Other than his prominent musicianship, guitarist Mike Moreno has come up with beautiful ideas about music in the last couple of years which attracted a lot of people’s attention to the history of jazz deeply. The first one is “Standards From Film” where he takes you through the history of a jazz standard that’s been overly played and recorded by lots of musicians, by digging deep the history of that song where it’s been first played in a movie. His other highly interesting project is the “House Guest Series” which started after the pandemic, where he gradually turned his home into a studio format to be able to play duo with one guest musician and livestreame online, from home. You can find the “House Guest Series” on youtube under the name “morenovids”. Now it’s been 24 weeks with 24 different guests every sunday. There are also interview sessions with some of the guests after the live playing. Each guest is a different story to listen, each guest is another inspiration so stay tuned! After getting highly inspired and being able to learn a lot from all of these project, I wanted to make this interview with Mike Moreno to learn about his development process about these beautiful contributions in music.
How is life going in New York right now?
It’s been about the same for months now, but things are slowy starting to open up again so there are some clubs that are having music maybe 25% now, I mean they are letting 25% of the audience in. Everything (the restaurants, etc) is open. You just have to eat outside, you can inside now also too. I went to the restaurant the other night, we signed inside but there were only 3 tables inside but outside is completely packed. They are actually doing more business than usual, some of the places.
You think that the clubs will open soon?
I think so, they are already open. Smalls is open and Mezzrow is open, Smoke also. I think they can let a certain amount of people in. Other venues like Dizzy’s, I don’t think they’ve opened. The clubs that really pay the most are not open. They have huge staff and the rent is high etc, everythings’s done by the union they’re legal, so in order for them to open it’s very expensive. Blue Note, the sound engineer is working for the union and he has to be paid a certain amount of work within a certain time so it’s difficult.
Is the government paying them?
Yeah, if you have a business you can apply for these loans. I have my business for my music so I just applied a few days ago. I was super late I don’t know why. So you can get pretty big loans, the loans are forgiven. You get the loan and then you apply to get the loan forgiven and then you don’t have to pay it back. It’s a lot of money, maybe a quarter of a year salary. When it all first started I didn’t know if I would be able to stay in my apartment but I ended up making more money than usual. Mainly because I didn’t spend it. There was nowhere to go. No expanses other than getting all of the equipments for online teaching, streaming, etc.
So how did you feel when it all started, when a deadly virus hit the world? I think you were in China on a tour?
Yeah, I was in China we played with my band for a week there and no one was talking about it. It was the first week, literally the first seven days of the year. Then we went to Korea and then I came back to the US. Then I started hearing a couple of things on the news about this virus. I was like “oh well, I’m glad I left”. The virus was just in Asia back then and then I went to Europe. The last day in Spain I got sick and then we flew to Vienna and I was sick in Vienna also, the first couple of days. Then the rest of the tour no one else got sick. I still don’t know if I had it or not. I think if I did, I would’ve given it to everyone.
When did you start to realize that this is serious?
It wasn’t until April. I had gigs at the end of the March. My last gig with the live audience completely packed was in NY on March 4th. We were playing in Brooklyn in a small place but around 150 people. And then after that, the next thing I did a few days later, I went to the Smalls, I went to the Village Vanguard and people were starting to talk about it. Right after that, they shut the city down. And I thought “oh this is crazy but maybe it’s gonna be for a week”. I still have gigs at the end of the month, we’re supposed to do 5 nights at the Jazz Standard with Jimmy Greene and then the next day I was gonna go back to Europe. But that was just for vacation, taking my mom to Italy for her 81st birthday, she’s never been to Europe. She was all excited, we had tickets and everything. Then the Jazz Standard got cancelled and my mom said “no way I’m going to Italy”. That’s when it was really bad in Italy. And then in April it hit New York. I remember there were sirens and ambulances all day long. Never stopped.
Did you lose any friends or family members from Covid?
No luckily but both my parents had it. My dad said he slept like a day or two but my mom was sick for 3 weeks but she was just at home. But she didn’t tell anyone not even me. She wasn’t having any trouble breathing but she wasn’t getting out of bed for a week. It took 3 weeks initially to get over it for her. My dad also didn’t tell anyone not even my mother, he just slept and woke up and got back to work. He probably killed half of his friends going back to work but he didn’t have a test until my mom got sick so he didn’t know it.
Did you go to see you friends during lockdown? Meet with them during these times or you were totally isolated?
In the beginning it was like you choose your one or two friends you would see saying “we’ll be careful and hangout” and then it started to be a little bit more relaxed. When I started doing the livestreams, obviously people were cool by that time, late October, also things were opening back up really good maybe like now. So everybody’s coming over. Most people wore a mask but some people like Mike Stern surprisingly came over here and the first thing he did was to ask if he can take the mask off.
Have you got vaccinated?
I didn’t get vaccinated mainly cause I’m not travelling and I’m not super afraid that I will die. But when I’ll start travelling I’ll get it, pretty soon I think. But a lot of people got vaccinated here.
Did you start teaching online after the pandemic or you were already teaching online before all of this?
I’ve always been teaching online but it was all very low grade, basicly just turning the laptop on, using the camera that was in the laptop and using the lightning that’s in the room and using the mics in the laptop for the audio. So that was my teaching setup since 2006 or 2007 through skype. In the beginning it was just like teaching people from all around the world. But in terms of more high quality teaching online, that started definitely because of the pandemic.
Don’t you think working online is more intense than being physically together and working with someone in the same room? You have to be more focused I guess to be less distracted?
Definitely. My dad asked me at the beginning “how are you doing with money?”. I said “I’m fine, I’m just working four times as hard for it”. I’ve been working now thankfully for 18 years now on a high level of musicianship like touring with amazing musicians. It’s been a long time. And you get to that point where you’re just like “ok it’s another gig and another flight to another country, another concert, cool, got the money”. I felt myself kinda getting a bit lazy. It it was almost like a wake up call! It was like “what if we just took everything away? What do you do now?”. So luckily it wasn’t “everything” away. It’s not starting from scratch. So I still have the whole fan based. If I was a student and nobody knew who I was but I was really good, there’s no way, you’re not gonna make your name during the pandemic unless you’re like playing the guitar and jumping off a building with parachute and doing flips. Nobody really cares about music anymore. They just care about the image. And people are satisfied right now just filming themselves practicing, not playing any music. Filming themselves, doing transcriptions and that’s their art history. It’s weird. It used to be like we were transcribed behind closed doors and them you get a gig and you learn how to improvise and then you record yourself on a gig or you get recorded by the audience. It’s a weird culture of sub culture of jazz musicians now. Their whole thing is transcribing. That’s all they do. You can have a channel now and your channel have more subscribers than the people that you’re transcribing. That is the art now. No one wants to hear the original solo, they wanna hear the kid in his bedroom playing that solo.
Other than your own online students, you are also teaching at universities right?
Yeah, I teach at Manhattan School of Music, I teach at Temple University, Queens College I’m on the faculty and New School sometimes if they request me. The last semester I think they have very few students so I didn’t get any request.
So you didn’t have any fear at the beginning when the concerts were cancelled, because your teaching job was always there, was still going on?
Well let’s see how long the schools can stay. But the thing with the teaching, it’s only about 30% of my income. So that wouldn’t have been even close to getting me buy for all the stuff that I’m doing at the moment. So it was still like I could’ve pay the rent and few other things but they would find me in my apartment with all my rent paid but I would be dead because I didn’t have any food.
I think that could’ve been because you are drinking a lot of good wine instead of buying food.
Yeah I just did my taxes and saw all of the receipts, it was a lot of money that I’ve spent on wine. I could’ve, yeah they could’ve been a lot more nicer equipments in this room.
Your project “Standards From Film”, what was the reason you started that project?
I did a workshop once in Poland, it was a week long and we had to do 3 different presentations. I did one on harmony. I did “Round Midnight” for that class because that was one of the tunes that right away comes to my mind. You just can’t walk on stage and call to musicians to say “let’s play Round Midnight”. You have to at least have a few more sentences of dialogues before you start that song as far as what harmony is gonna be played. So then I went and showed like 4, 5 different versions of “Round Midnight” to the students. Because they were all just been reading out of the realbooks and I had been watching them that whole week and everybody has their phone on the music stand. Everybody’s reading, no one’s playing anything from the memory. So I did that to show them that you’ll never find a version that’s in any book. That version that’s you’re looking at, that doesn’t actually exist. There’s not one in history. But the ones that are in history, they’re all different. So then I showed that. And that kind of started the idea and I said “so maybe I should do that again in another workshop sometime”. Then later I was giving a workshop and I saw this kid playing “Stella by Starlight” and he was like comepletly lost. How can someone in his 4th year at college not know Stella by Starlight? Even if he kind of knew it but even he was playing the confident stuff that he was playing, was wrong. So after that workshop I went home and researched some different versions and I finally watched the movie “The Uninvited”. And said “this movie is amazing”. And also the version in the film even though it’s like kind of classical sounding and a little bit corny sounding, the piano arrangement, the harmony was beautiful. And if I played it on the guitar with different voicings and stuff just the chords over there, it sounded great. And then I listened to Sinatra of course. I always thought that Sinatra’s version is the original version for some reason. And then when I found out it was from a movie, I realized that it’s the exact same harmony just in a different key. So, I did all those transcriptions and put it online with the history of the song, not because I love “Stella by Starlight”, just because I was tired of hearing it. And because of all these terrible versions that you hear in schools and jam sessions, “Stella by Starlight” is such a bad tune now. So I thought it had to be beautiful. When Miles played, it was beautiful. It had to have that beautiful source so going back and finding that and bringing it back and showing people that “why people wanted to play it in the first place?”. So that’s where it started. I did it and suddenly it got all this attention on facebook and on instagram. People were like “do another one”. And then I did “All the Things You Are” which is not from a movie, it’s from a Broadway show. The third one I did was “There Will Never Be Another You”. And that’s from a film; “Iceland”. And so while I was doing that one I was like “man this is really cool when it’s from a film”, the orchestration and everything. What if I did this, continued it as only songs from films? So then I just concentrated on that. Because I’m not like really a Broadway person. I’ve never been to a Broadway show. I was huge fan of movies. At the time I was really wanted to go back and check out all these movies that I hadn’t seen. And they were on this list of classic cinema. I love orchestration, I love drama and a lot of these movies that these songs are from, are pretty dark like the real dramas. And a lot of them had really depressing stories, I love that stuff. It was really an attraction that I’ve got the idea “ok what if I teach harmony, cause that’s the idea; history and harmony. So what if teach history and harmony of standards that I feel that everybody’s just overlooking, they’re playing all these songs without thinking about them. They are saying “ah! that’s the song I need to know, I need to know this song and that song” But why? Why do you need to know that song and how did it become so popular to the point where you had to know it? The harmony part was taking the original version and analyzing how everyone treated it.
I think in your course, you are transcribing 4 or 5 different versions of the same song? So how do you choose the versions that you’re gonna do of the same song?
I think the most I did was 12. “Like Someone in Love” cause that tune has so many variations. Some of them I do like 4 or 5 full versions of everything and then there’ll be like another page to end or two pages of just four bars of a song that everyone plays differently. I have all the different versions right next to each other so people can see how different they are. I choose mainly based on who’s playing it and what year sometimes it was recorded in succession of the song and how different it is from the original but not an arrangement. Not a reharmonization. So I’m not looking for reharmonization I’m just looking for people who were substituting chords. Those are two different things. You can completely come up with a new chord that has nothing to do with the original chord and that’s cool but what most people are doing with the standards is they’re doing the substitutions which to me means, you’re taking the original harmony and just manipulating it a bit. Putting a different bass note under it or changing the fifth or the seventh or something. Really slight adjustments that can work with the melody and maybe take it to a different place, that kind of thing. But you can analyze it all by going back to the original and seeing how they’re playing with these songs.
Which movies / songs you worked on?
The Mummy (1932) – Beautiful Love (Victor Young)
Iceland (1942) – There Will Never Be Another You (Harry Warren)
Belle of Yukon (1944) – Like Someone in Love (Jimmy Van Heusen)
The Uninvited (1944) – Stella by Starlight (Victor Young)
Laura (1944) – Laura (David Raksin)
Green Dolphin Street (1947) – On Green Dolphin Street (Bronislaw Kaper)
My Foolish Heart (1949) – My Foolish Heart (Victor Young)
A Life of Her Own (1950) – Invitation (Bronislaw Kaper)
Invitation (1952) – Invitation (Bronislaw Kaper)
Days of Wine and Roses (1962) – Days of Wine and Roses (Henry Mancini)
Ziegfeld Girl (1941) – You Stepped Out Of A Dream (Nacio Herb Brown)
The Sky’s The Limit (1943) – My Shining Hour (Harold Arlen)
Thrill of A Romance (1945) – I Should Care (Axel Stordahl&Paul Weston)
Anchors Aweigh (1945) – I Fall in Love Too Easily (Jule Styne)
From film scores to all the different versions, everything is transcribed and written by me. Some of the films go all the way back to a novel. I chose the songs in this course depending on their popularity and being an iconic song, the songs that are really really really overplayed and a lot of people don’t know why they’re playing them.
So how about the “House Guest Series”? You are having a guest at your home every Sunday, playing duo with one musician and sometimes there is a question and answer part after the playing which I call the “story session” with some of these musicians. This is pretty amazing cause we can learn the real history and the real stories from these great musicians. It’s kinda history of jazz lesson and the storytelling is so fun.
Well, I started doing that just to see how it would go. Just a kind of another challenge for myself. Beyond the music, what would happen if I did that, in the same room not on the zoom, with the people that I mostly already know. And in terms of question and answers, there are people who say “oh you didn’t ask him so and so, you should’ve asked this and that” but I don’t want to ask, I don’t want people to ask me that why would I’ve asked this to someone else? Like Ben Monder told me about an interview like the first question someone asked him was so vast was such a big question that he just got up and said “I can’t do this” and walked out.
What was the question?
Something like “what do you really think about music?” It was some kind of really ethereal question and he just finished playing a gig and he was super jetlagged and tired all he wanted to do was go back to hotel and sleep but he agreed to do this interview but the last thing he wanted to do was answering such a big question so he just got up and left. So with someone like Ben, if it comes up yeah you talk about it. He’s an interesting person to talk to cause he doesn’t just give up information, he will if it’s in a natural way. Everyone is different you know. With some people I don’t have to do anything. Like Mark Whitfield, he has so much energy, so much stories, so much experience that just let him go. You just let him run with whatever he wants to talk about it.
I learned a lot of new information from those interview sessions. Such as where Tower Records was mentioned, I don’t remember with who but then later I watched the documentary “All Things Must Pass”and it was very very inspiring; the visionary approach of the owner, the democratic culture in the company, the ups and downs…
Yeah, on the West Coast there would be tons of musicians working there. When I first moved to New York I walked in the Tower Records and I saw people working there and I was like “why are you here? why are you working here?” and then I realized that people are not working maybe as much as you thought they were and if you gonna have a job why not work in a job where you have total access to everything that’s been recorded. Tower Records was like a night out for musicians. Me and my friends we were like “let’s go to Tower”. Even if we have 20 minutes before the class “let’s go to Tower to check out what’s new”.
For your online streaming from home, you’ve built quiet a studio at home with all the cameras and lightning and professional audio&video equipments. How did you decide on them? I mean you could’ve done it probably with less expanse and less professional equipments.
I told people at the beginning “Either I’m going to totally end up broke or this is going to, at least I’ll make the money back. That was my goal, as long as I make the money back I’ll be fine. So at this point, I’ve definitely made the money back and it’s provided new income that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. But it was a definite choice of taking that risk and thankfully I was able to do it, so every time I would buy something, it would kind of just lead to something else. Once I developed the “Standards from Film” course online. Like that thing that I did in the summer, it just started it so that gave me a good amount of income to kind of start something new. And that’s when, I started investing in all the equipment and then I transferred everything to be on green screen for the “Standards from Film” course. And once I had all the setup, the cameras and everything I was like “I can just livestream now”. So I started doing that and now it’s not a course for any school in particular but a lot of schools ask me to do it so I started doing it for a couple of conservatories in Europe, in US. Between all of them, it was a good amount of like practice with the new format with all the green screen and everything and the microphones and the new cameras. So I’m excited to do it again in this summer, really much better than it was.
Actually it became a project so now you can sell it to anyone in any country.
Exactly, that’s the point. Eventually I will prerecord them and be able to do them even when I’m travelling. Like I’ll still do it live but I’ll just be pushing play button and commentary things like that. And live Q&A. I won’t have to be at home with all the setup. I don’t think I will ever sell it in a downloadable format or anything like that. It will always be kind of a live presentation. I want to also keep evolving. I had already been thinking about, I had written to a couple of schools already before the pandemic so it was already on my mind but I wasn’t gonna just do it on my own. Then when I had the whole summer shows get cancelled and no income, I was like “ok, I need to do this” so I got it together within a month basically. Programmed all those 9 classes to present online.
For the “House Guest Series” how did you choose the guests? How did you organize where to start and with whom to start?
I said “I’m gonna start with Peter Bernstein and Jon Cowherd”, that was the initial idea. Somebody that I do play duo with a lot, who was Jon Cowherd and someone who I’ve always wanted to play duo with which is Peter Bernstein. That was the initial idea and I’ll see how those two go. And then the first one was Peter, went so well that then I was like “let me just call Mike Stern”. And he said “yes”. So I said “If Mike Stern said yes then I can ask this person, that person etc”. But some people said “no” very politely. It just kind of grew from there. Then close friends of mine who are great guitar players like Nir Felder, Mark Whitfield who I’ve known since I was in high school, we both play the same Marchione guitars. Then Kevin Hayes who plays in one of my albums. But in the first few episodes it was actually a little bit difficult because a lot of people were not in New York so I just booked them for further months. I started with people I knew first. Who do I know would be comfortable about coming to my house during the pandemic and play.
I think it was a good opportunity for musicians too who probably missed playing together during isolation
Yeah, people were happy to play, happy to make money. With the contributions, I pay the engineer and then whatever was left over, we split with the other musician.
How many people are working behind the scene during the livestreams?
Just one engineer. Making sure that nothing goes wrong. She’s recording everything onto hard drive, she’s organizing all the files. Recording all the files to logic. And if anything goes wrong while we’re playing, she’s there to fix it super fast which just happened a couple of times but I’m glad she was there.
Do you practice with the guests before the recording?
An hour before, we just agree on which songs we’re gonna play. They usually get here 3.30 am 4 o’clock, we go live at 6 am, the engineer shows up at 5.
How did you convince your neighbours?
My neighbours luckily they grew up in West Village of New York City in the 70’s so they’re basically kinda hippies. They always loved the music even before pandemic. I was bumping them in the elevator and they were like “we love the music”. The guy already knew most of the songs that we play with my students and they love jazz. I’ve been to their place for dinner, they bring food over sometimes. We drink wine on the rooftop, they’re really cool. The couple on the other side of me, I talked to them and “ as long as there’s no bass no drums nothing super loud, it’s ok”. There’s this new neighbour who was just moving in when Oz Noy was coming as a guest so I opened the door and explained to her and she said “oh yeah cool”.
Your house is always like the way as we see it in the videos now? With all these setup?
Yeah, it’s kind of a little bit of a nightmare with all the cables, all the stands the legs come out pretty wide and I’m constantly stepping over cables, I’ll trip over something. Somebody else comes and they trip over something. So it’s tricky to get in and out of the apartment.
When are you planning to give a break to the series?
Well it’s gonna stop during the summer but I’ll do restreams, maybe one special stream here and there. I live on the top floor so it gets super hot, like right now this is all natural sunlight. At 6 o’clock right now when the sun really heats up so I would have to have the AC on all day with the curtains closed but then turning the AC off and playing for an hour by the end of it, it’s gonna be a sauna. So in July there’s no way I can do it but maybe up until the end of May for sure. There are 3 guests for May; Rez Abbasi, Chico Pinheiro and Miles Okazaki.
In one of those interviews, you mentioned that when you were playing with Aaron Parks there were the youtube copyright restrictions issues, something like that even if you’ve played your own compositions?
Yeah, we played “Peaceful Warrior” by Aaron Parks and “Praise”. It means that you can’t make money from the video. So if I monetize the video, Blue Note would make the money. If you got a 100.000 views which no one ever does unless you’re not doing cat videos or something like that or unless you’re not talking about “the one scale you need to play jazz”, then you can get a 100.000 views. For real music, no one’s gonna make that playing jazz unless it takes over a year. But once you make a 100.000 views, you get 125 dollars from youtube. But if you have 3.000.000 views for your cat video then you can make 30.000 dollars.
Are you happy with those “House Guest Series” contributions?
Yeah, it funds it. It’s nice to be able to pay people that I really love the way they play. Peter Bernstein, Ben Monder, Adam Rogers, those streams did really well. But someone like Adam Rogers we get like 10.000-11.000 views after 3 days, it’s only about 1% of people who gave money and it’s still better than any gig you can play in NY. So we’ll see what happens, I definitely will do more of it, I just don’t think it’s gonna be every week. Maybe in the future a special once a month kind of thing. When it’s every week which is already happened, people are not prioritizing it so the views go down and the contributions have gone down. But it’s also like the weather is nice right now and people are out at 6 pm which is our live streaming time. People are in the park.
But they can watch it later? The streams are there for 3 days right?
Yes they can watch it later but people watching it live, that’s when they send money. For just me to put it on a stream costs me around 450 dollars so I have to make at least that.
You said in one of those streams that there is no use of making an album right now if you cannot go on tour and promote it during these pandemic days. So how do you compose? Depending on a deadline or you’re writing songs when the inspiration comes and then collect them later and fine tune them when the recording day comes for an album?
Lately has been if I write music, I just sit down decide I’m gonna do it. Otherwise I get too busy doing other stuff. So I need that kind of deadline sometimes. “Ok there’s a record day here so I need to sit down and write the music”. I used to think that that was not the best way to write but then when the more I researched a lot of my favorite albums, especially a lot of my favorite bands, that was exactly how they wrote. They were like “ok we’ve been touring for 6 months, we’re gonna take a month off, go in to the studio and write everything for the new album”. And then some of the most amazing music they ever wrote came out of that one month where they just sat down and did nothing except play everyday and write music. And then I started feeling a little bit better about that approach. Cause I was like, maybe I should be writing in a hotel room and call it like “Sunset in Vienna”. But the more and more I see that people are not really writing like that most of the time.
So do you have any similar plans in the near future?
I have all the new music. The new album was sort of being put together just before the pandemic hit. I had about 75% of the music and I finished a lot of it in May so now it’s about 90% ready so then that last 10% will get written once I have the date. I’ll organize it and start to sit down and really think about and make it a priority. Unless I could sell people physical copies, for me it’s too big of an investment. Cause I pay for my own records except for, it’s just confirmed, you’re the first one I’m telling it, I am doing a new Criss Cross record. You know the owner died last year so his son also named Gerry Teekens has promised his dad on his death bed that him and his sister will gonna continue the label. So they reprinted a lot of releases, crazy amount of new prints. And they also printed in vinyl. And they booked 4 sessions so I’m one of them. I’m gonna do a record with Aaron Parks, Matt Brewer and Marcus Gilmore. And it’s gonna be the “Standards from Film” which I wasn’t even thinking about doing. So it’s just kind of fell in my lap and I asked him a few questions, maybe I could do original music and the budget wasn’t there so I decided on that. It’s gonna be recorded in July and released in November I think.
Great news. How about the 2021 concerts? You’ve told you’re gonna have one in Houston in the upcoming months?
Yeah, I’m playing in Houston Jazz Festival in September. Also with Jimmy Greene. We were supposed to do Detroit Jazz Festival this past September so that got moved to this September. So I think we’re doing that. I’ve got a call for a couple of things like Arkansas, Memphis Tennessee, Finland. Going to Helsinki for working with the Sibelius Academy. And then I’ll see what else comes up. I have something else in December but it’s slowly coming. I think no one’s gonna be doing anything for this summer, I think it’s too late now for festival bookings for this summer. I think in 2022 there will be big festivals with a lot of people where you actually making money again. Until then, it’s gonna be smaller budgets, less bands, mostly livestreamed, small audiences just to have something going on.
You said that when you first came to NY, you gave your recordings to Peter Bernstein. Do young musicians do the same to you now?
Yeah. No it was before I came to NY. Well yes, people do it all the time but now they’re sending links. But the thing is I don’t meet them in person but Peter, I met him in person I saw his shows, I talked about music with him, we had a conversation. I did all that stuff before I gave him my cd. It wasn’t a cd actually, I think I’ve sent him my audition tape for New School. But now it’s different, kids at 17 have a cd now even though they’ve never been on the road or played with anyone. It’s so easy to record now.
So what do you do when somebody gives you a link?
I usually don’t listen to it to be honest. My thing is that if they really want me to hear them, they’ll take a lesson or keep writing me, I’ll hear them if they can really play. But it’s that thing now that people just record something in their room on their phone and send it to you because they can. It’s not the same as “hey I went in to studio and played with Eric Harland and with this guy and that guy and we recorded this thing and it’s high quality audio, would you guys check it out” it’s a little bit different. And so back then not many people were doing that and now it’s like I get that everyday. And most of them are like people in their room transcribing. They want you to give a critic on them on someone else’s solo.
How do you think the new online listening medias like spotify, bandcamp, youtube etc changed our way of listening? Not buying records? The speed and capability to reach a song in seconds from an online platform.
I have my own views about Spotify as an artist and I have views about as a listener and I have views about a student listening. It’s all different opinion. As an artist I’ve chosen not to put my music on Spotify.
But you have your latest album there?
It’s not my album, it’s Criss Cross’ album. Anything that I would pay for myself I wouldn’t put on there. It’s not the fact that I need to make money of my albums which I kind of do but I need to make the money back, at least to be able to make a tour and sell it live. But beyond that, it’s not the fact that “oh I’m not making money out of this”. It’s that somebody is, but it’s not me. Somebody that didn’t invest one cent in the music as they’re making money of of it. Ok they invested in the platform to play that music. You know I’ve talked with people about this, they say that “yeah I’ve discovered new people on Spotify, this and that” and then I ask them “did you ever go and buy that person’s music or go see them live?” and almost 100% of the time the answer is “no”. I used to drive to other cities looking for music. Go to Tower Records Austin Texas, go to Tower Records in Boston, Tower Records in Chicago. Looking for albums I couldn’t find in Texas and people all they have to do is put on your name and google now. And people now they want you to do everything for them. People write me on my website ask me where can they buy my music? It’s kinda crazy. They’re on the site that sells my music.
Your music is also available on Apple music right?
No, it’s on iTunes. iTunes store and Apple music are two completely different things. They’re not related in any way. iTunes store is where you buy music, Apple music is where you buy subscription for what music they offer on Apple music, what music they have the rights to stream. iTunes is everything. But if you get a few downloads on iTunes today, you have to go on to your preferences and turn on iTunes store. It’s no longer on, only Apple music is on and you have to subscribe to it to get it play. iTunes music is the program that runs all the music, you can either put it in from Apple music or iTunes store. But iTunes as an Apple app now on new computers, it won’t allow you to look at Apple store unless you’re going to the preferences and turn it on. They’re already setting you up to the only thing, that’s Apple music. Even though Apple sells, they make money from iTunes store but they make way way way more money from Apple music so they kind of just have abandoned the iTunes store. They don’t promote it at all. They just promote the subscription. So you still can buy my music on iTunes store but you have to make sure you can see what’s in iTunes store which is turning on from the preferences.
The reason they’re doing it is because they make more money from the subscriptions than album selling?
Yeah for sure. They get 10 dollars from every person that exists that has an Apple. Everyone who has an Apple computer sends Apple 10 dollar a month. So very few people buy one album a month form iTunes store. So if you look for my music on Apple music it won’t show up, if you look forward in iTunes store it shows up. But then you have to buy it. So now it’s easier. You can find my music on my website, on iTunes store, on bandcamp, on Amazon. So it’s pretty easy but just getting people to type your name into google, now is almost impossible. People have gotten to that point now. You have to basically send them a link with your name already in google for them to be able to find something. People are expecting you to do everything for them.
What do you think will happen after pandemic? Will online concerts and online teaching be more frequent than before?
It will never go back to where it was. For me and for a lot of people they’re gonna have another source of providing content to people which is like all the online stuff. So during the pandemic, anyone who didn’t have their online stuff together, got it together. Out of necessity. A lot of people have invested. I did, Kendrick Scott did, I saw a lot of people doing, like completely changed their home set up, really heavily invested into the future. So a lot more online courses teaching, a lot more livestreaming in conjunction with actual live performances. The trick is all the live venues now are livestreaming. So Smalls has always been doing it. Now it’s always an issue. Why aren’t we making more money if you livestream and charging people from all over the world for subscriptions which we have no idea how many people are subscribing. And we would get a little bit of money at the end of the year from those subscriptions but it’s very low. So people were always a little suspicious about that. So Smalls has been doing that for years. But what’s really unknown is what are venues like Criss’s Jazz Cafe in Philadelphia or the Village Vanguard or these kind of places that could be pulling like 10 grand at night from livestreams and paying the band 400 bucks or 800 bucks and they’re gonna have people in the clubs where they make money from the club, the bar, the food and they’re charging tickets online. And you don’t really know as a band how much money is getting in. That’s what’s gonna be tricky. Of course these clubs lost a lot of money so they need to make that back. But once they do, it’s like anything else you know. It’s like the city that charge the tolls for new bridges “oh the tolls go for the payment of the bridge”. And once the bridge is paid for, the tolls double. So the tolls only supposed to pay the bridge so “oh no now we’re maintaining the bridge that costs like millions and millions”. So there will be a lot more opportunities for clubs to make income. We’ll see how it trickles down to the scene. Now doing livestreams myself, realizing that with an audience the amount of income could be there, it’s pretty amazing. It would be nice that if we played at Smalls or played at Dizzy’s or somewhere else and they’re livestreaming and charging 10 dollars per person that would be an opportunity to make more money. It would be nice. It’s just gonna be a new scene. I think that whole thing of wearing masks and play that’s gonna stay. That’s already been in Asia. If you travel to Asia, in the trains and in airplanes everyone’s wearing a mask. The world is gonna be different. There’s all this new technology, zoom and all of the stuff. I think, educationally it’s gonna be a whole new world. I could teach at Manhattan School of Music and teach at Amsterdam Conservatory, teach at Sibelius Academy in Finland. All at the same time without travelling. That’s great. And we’ll be able to travel. I think it’s gonna be for certain people that really kind of be able to adapt to it, learn new things to do, I think they’re in a much better place. I think I’ll be in a much better place to survive as a musician after all of this.
I also think that things are gonna be different. Most of the companies turned online during this year. It’s an opportunity for them for not to pay huge rents for their offices so they’ve decided to invest this money more on the employees. And I see that people are working more intensely – because it’s online so you have to focus more and more – but also working more happily than ever right now from home because time is money and now people have become experienced in time management.
Yeah a lot of people said this. Everyone that I know, at least in this building cause I see them all the time, none of them are happy about going back to a building to work, they’re like “we like working at home”. I think a lot of business will totally rethink how they approach and run everything. As I said things are gonna be different and probably more people will be inspired and things will be better overall. Sometimes it takes something like this for a big change. It’s like any situation from the past like after World War II, there’s this whole spark of creativity and economy blooming and everything. After something like this, people hopefully will recover and there’s gonna be so much new technology and new ideas out there where people were forced to come up with. It’s just gonna change the world and there’s no way it’s gonna go back the way it was. After the Spanish Flu there were the 1920’s and everybody talks about how great the 1920’s were and after covid there will be 2020’s which everybody will talk about, hopefully.