RANDY KLEIN
What's Next?
(Jazzheads)

 

Jazz duo albums can sometimes be a hit and miss affair yet one that completely hits the bullseye is What’s Next? by jazz pianist Randy Klein. For the 12 track, hour long What’s Next? Randy teams with guitar virtuoso Alex Skolnick and bassist Boris Kozlov and the results are a delicate yet sonically durable outing that puts Klein’s sumptuous grand piano skills in a very favorable light. Both Skolnick and Kozlov are fine players to compliment Klein’s sensitive sounding, jazzy piano tracks. What’s Next? is actually the second CD of Randy Klein’s Two Duos album series from the pianist, the first one being 2010’s Sunday Morning, featuring Klein with trombonist Chris Washburne and saxophonist Oleg Kireyev. Guitar fans will note Skolnick’s tasteful fretboard work on What’s Next, and indeed Skolnick’s deft touch sounds quite well suited to Klein’s jazzy piano. Commenting on working with Skolnick and Kozlov on What’s Next? Klein adds, ‘These are top notch players! And when you play with players who are on this level, it really becomes a dream come true.’ Jazz fans who appreciate sensitive, varied, acoustic piano-based albums are truly well served by this album, while music fans should keep their ears open for more releases from the soon to be acclaimed series of CD releases from Randy Klein’s Two Duos on Jazzheads—the record label started by Klein back in 1992. www.RandyKlein.com


mwe3.com presents an interview with
RANDY KLEIN

mwe3: Aside from the different instrumentation, how different is your new duo album What’s Next? compared to your first duo album? Also how did you meet Boris Kozlov and Alex Skolnick and how would you describe the musical chemistry in play on What’s Next?, how was the material chosen for the album and how did it begin and end?

RANDY KLEIN: The compositions on Sunday Morning, the first CD from the Two Duos project, are more melody and harmony driven. They were chosen because they fit the two players performing them. Oleg Kireyev has a deep warm saxophone sound and Chris Washburne has a unique facility in all ranges of the trombone. Both are superb all around musicians and improvisers. As I was preparing What’s Next?, I wanted to make the CD simply different from the last one. The most important difference was to use two rhythm instruments and the compositions on What’s Next? are written with this idea in mind. The compositions also forced my demands as a pianist to grow.

The back and forth sequencing of the cuts was a result of my listening to the cuts from Sunday Morning and trying to make the entire CD take the listener on a musical journey from the beginning to the end of the CD. I used the same sequencing method on What’s Next? My desire for the listener to enjoy the recording always trumps decisions like I played a better solo on that cut, so let’s front load it.

I knew Boris Kozlov from hearing him play in many situations around New York City. He always played his upright bass. I then heard him play with a vocalist in a duo situation at a small club in Brooklyn and Boris was playing his electric bass guitar. I was blown away by his technique, musicality and the unique sound he got from the instrument. I knew instantly that I wanted him to play on What’s Next?

Alex Skolnick and I met through a referral from my radio promoter for Jazzheads, Michael Moryc. Michael has really great ears and has the ability to hone in on what the music is about on any recording. He felt that Alex and I should play. When we did, it was obviously a match. Alex is an amazing musician and he thrives in many worlds of music. I went to one of his gigs with Testament, (his heavy metal group) and my mouth was agape as I watched Alex climb on the speakers and take one of the most amazing guitar solos. It is fun for me to play piano with Alex on guitar because he reinforces the rhythm and it frees me up to play with more intensity and obviously match the rhythms.

mwe3: How do you balance your time between writing and recording for your duos series and your other work with teaching music and theater work. I heard you’re going to the University of Kansas for February? Is there a story about that?

RANDY KLEIN: I never feel as if my time is balanced between all of the activities I am involved with. For the most part, this is the biggest challenge that I have to deal with. Hence the title of my Two Duos CD, What’s Next? I am constantly asking myself this question. Over the years, I have developed some personal techniques to focus on one thing at a time. But my days are rarely that. If there is a deadline on a project, I put all else aside and obviously work on that project. But, if I’m working on a project that will span over many months or even years, I always have it on my mind and I continually come back to it. Hence, my favorite saying is the art of writing is re-writing. Getting some distance on a project makes me much more objective about it. It is almost as if I didn’t create the work at all and I am critiquing someone else’s work.

Another point is that there are only so many creative hours in the day. I like the mornings. It is quiet and the phone doesn’t ring, so I can focus in on more difficult assignments. But, if I have to write fast, I can. It is similar to improvisation. A learned skill! Very much in the moment and I make my decisions quickly.

Last year, I was awarded the Simons Fellowship at the Hall Center for the Humanities at the University of Kansas. The fellowship was an amazing experience for me. I spent two months during the 2011-2012 semesters in Lawrence, KS. I was given my own office with a midi/computer setup for composing, a beautiful 7’ Steinway B and the keys to the building. I made the most of this opportunity. I lectured in the music department, the business of music department and performed with some of the outstanding improvising students in the jazz school. I also recorded a series of piano improvisations. I loved being surrounded by all of the energy coming from the students and professors that I met and interacted with. It made me realize that I had a great deal of knowledge about music and the business of music and I loved sharing it.

When I went to Berklee College of Music, graduating in 1971, music education was quite different. At that time, Berklee then known as Berklee School of Music, was small. My graduating class was a total of 48 musicians. Oh, by the way, my degree was handed to me by Arif Mardin and Duke Ellington. Both were honored at the ceremony. Very cool! It was a school that did music 24/7 and at the time not very diverse in other subjects. My knowledge base has come from doing. Learning to write by writing. Learning to teach by teaching. Learning the business by observing others and learning from good and bad business decisions.

So, my experience at the state-of-the-art University of Kansas, was overwhelming and wonderful. Now, I am asked to conduct more and more lectures at universities around the country. I learn from each experience.

mwe3: Can you tell us where you grew up and where you live now. What was your early exposure to music listening and then playing and studying music and how has your music evolved over the years?

RANDY KLEIN: I grew up in Fort Lee, NJ and I have lived in New York City for over 30 years. I thrive on the energy of the city - it continuously inspires me.

I have been playing piano since I was about 5 years old. My grandfather played violin, my grandmother was a piano teacher, my mother was an excellent pianist and my father played mandolin. So, music pretty much was part of everyday life as long as I can remember. My earliest exposure was classical music and music from Eastern Europe where my family came from in the early 1900.

Around the time that I was 10 years old, my father owned a dance hall in the Bronx. (it’s now part of I95 to New England) I was allowed to go to work with him on Saturday nights as long as I stayed in the office. Liquor was served and it was against the law for a minor to be hanging around the bar. Saturday night was record hop night. The DJ was the great Cousin Brucey from legendary AM radio. He played the top hits of the day. "I’m On The Outside Looking In" by the Little Anthony & The Imperials, "Who Wears Short Shorts" by the Royal Teens, and as time went by, "The Twist" by Chubby Checker. Pop hits! I would sneak out of the office and sit behind the bandstand just absorbing the music. It is this early listening in my life that has given me the ability to hear potential hit songs. It helps me in my teaching of song writing. Those songs which I heard as a young teen, had catchy hooks and choruses, a good beat, were filled with emotions and are still hits to this day.

My mother was a musical theatre person. She loved going to shows and she took me with her to experience the wonder of live musical theatre. I was lucky to have seen Fiddler with Zero Mostel and Herschel Benardi, Carol Channing and Pearl Bailey in Hello Dolly, Sammy Davis in Golden Boy, Jack Cassidy in Superman, and too many more to list. I loved all of it. I embraced it and listened to the cast albums. And, my mother played the cast album of Fiddler On The Roof every night at dinner time for about a year and a half. "‘Sunrise Sunset", please pass the string beans’. True story!

Then in 1967, the stars aligned and I heard the crossover hit by the Ramsey Lewis trio, ‘The In Crowd’. It was a life changing moment. Melody, Rhythm, audience clapping, improvisation! It was the beginning of my lifelong love of improvised music. It is one of the reasons that Jazzheads http://www.jazzheads.com/ (the label I started in 1992) exists and to this day is the basis of my creativity. Honing one’s skill as an improvising musician takes a deep commitment and because of improvised music, Jazz, as we have labeled it, my musical direction is usually pretty clear.

I do have to say that the different influences sometimes collide with each other and that merger has become a bit of a quest for me musically.

mwe3: What piano are you performing on the What’s Next? CD and what was the recording process like, describing the chemistry with your producer Daryl Bornstein. What other keyboards do you play and do you play other instruments?

RANDY KLEIN: Being that I am a Steinway artist, I am playing a Steinway B – 7’ grand. As you might know, every piano has an individual quality to its sound and the way the instrument reacts to a player’s touch. Unlike other instrumentalists who play their own instrument all the time, the pianist is subject to a life of continually adjusting to the nature of the instrument. And, I feel strongly about this, ‘sometimes the pianos should be used for kindling’ and yet, pianists still have to try to make music on them.

But, luckily for me the Steinway at BiCoastal Studios in Ossining, NY is in really fine shape. In other words, I was able to adapt to the sound and action of the instrument quickly and found its sweet spots.

This recording is my first collaboration with Daryl Bornstein. He is a impeccable engineer and producer. A perfectionist like me! He was very careful with the miking of the piano. He tried to cover all the bases. He close miked the piano and had a pair of mikes set up a few feet away and then had ambient mikes to pick up the sound of the instrument from afar. He recorded everything flat and other than adding a bit of ambient reverb to the overall recording, you are hearing the instrument as it sounds. Daryl is also a wonderful musician himself. This musicality is the place where we connect most. Having a second set of ears in the studio, like Daryl’s, is a real pleasure and allows me to just play. I look forward to working with Daryl again on future projects.

I have at one time or another picked up most instruments and tried to play them. I find it interesting to know what other players go through in order to play their instrument. I did play bass for about a year in college and played tuba and drums in high school. B3, Rhodes, synths of all kinds, but, piano is it for me. I own a 1904 6’ Steinway and use a Yamaha P250 digital with my notation and sequencing programs.

mwe3: Your company Jazzheads looks great. Can you tell us the story of Jazzheads, when you began it and any label philosophy, and, from a label perspective, what you feel the future holds for the CD and music in general?

RANDY KLEIN:
Jazzheads, the independent NYC Jazz label, is 20 years old this year. We are very proud of the recordings we have released and the long lasting working relationships and friendships that have helped build the label.

What started as frustration trying to get my music ‘out there’, 20 years later, has turned into a full-fledge independent label that releases high quality recordings by a long list of the very finest Jazz artists on the scene. And, I am very proud to say, two 2012 Grammy Nominations for Bobby Sanabria’s CD, Multiverse in best Latin Jazz and best Instrumental Arrangement categories.

Back in 1992, I was extremely upset about not getting any response from labels for a project I was pitching. My friend, Gary Dallaire, suggested I record and release the album myself and see what happens (a bit ahead of the curve compared to today’s self-releasers)! I recorded the music at HarariVille, a small studio in New Jersey, Bob Katz the mastering engineer supreme mastered it, and I pressed 1000 copies. I sent promos out to everyone I knew and not much happened. Then one afternoon, I remember sitting in my kitchen listening to NYC’s Jazz station WBGO with Michael Bourne as the host. He announced that he received a CD at his home, of all places, and was pleasantly surprised how good it was. The CD he was referring to was my first CD, Randy Klein’s Jazzheads. So imagine, there I was sitting in my kitchen listening to my music being played on the air in New York City! I was elated and, at the same time, overcome with the fact that 1.) at that moment I was a record label and 2.) I knew zilch about how to run a record label (I already showed my ignorance by not putting a barcode on the back of my CD). I knew little about distribution, retail, promotions, marketing, radio and the long list of subjects that a label owner needs to know to run a label and make it successful. Truthfully, I made a myriad of mistakes along the way. But I picked myself up, learned from each mistake, and stubbornly moved forward. What I did know was what good music should sound like and how to make good recordings. So with this knowledge and the drive to get my music out there, I began my 20-year journey of building Jazzheads.

As I began spreading the word that I had started a label, other musicians with similar stories of wanting to get their music out there without any luck in doing so, approached me. I started to partner with these other musicians on CDs. They were responsible for recording the music and a portion of the promotion, while Jazzheads was responsible for manufacturing, distributing, promoting and paying royalties on sales, when they existed. This is how the label was built: musicians (artists) and a business entity that could work together in a fair arrangement that allowed everyone to profit. Over the years, there have been many ups and downs. At times I thought I would shut the whole thing down and, at other times, I felt simply that it wasn’t worth putting all this energy into a business that sold minimal sales and was a niche market at best. But through it all, it was the music that kept the label alive.

I now realize it was worth every moment, mostly because of the invaluable learning experience that I have had, which came from the most unlikely source, the musicians who were making the music. I’ve gotten to listen to them play, be in the studio with them, absorb and learn from their vast wealth of musical knowledge. And throughout, I’ve been in awe of these great musicians and felt honored to be able to hang with them. Their knowledge has influenced my decisions and taught me about the great four-letter word JAZZ. It has been the musicians and their willingness to share their gift of music and their dedication to the form, which has built the label. I have simply been the one nudging it along.

Jazzheads is proud to be distributed by Allegro Distributors for all of its physical CDs and with IODA, EMusic, and Believe Digital for its digital download distribution. We have wonderful relationships with our promotional team headed by Chris DiGirolamo from Two For The Show Media, with Mark Elf, Dr. Jazz and Michael Moryc for our radio promotion. They have taken Jazzheads music, released it, moved it out the door, brought it to new audiences to listen to, review and read stories about. I thank them for their tireless efforts.

In our 20th year, we are proud to announce our partnership with the Canadian record label Spectra/Musique in releasing CDs by internationally acclaimed artists Susie Arioli and Jordan Officer to the Jazz audiences in the United States. We are in our 5th year of releasing CDs by the esteemed Manhattan School of Music with proceeds going back to the MSM scholarship fund. Giving back!

Many of the artists on Jazzheads are major educators in the field of Jazz. Dr. Chris Washburne is the Director of the Louis Armstrong Jazz Performance at Columbia University, Justin DiCioccio is the head of the Manhattan School of Music Jazz Department, Bobby Sanabria teaches at MSM Jazz and the New School, Dave Liebman is also at MSM, with Cliff Korman, Rob Derke, Jeff Lederer, Mark Weinstein teaching the form. And I am not only he president of the label, but an active teacher in the subjects of songwriting, improvisation and the business of music in high schools and universities. So, not only is Jazzheads releasing CDs with improvised music on it, we are passing the baton to the next generation. Pretty cool!

mwe3: What are your other plans moving into 2013 and beyond? It looks like you’ve got a busy year ahead.

RANDY KLEIN: Well, I am always trying to create new ways of ‘getting my music out there’. Currently on my plate are two musicals that are both in different levels of production, ‘Flambé Dreams’ and ‘Ever Happily After’. I continue to perform ‘For My People’ – The Margaret Walker Song Cycle, a major music work that combines the poetry of Margaret Walker with its socially conscious themes written for solo voices and large chorale. I am performing with Two Duos, giving solo piano improvisation concerts and of course teaching song writing and the business of music. Oh, by the way, did I mention that I never sleep! Truthfully, I love what I do so much, that I try not to waste a moment. When in doubt, improvise!

Thanks to Randy Klein @ www.RandyKlein.com

 

 
   
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