When Randy Klein began Jazzheads, an independent record label based in New York City in 1992, he had two label models in mind–A&M Records and GRP Records.
“Premiere labels started by musicians, Herb Alpert, Larry Rosen and Dave Grusin,” he says.
“What I observed about each is that they released popular songs adored by the masses but also released inventive ground-breaking music as well. You know, they pushed the form forward!” says Klein.
Klein’s own career spans some 30 years, writing, performing (he started doing gigs when he was 14) and producing.
He has released some outstanding projects on his Jazzheads imprint and affiliated labels.
They have garnered a long list of award recognition, including Grammy and Latin Grammy nominations; National EMMY awards, Downbeat Critic awards, Latin Beat Critic awards, Jazz Journalist awards and Jazztimes magazine Critic Poll awards.
Jazzheads has also just released “Rockers On Broadway: Live,” the first in a series of recordings from Donnie Kehr’s Rocker On Broadway events.
The New York Independent sat with him for an exclusive interview in his New York office.
NYI: Tell us a bit about your upbringing and what made you gravitate towards music.
RK: “Log cabin, walked to school through winter blizzards. Graduate of Fort Lee High School in New Jersey. Music chose me. It wasn’t like I ever had a choice. One day, as a four-year-old, I was reaching up to play the keys. The rest was my figuring out that I wasn’t an accountant.”
NYI: What was the first record that lit your fuse, so to speak?
RK: “’Who Wears Short Shorts?,” “I’m On The Outside Looking In,” Fiddler On The Roof cast album with Zero Mostel (aurally served with dinner from the age of 14 through 17); “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah,”
But the track that “lit my fuse” was The Ramsey Lewis Trio’s “The In Crowd.” The piano lead with the rhythm section in a groove that the audience is responding to and clapping along; improvisation with a beat! What a concept! Ironically, so many have tried to re-do this feeling on recordings, but few have succeeded.”
NYI: I happen to be a big Millie Jackson fan, tell us a bit about your time with her … and, the songs you wrote for her.
RK: Millie Jackson and I have been dear friends since I joined her band as a keyboard player back in 1977. I wrote “Feelin’ Like A Woman” from the Feelin’ Bitchy album; “Go Out and Get Some” from her Get It (Outcha System) album; “Slow Tongue” and “Sexercise” from her E.S.P. album; “This Is Where I Came In;” “Not On Your Life” and of course the infamous “Phuck-U Symphony” (co-written with Millie writing the lyrics!!!).
Oh, by the way, the name of the band was ‘The Easy Akshun Band.” Go figure?! And…Millie’s daughter, Keisha is a kick-ass R&B vocalist in her own right.
NYI: You started the label with A&M Records and GRP Records as models. What particular records from both those companies impressed you enough to use them as guides?
RK: Well they were models in the idea that both labels paid great attention to the music and at the same time released ‘hit’ recordings. A&M had Herb Albert’s Tijuana Brass, The Carpenters, and let us not forget Sergio Mendez and Brazil 66.
But A&M also released recordings like Michel Colombier’s, Wings, an adventurous recording that mixed symphonic orchestra with a jazz and rock rhythm section with pop and rock voices. Bill Medley, Lani Hall and Paul Williams. More important, this recording’s mixing of genres was decades ahead of any of the mélange of genre mixtures we get today.
A&M was a label that took chances and believed in the music. GRP was the same; the music always came first. But it was Larry Rosen and his foresight to see the value of the CD technology, not only as a business, but as it enhanced the music. Let us not forget that GRP was all about the musical output of Dave Grusin. It was the technology mixed with the level of musicians who were represented on the label that makes me admire GRP so much. “
NYI: When looking at the records you’ve released, it’s a terrific wide berth of jazz artists – clearly each of your artists have resonated with you in a certain way. Which artists and records have been among your favorites so far?
RK: I have really learned from every musician who has had their music represented on Jazzheads. My big surprise with Jazzheads is what a gift it has become. I have worked and learned from the very best. Improvising musicians are geniuses in disguise. And each of them has their own unique voice. When they speak, you can’t help but learn. That said, I have a few favorites recordings.
Diane Schuur’s “I Remember You and Runnin’ On Faith.” Bobby Sanabria’s “Big Band Urban Folktales;” Chris Washburne and the SYOTOS band, “Paradise In Trouble;” Leonard Hochman’s “Manhattan Morning;” “Manhattan School Of Music – Symphonic Suites of Duke Ellington” and Supernova “Brazilian Jazz” – Claudia Villela.
NYI: Tell us about the Bobby Sanabria West Side Story Reimagined album. I was a fan of it even before this interview. I know he has series of show’s next month at Dizzy’s in New York City.
RK: The WSSR recording is a wonderful tribute to the music of Leonard Bernstein. Bobby’s reimagining took the historic score and added the missing “clave” beat. The rest of it is the killer Multiverse Big Band. If you can possibly get to Dizzy’s for one of the performances, I highly recommend it.
We are recording a new project titled, “Bobby Sanabria Multiverse. Big Band – Vox Humana.” It will feature the 10 Grammy Winning Janis Siegel – of Manhattan Transfer fame; queen of the blues, Antoinette Montaque, and Jennifer ‘Jade’ Ledesna.”
NYI: Tenor-saxophonist Ray Blue’s work is just sensational; I know there’s a new album in the works. Tell us about that a bit.
RK: The project is titled, “#People.” Ray and I have been working on it through the COVID period till now. Ray put together some wonderful rhythm sections including Sharp Radway, Essiet Okon Essiet, Alvester Garnett, Jeff Barone, Bobby Sanabria, Eddie Allen, Steve Johns and the infamous National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master Kenny Baron. Ray Blue shines playing with these rhythm sections and the grooves are infectious.
NYI: I also here’s there’s a new project for Ann Kittredge. Tell us about that a bit.
RK: My friend, producer/songwriter Paul Rolnick brought Ann Kittredge’s reimagined project to my attention. Ann’s gift for interpretation of songs immediately caught my ear. The Great American Songbook is quite alive in this recording. Reimagine by Ann Kittredge has a release date of May 16th.
NYI: I also enjoyed your referencing today’s streaming importance. It’s a whole new world that, back in the day, A&M and GRP didn’t have to really be concerned about. Give us some insight on that development.
RK: Because I still think a stream is a babbling brook, the idea of streaming music is funny to me. I think of music flowing not streaming. We could be counting “flows.” How many flows did you get on that single? Streams sounds more impressive. Or we could just call it “plays.” Either way, the industry model has reverted to the days of the single. And not just the single as in 45 rpm, but to when music was sold “door-to-door” as printed piano vocal sheets. So, we are buying music a “play” at a time. The more plays, the more ka-ching. Unfortunately, the numbers are not in favor of the creators.
NYI: I’d be remiss in not addressing that fact that many educators are artists on the label … in your words, passing the baton to the next generation. That’s a great concept, can you speak to that?
RK: Music educators are a by-product of Jazzheads that was not in my thinking when the label first opened. It just happens to be that many of the great musicians who have played on Jazzheads recordings believe in “passing the baton.” They learn from their students as the students are learning from them. They are great teachers with lifetimes of experience. I aspire to be like them. I love when a student plays well or writes a good song or just feels good about the music they are creating.
NYI: What’s in store for you and the label next?
RK: “New single by guitarist Alex Skolnick and myself on electric keys. We recorded the Davie Bowie tune “Changes.” The release will be June 15th. Ray Blue’s recording, #people. New recording by Bobby Sanabria and the Multiverse Big Band – Vox Humana. A new keyboard project that I have been working on titled, “The Kenny Keys Connection” to be released July 15. A reading of my new musical, Black Swan Blues in late October. And a secret project TBA.”