FIRESIDE CHAT WITH DON LUCOFF
If you are not a member of "the industry," you've probably never heard
of Don Lucoff. If you are a member of "the industry," Don, Brad, Diana,
and the other folks at DL Media are probably as familiar as members of
your own family. DL Media handles the publicity for the most prominent
labels in this music. Blue Note trusts DL Media with their artists and
so the opinion of DL Media is pretty important in terms of how Blue Note
artists like Greg Osby, Joe Lovano, and Kurt Elling will be presented
to you, the viewing and listening public. So when DL talks, I would listen.
As always, it is brought to you unedited and in his own words.
JUNG: Let's start from the beginning.
DON LUCOFF: I have been working professionally in public relations, in
jazz public relations since 1983 and I started with the Playboy Jazz Festival
in Los Angeles, moved to New York in '84, working for Peter Levinson Communications,
an independent public relations firm that handled at the time, older generation
artists, primarily the Basie Orchestra, Woody Herman, Rosey Clooney, Mel
Torme, Artie Shaw. That's how I got into the New York scene in terms of
jazz public relations. After a couple of years of working there, I moved
over to MCA Records, which is really the label that broadened my awareness
and scope and understanding of the music business. It was a national position
and it was exciting because it was at a time when jazz labels were just
getting back on track. In the '80s, that was right around the time Wynton
was signed by Columbia and there was really no jazz departments at any
of the major labels and MCA was the first, actually, the second. Verve
had just started a jazz department before MCA did. It was very exciting
because they reissued a lot of great Impulse! records and signed a lot
of hip artists, Michael Brecker, Henry Butler, Jack DeJohnette. I worked
there until MCA bought GRP. At that time, all the MCA artists either moved
over to GRP or they left the company and sought employment elsewhere.
That was an opportunity for me because I wasn't part of that shift, to
go independent. I felt that I had enough contacts and experience to try
it on my own. There really wasn't anybody doing it, in 1988, independent
jazz PR, other than Peter Levinson, who hired me. Since I started in the
business eleven years ago, there's probably ten independent jazz publicists
out there that I know of that are working in this music. That just shows
that there is a lot of potential.
what is the growth potential of the music?
DON LUCOFF: Well, it can only go up because, truthfully, in the last five
years, according to the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America),
jazz has slipped from five percent to three percent of the retail market.
That's a barometer of certain things. That's a barometer of shifting demographics,
people who have more options for utilizing their entertainment dollar,
internet, just other activities. Getting people focused to go into a CD
store or going online and making a sale, buying specifically a jazz CD,
it's a very targeted, conscious purchase. It's a target customer. It's
a conscious decision. I think the internet will help further the cause
of the music because the internet is very niche oriented and jazz is a
very niche oriented music. People are tired of going into record stores
and getting crappy service and asking for help and not being able to get
it because people who work in record stores don't know anything about
jazz and a lot of the stores don't stock what they are looking for and
people don't have time to go to malls and go to stores. "I heard this
on the radio." And they try to give their impression of what they heard
and the people in the store look at them with a dumb look on their face,
so I think the internet is the answer to that problem, will solve that
riddle. Obviously, Fred, I'm telling you something you already know. The
internet is going to play an amazing part in the resurgence of jazz. I
also think satellite radio will have a big impact on jazz. That's a little
further down the line, but it will be great that you and I will be driving
in our car and I can tune into jazz at KLON in Long Beach or WRTI in Philly.
It will just bring more jazz fans into the mix of the music as to what
is being produced, what's being played, and what's being recorded. I think
that will get more people excited and that will increase sales. The record
labels are trying to figure out how to create a way to monitor and codify
it to control the revenue stream, but once that gets ironed out and the
internet becomes more integrated, in terms of the commerce and the rhythm
of the record industry, there's going to be a lot of growth there. I also
think that jazz education becoming more integrated in our business can
only do great things. How the IAJE has grown from a very insider's type
of education driven conference to embracing the recording industry has
created a lot of opportunities for record labels to have more visibility
and market their artists at this conference, which is getting to the young
kids early that are dedicated jazz fans and musicians who are going to
be buying CDs for the rest of their life. That can only help the image
and the outlook for the music. This year, IAJE is going to stream Thursday
night concerts and that's going to be uplinked worldwide by Global Music
Network. That will take the IAJE to even a bigger audience. That's a way
that the internet is playing a role in this conference.
FJ: I was informed that although retail sales are at that trifle number,
internet jazz sales are right around ten percent.
DON LUCOFF: I've heard that number. We all know that the internet is definitely
a growth situation. It's gone from three to six percent from last year,
from what I've heard, in terms of overall sales retail. So it's doubled.
Now six percent, ten percent, those are different percentages of different
kinds of numbers. I think what they're referring to is ten percent of
the genre, of all the genres that are sold, jazz accounts for ten percent
of that, which would make sense. It is going to be more than retail because
people who are logging on and plugged into the internet, it's the jazz
demographic. It's the more educated, male adult consumer, who is primarily
buying, historically have been buying jazz CDs.
FJ: Record companies seem to always be looking for the illusive pot of
gold at the end of the rainbow with the "next big artist," whom do you
see as fitting that mold?
DON LUCOFF: There is a number of artists. I would look at Cassandra Wilson,
Patricia Barber, Greg Osby, Kurt Elling, Joe Lovano, now, those are all
Blue Note artists, but on that roster, those particular artists are all
artists that have expanded their audience and have reached larger audiences.
Joe Lovano went out with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra with Dianne
Reeves on a huge tour. You look at artists that reach into other musical
genres that have played with pop people so they can draw from different
audiences like Brian Blade. He's an artist that has recorded and toured
with Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Seal. That's going to really help things.
It will bring more people into jazz. Going out and doing a thirty-five
city tour backed by Camel Cigarettes. Getting into cigar bars and pizza
joints and alternative rooms, non-jazz clubs to an under-twenty market
(Blue Note New Directions Tour), that's going to help the growth of jazz.
Chick Corea doing a classical record (Corea Concerto, Sony Classical),
that's nothing new, but it all helps, trying to go beyond the jazz barometer.
FJ: As we close out the century, what do you foresee as the biggest challenge
for the music in the century to come?
DON LUCOFF: For artists to get work and have their music heard by as many
people as possible because that's really going against the grain. People
don't want to go out as much. They want to stay home. There aren't as
many jazz clubs as there used to be. It's getting harder and harder for
artists to get work in America. The internet now is starting to stream
concerts, so people have another reason to stay at home. There is nothing
like the live experience and jazz is a love art form and it always has
been. It's based on improvisation. It's based on feeling and energy. It
all starts with that and if you take that away, you're really cutting
the art form off at its knees. That's the biggest obstacle that the music
has to continually try to overcome.
FJ: What is your goal for DL Media in the new year?
DON LUCOFF: My goal is to constantly get my artists in places, to go beyond
Down Beat and the big three (Jazziz, Jazz Times). It is great to get a
cover on Greg Osby in Jazziz. That means so much to an artist and to have
him reviewed in the New York Times, I can't tell you what that does. It's
great. It's great exposure, but, constantly trying to convey the importance
to television executives to give jazz a chance when they have this stereotype
that nobody cares about jazz and it's too static and there is no movement
and people turn the channel. David Letterman hates jazz and that's why
you don't see any on the show. It all starts with the people at the top
in television. Television is still the most powerful medium in our culture.
I believe that if we had jazz on television more regularly, exposed to
a wider audience, jazz would be in a lot better place. I've been fighting
that battle as long as I've been in the business. Some years is better
than others. It really depends on who is in positions of power. I've just
seen an ebb and flow. It's not getting worse, but it's not getting better.
It just depends on who is in the driver's seat at the specific show. But
I'm always knocking on those doors.
FJ: Break out the crystal ball and give me your take on the future of
Well, I think the overall future is good as long as the curriculum becomes
updated and modified, which it is. Jazz education is playing a very important
role with what IAJE does as far as overseeing and administrating certain
curriculums and certain funds and certain scholarship opportunities. They
are able to really integrate the donors and the recipients and create
great opportunities. The NEA Jazz Masters Program, that's heavy. That's
a program that has been running almost ten years now, where three jazz
artists are selected by the NEA as Jazz Masters. They're given a significant
sum of money. It's a great reward system. What Wynton is doing with his
band academy, where teachers from all over the country are coming to him
for guidance and instruction. This is going to happen in one place this
year in Aspen, Colorado. This has never happened before. Usually, he will
go on the road and if he has time, he will do a clinic. This is an actual
program where important jazz educators are going to come to him to learn
how to better educate their students. All these kind of programs, the
Essentially Ellington Program, where high school kids, different high
schools around the country have the opportunity to play Ellington's music
in a very high-spirited forum and be rewarded for it. There is a competition
that takes place at Lincoln Center in May. Eighteen hundred and eighty-seven
schools filled out an application for that program this year. They will
send in tapes. When they send in that application, Lincoln Center then
sends them out complete authorized transcripts of Ellington's music, so
the kids learn the tune, play the tunes, record the tunes, and send the
tapes into Lincoln Center and of those eighteen hundred and eighty-seven,
fifteen of the programs will be chosen to come to New York and play in
a competition. It started off five years ago as a local. Then it grew
regionally and now, it's national for the first time. That's progress.
More kids are getting turned onto jazz. Whether it's through Ellington
or whether it's through Bob Marley and they get to jazz that way. My kid
got to jazz through Marley and Dave Matthews. I know kids that have gotten
into jazz through Dave Matthews, through the Grateful Dead, whatever it
is. David Murray working with the Grateful Dead. The Phish thing with
Medeski, Martin, and Wood, that connection, which links them to Charlie
Hunter, which links them to Scofield, Pat Metheny. Fusion is good, if
the music is good because it helps grow the audience.
is Jazz Weekly's Editor-In-Chief and Interview Specialist. Comments? Email