courtesy of Dave Grusin



Man alive, I was all game to speak with Dave Grusin.
Is there a more accomplished name in jazz history? Hard to say for sure, but he is up there. A producer, a fine pianist, composer, and the "G" in GRP Records, what Grusin says ought to be heard (oh, and by the way, he does have a new recording out that features some of today's hottest classical artists). So I present unto you, Mr. Dave Grusin, unedited and in his own words.

FRED JUNG: Let's start from the beginning.

DAVE GRUSIN: I just grew up in a household that was musical. My dad was a violinist and my mother was a pianist. I just had this musical environment from the time that I can remember. It wasn't anything terribly special. It was just there from the very beginning. I think I have to credit them with whatever my initial interest was. I wouldn't even characterize it as interest. It was just something that existed.

FJ: When did it shift gears?

DAVE GRUSIN: I didn't have a conservatory kind of childhood at all. I took piano lessons like millions of kids do. I actually stopped studying piano for a while during junior high school and high school. I didn't stop playing, but I didn't continue studies. In fact, I didn't study in the dramatic sense of that word until I got into university. I got interested in a career at some point after that during college years, just trying to figure out what I was going to do for a living.

FJ: What conclusion did you come to?

DAVE GRUSIN: That I probably would pursue being a musician basically. I had a vague interest in writing music. I knew I did not want to write commissions for symphony orchestras and so forth, but I was interested in the notion of film scoring because I considered that the last frontier that one could make a living and spend time actively writing new music for.

FJ: What were some of the hurdles?

DAVE GRUSIN: Careers are always a little difficult. You are not sure. There are not any ground rules that you can read and follow in terms of a freelance musical career. You sort of go out there and try to do what you know and then figure out how to get paid for it. I have been interested in that aspect of music education, in the sense that a lot of kids go to college and they know they want to do something with music. They don't know exactly what. The reason why they don't know the specifics of what they want to do is because nobody can tell them what it is and in fact, everybody designs their career in a different way anyway. No two people I know ever did it the same way. When somebody asks them what should they do, it is difficult to give them a great answer because of that.

FJ: You are the "G" in GRP Records.

DAVE GRUSIN: Well, GRP was a production company that Larry Rosen and I formed in order to have some kind of banner to work under during the late Seventies. We were producing artists on a freelance basis, specifically Earl Klugh, Dave Valentin, and we got to the point where maybe what we ought to do is take GRP, which was a production company and turn it into a record label and to that end, Larry went to Clive Davis and we established the label under Arista as the distributing label in 1979. It was during the late Seventies when all this was happening. What we did was basically shift from a production company to a label from a business standpoint.

FJ: Going from a production company to a label is a very courageous step forward.

DAVE GRUSIN: It wasn't easy, Fred. We were trying to do stuff that interested us. We always had a focus on the sonic aspect of this kind of music because we felt that while the whole pop industry was really making strides in terms of state of the art fidelity, a lot of the jazz stuff was not changing and we didn't understand why. We thought it could be better for the fans if it sounded a little better. So that was a big reason for going to the wall, in terms of having a label. I don't know if anybody ever starts out going, "Well, when I grow up, I'm going to have a record label." I can't imagine that. It sort of evolved as a necessity. In the beginning, when we just had a production deal, we had no control over the product after it left the mastering studios. We felt we wanted more control. We felt that there was a way to market this kind of music that didn't fit the paradigm that the general record business was subject to. I think that had as much to do with our desire to form a label as anything.

FJ: Record sales of jazz for some years now have been steadily declining. How were you able to buck that trend?

DAVE GRUSIN: I don't know that there was any single factor. People buy what they like and we were very lucky to have some artists that people did obviously like. You can spend a fortune trying to market records. That is an easy way to spend money. But a lot of times, you are spinning your wheels if you are marketing to the wrong folks. Clearly, this area of music isn't the mainstream as you say. It was a matter of focusing in terms of marketing, promotion, and so forth. You don't want to spin your wheels and tell everybody in the world about this stuff because for most people, that isn't their cup of tea, but if you can get your own audience aware of what you are releasing at any given time, you have a better chance I think.

FJ: Sounds as if it was important work, so why did you and Larry Rosen decide to sell GRP Records?

DAVE GRUSIN: I suppose to try and get paid finally (laughing). Over the years, we did a lot of things that weren't very economically feasible. I had a career all that time in order to support the record business habit. I had a film career and we didn't really make any money at the record label. We had a great time and it was a building process and at a certain time in your life, that is enough, but at some point, you would like to get paid for some of this stuff. It was pure crass commercialism as you would say.

FJ: I wouldn't say that. Everyone deserves their day in the sun. Let's touch on the new record, why do a classical project at this point in your career?

DAVE GRUSIN: It had to do with being asked to do it by Lee Ritenour and Universal. I guess the answer is, Fred, at this point in my musical life, I find I want to do projects that are more interesting than continuing to do the same thing. Whether it is going to work or not, I don't know, but it is certainly an interesting way to spend your time. There is a certain nostalgia in going back to your roots with this kind of music, this kind of playing. It has been a long time for both of us since we have actually gotten down and worked at the technique that would allow you to play this kind of stuff. It was a pretty cathartic experience. It was also very intense in terms of being hypercritical about our own stuff. It was an emotional roller coaster ride.

FJ: Sounds fun.

DAVE GRUSIN: It was fun. A lot of it was fun. A lot of it was hard work and kind of devastating, but I had some great moments of experience that I had never had before, working with people like Gil and Renee Fleming, who just killed me, what at artist she is and how beautiful she sings, but also how cooperative and terrific she was to work with. All of those things, they combined to make it a great experience.

FJ: Having been in the inner circle of the music industry, how do you see the astounding advancements in technology affecting how this music is presented?

DAVE GRUSIN: I think the technology explosion that is going on now, particularly in the dissemination of information, just the amount of data that is out there, is going to have a profound change on how music is delivered. I was going to say how music is sold, but it is not necessarily being sold anymore. It is out there and there are all kinds of new ways to deliver the product. I think it has got to have a devastating affect on the way music has been marketed up to now. I don't think that could continue. There is no reason for it to continue. Sometimes I think there is no reason for anybody to ever buy another piece of product. There are all kinds of companies being started now who lease music to deliver it at home and to have it available when you want it. I don't know that people need to own it anymore. You can subscribe to a service that will let you hear whatever you want to hear until you don't want to hear that anymore. You don't have to own it. You can just go on to the next thing. I don't know if that is good or bad. I can't say I'm thrilled about all of that. I think that there is something nice about the proprietary ownership of CDs and stuff you can actually put in your hand and hold. I think there is a psychological thing that you have made a decision to own that piece of product, that piece of music and you have done whatever you need to do to get it. When that changes, I don't know if that is going to change the general attitude about what music is anyway. For years, we have fought the idea from a copyright and a copyright infringement standpoint. There is a perception that music is free. It is just out there in the air and why should anyone have to pay for it. Those people are now being vindicated in some way. They are almost being proved right. Philosophically, somewhere down the line, if we cut off the ability of musicians to actually be able to make a living in what they do, we're going to lose something. We are going to lose some music or we are going to lose some areas of music that aren't maybe as profitable. I don't think that is a good thing particularly.

FJ: Does life as Dave Grusin ever get boring?

DAVE GRUSIN: Not especially. It is pretty busy. It is not all thrills and excitement. I don't want to imply that. I think people sort of reap the benefits of staying busy. There never seems to be enough time to get all the stuff done that you need to do. Whether that is good or bad, I don't know. It can be very frustrating and a lot of times you wish you didn't have so much, but I can't say I remember being bored very much.

FJ: As the head of GRP Records, you were able to strong arm the reissuing of much of the Impulse! catalog, which of course includes a significant number of John Coltrane's most prized recordings. You must sleep very well at night.

DAVE GRUSIN: (Laughing) Yeah, that is right. That is absolutely right. It is one of those things, Fred, where you think that there are a lot of things about this business that are not great, but this is something, when you have an opportunity to do that, to make sure that stuff is available again or isn't dead or has a new life of some kind, it is great. You are right, absolutely right.

Fred Jung is Jazz Weekly's Editor-In-Chief and runs a 4.2 40. Comments?  Email Fred.