of so, hopefully I can give you some insight as to why some artists are more or less successful than you might expect. Additionally, you will be exposed some great music that you may not have checked out yet.

This week I will be starting with David Sholemson at Ted Kurland Associates. I had the privilege of working with these guys at an internship recently, so I have something of an insider’s perspective.

TKA is a booking agency in Boston, MA. They represent a dynamic array of extremely talented musicians including Chick Corea, Wynton Marsalis, Pat Metheny, Cecile Mclorin Salvant, Red Baraat (check these guys out if you haven’t already), Meshell Ndegeocello (her too!), and Sonny Rollins (though he has unofficially retired).

Ted Kurland, the founder of the company got started at an agency while still in college. Before even graduating, he told me, he was already booking more shows than anyone else at the firm. It was at this point he realized it was time to leave. He then made a name for himself at a startup agency called All American Talent booking blues legends such as Muddy Waters. When the company split, he shifted his focus to jazz and started Ted Kurland Associates. This firm really took off when he signed Gary Burton, whom he had contacted years before to seek guidance regarding a career in booking.

Gary Burton’s ties to Pat Metheny soon led to him being signed with TKA as well. This was long before he was the superstar he is today. Pat wanted to focus entirely on making music so he needed a manager, and asked Ted if he could do management in addition to booking. He was far too busy himself, but asked one of his agents, David Sholemson if he thought he was up for the job.

David has since been Pat’s manager. Having never managed an artist before, he learned his job by being thrown into the fire. Some things the hard way. For example, early on he was Metheny’s touring manager as well as his manager and booking agent. He made the mistake of booking too many consecutive shows without a night off. While on the road, the time consuming duties of the job left little to no time for sleep. At one point David was so tired he began to hallucinate.

David has managed other artists in the past including Brian Blade, but Pat Metheny has become so prolific, that his management alone is all that David can handle. When I asked him about the day to day aspects of his job he had a hard time answering. Managing someone like Pat Metheny, there is far too much variation in day to day work. He does this work intuitively and relies on his experience rather than any sort of comprehensive organizational system.

He is an approachable guy with a sense of humor and some interesting stories about Pat. For starters: Pat doesn’t eat during the day. He wont eat more than a candy bar until after a show, and then he eats a huge dinner. I’m not sure how this is humanly possible, which feeds into my theory that he is a superhuman. As you might imagine, Pat takes his work very seriously and has never had any problem with drugs. He did at one time have a problem with Pepsi, but has recovered.

David has done great things as Pat Metheny’s manager, helping him turn into one of the most famous guitarists in the world even outside of the jazz community. (After all he already was one of the best.) Unfortunately we may not get to see David make this kind of progress with other artists from now on. In his own words, “Working with [Metheny] alone has become my full time job and I’ve decided to stop worrying about managing other artists. My plan is to ride off into the sunset with Pat career wise. I will have to retire at some point and I would be surprised if Pat isn’t still doing all this in his 80’s.”