This interview is the third installment of the interviews from the "If You Have to Ask…" article that appeared in Issue #28 of State of Mind. You can read that article (page 10) here. Check out the first installment‚ with Reed Mathis‚ and the second installment‚ with Marco Benevento.
Kevin Calabro is the proverbial man behind the curtain. As head of HYENA Records‚ he makes his career championing great music. Having put out recent albums by the likes of Marco Benevento (Invisible Baby) and Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey (Lil' Tae Rides Again)‚ he's as keyed into the shift happening in jazz right now as the artists who are making the music. The music industry is a notoriously dirty world -- one that boxing promoter Don King famously renounced as too troubled for even his participation -- so Calabro's job is a rollercoaster of enthusiasm and logistics. Late in our conversation‚ he apologized for sounding overly cynical about the current state of music‚ culture and the industry thereof. I honestly didn't know what he was talking about. There's a certain urgency to what Calabro knows and chooses to speak about here‚ but the moral is not grim. If anything‚ the trouble he's confronted is merely a sign of something truly exciting taking form. It's all like a toddler learning to walk‚ I suppose -- bound to take some knocks along the way.
Our conversation began on the topic of "jambands":
Kevin: It's interesting because I know those guys [Marco‚ JFJO] for the most part are not very comfortable being called jamband artists.
Josh: Yeah. It almost seems like a pejorative term. One that critics levy against instrumental artists to dismiss them as self-indulgent.
Exactly. Those guys‚ whether it be Marco‚ the guys from JFJO‚ Skerik... those guys are musicians who have really studied music and have the chops. Then again‚ I've worked with pure jazz artists who are always trying to get into the jam scene. It's weird -- when you're in the jam scene‚ you want to get out‚ and when you're in the jazz scene‚ strictly playing straight jazz gigs at dinner clubs‚ you're dying to play for crowds that are young‚ have a little more energy and might let you stretch out a little bit.
David King echoed that when I talked to him‚ that idea of jazz artists feeling boxed in playing straight jazz clubs. While festival kids might not have the same refined listening‚ they have this refreshing energy. These scenes‚ though‚ seem to be a bit in conflict. There are all these issues of how you book a tour and who you try to play for.
It's interesting. With HYENA‚ what I try to do is just put it out there and get it in front of as many people as possible.
How does that manifest? What outlets are you going to?
I'm going to all of them. I go to JamBase as much as I go to Downbeat.‚ Signal to Noise. I'm always trying for Rolling Stone and Magnet -- magazines that tend to cover more indie rock. To me‚ I listen to a really wide range of music‚ everything from Iron and Wine‚ Devendra Banhart‚ Drive-By Truckers‚ to Steven Bernstein‚ Nels Cline and things like that. Especially now‚ in 2008‚ when everything is wide open for people to listen to on the internet‚ I think there's a lot of heads out there that are not pigeonholed into listening to one genre of music. The thing that Marco's doing might appeal to a jazz audience as well as people who listen to Sigur Rós.
Yeah‚ I was thinking about this last night [at a Marco Benevento Trio show]‚ listening to them do the Invisible Baby stuff‚ getting really heavy‚ taking things at super-slow tempos‚ like sludge-metal tempos‚ and they're adding this jazz element to stuff that would appeal to Goth kids.
Yeah. Going back to the jambands thing‚ the jam scene gets a really rough rap particularly because of kids that are going to see bands like String Cheese or moe. -- not to dis those bands -- but some of the kids tend to be there a little more for the party and the drugs. Unfortunately‚ a lot of the stuff on HYENA gets lumped in there. If those indie rock kids were actually hearing it and not just holding a bias against something that might have jam connotations‚ they'd find some really frigging good music.
I think that's the issue‚ that people don't listen‚ especially in the indie rock world. Not to dis the indie rock world‚ but posture and image go such a long way.
And that's essentially antithetical to everything an improvisational musician does. It's not about who you are when you walk on the stage but what's happening on the stage. You could be in a basement with your best friends or on a stage with strangers and you're still going to be doing this thing that you do.
Just in terms of approaching that world‚ you've got the real hardcore indie rock kids who are very much into image and they don't take a chance at listening to stuff‚ and then you've got... well‚ if you take the audiences and divide them down the middle‚ everything that falls off to one side is with the indie kids and then there are the jam kids there partying who sometimes tend to be kind of frat-y. But in the middle there's all this good music and no one has their ears open.