courtesy of Dave Grusin
CHAT WITH 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
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
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
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
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
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?