UNSIGNED COMPOSER SPOTLIGHT
by Mark E. Waterbury
Jim Ludwig of Jazz Menagerie
YEARS IN MUSIC BIZ:
MM: What was the impetus that made you decide to go into composing?
JL: It's a strange story, actually. I've had an on-again-off-again relationship with music throughout my life, and I never really developed any really good technical skills. But I developed a good ear for music. I did get into studying jazz; I played the sax for years and had some keyboard training as well. I also got into electronic instruments like the wind controller. I enjoyed that because it took away some of the craftsmanship you need to be a horn player, allowing me to study the music itself more closely. So I felt like creating a home studio for some reason, and two weeks after I got it set up I suddenly found myself composing, which I never really had the aptitude for before. It was like an avalanche of creativity. I showed some of the finished compositions to some jazz professionals in the area and I got some very quick and very positive validations that they were good compositions.
MM: So basically you had all this pent-up creativity and once everything was set up, it just flowed?
JL: Yes, very much so. I have to say that it's a gift because once it finally started, I've had quite a few experiences and when I composed the first CD, I'd sit down at the keyboard and have certain emotions coming up or I'd think of someone in my life or something like that. Then I would have this instant download of affectionate music, sometimes with the lyrics popping out right with the melody. It took a lot of work sometimes to go back and refine it, but the essence of it came forth very quickly. Of course, there were also times when there were compositions with no emotional impetus, and instead I was intrigued with a certain harmonic movement or rhythmic movement. Either way it was an incredible experience and I really enjoyed it.
MM: How did Jazz Menagerie begin?
JL: I worked for a little while with a guy who lives here in Pacifica named Adam Levine who is a very capable jazz guitarist. And I wanted to do something with my songs and placed an ad on the internet. I got a response from a young keyboardist and producer named Ben Yonas who had just moved here from London. Intuitively, I had the idea that he was the right guy; he's quite talented both musically and on the production side. So we worked in a partnership to get the compositions ready for musicians to play, and then we recruited a local drummer and bass player to take the songs through pre-production. That became the core of Jazz Menagerie. The four of us worked very well together. Ben knew of a vocalist named Raya Yarbrough in L.A. that we brought in. So it's been mostly a studio experience with a number of people being very closely involved.
MM: When you finished "Just Hold Me" and sat down and listened to the finished product, what was your reaction to it?
JL: Well you have to listen to it so many times from pre to post production that it's almost anticlimactic when it comes out. I do have to say that I felt very content with what we produced. I was already into composing a different type of music when the CD came out, but I was very content with what we had done.
MM: What is your marketing plan to get "Just Hold Me" out to the masses?
JL: We've been working with a public relations company. And we have the CD available with several on-line retailers. We have another local individual who worked in the (music) industry who is part of our efforts, and he is making phone calls now to his contacts such as record labels and is also looking into publishing possibilities. So we're just slowly doing the things that would be considered prudent to get the exposure. At the same time, we are working on creating our second CD. A lot of people in the industry have told us that most artists have (one) CD, and you can start getting more attention and respect if you hang in there and do more than one.
MM: Will Jazz Menagerie perform live?
JL: We would like to but at the same time we want to be smart about the timing of that. The musicians that are involved are all very established professional people with busy schedules. So what we want to do is when we reach a certain strategic point in our marketing, such as talking to a label or another entity that asks if we are performing, then we can say, yeah, we have commitments to do that. I don't think they want to stay middle of the road on this, but I think that there is a commitment to doing select shows in a way that everybody would enjoy it and at the same time effectively promote the music.
MM: What is the market like for jazz out in California?
JL: It's not just California, but these are kind of tough times in the industry. We've already talked to a couple of labels who responded very favorably but just are not taking on any more jazz CDs now. This is not the most opportunistic of times, but I'm also doing this because I want to do this. Obviously, we want to make it work financially and have the benefit of having as many people as possible exposed to the music. But I create the music because I like creating music, and I'm going to continue to do what I do and trust that if we do all of the intelligent things, it will only be a matter of time until things start to happen.