DMG's Founder BRUCE LEE GALLANTER interviewed by TOM GREENLAND
July 24th, 2003
Copyright 2006 Bruce Lee Gallanter and Tom Greenland
Conducted April 20th 2003 [app two months before the passing of Irving Stone]
TG: [fixing the mic:] "Well that should be alright."
BG: "Yeah, so I was saying: there's a couple called the Stones, Irving and Stephanie Stone, that've been going to gigs a long time, and they've been going to Zorn gigs longer than me. I met them, like..."
TG: "John Zorn?"
BG: "Yeah. In, like, 1980. And it's nice to meet people who are older than you [Bruce would celebrate his 50th birthday on 6/18/04 at Tonic] who are doing a lot in jazz."
Waitress comes for meal order-
BG: "Can I get two eggs, sunny-side-up, white toast, Canadian bacon? [+unintelligible] Thanks. Uh, so, I was just talking about the Stones. That would be someone you might wanna talk to. I mean, they're getting up in age; they don't go to as many gigs. Also, Steve Dalachinsky. You know who he is?"
BG: "He's a poet. He's also, like, a big part of the scene. He goes to lots of gigs, very talkative, sometimes during the gig! A good guy. He sells-he used to sell books and tapes on the street; that was his gig, but he got busted for doing that, so he doesn't do it as much; he just does it occasionally. I mean, that's people I would recommend. I mean, you just go to Tonic gigs and there're a lot of people there to talk to. There's, like, a whole bunch-there're, like, a couple of tight-knit little scenes that go on there."
TG: "Little circles of musicians and...?"
BG: "Well, friends. Not always musicians, just people who listen seriously to music. I mean, some are musicians, but most of 'em are just serious listeners. Like, Evan Parker is playing tonight at Tonic. There're gonna be some really serious people checking that out, 'cause Evan plays a unique brand of sax. He does the circular breathing thing and he has his own sound. He doesn't play very much, and he's touring with a trio. Uh, Schlippenbach, Alexander Schlippenbach, that's a piano player, and Paul Lytton on drums. Schlippenbach hasn't been here in about fifteen years and Lytton's only been here once, so this is pretty extraordinary; so people'll be coming from far and wide to go to this gig tonight."
TG: "Maybe I should go?'
BG: "I think so. I'm closing the store early so I can get out there. I had no gig in the store today so I can close early. 'Cause we have gigs in the store."
TG: "On Sundays, usually?'
BG: "Every Sunday, yeah."
TG: "Oh, okay."
BG: "So-but this is more important. I even wrote in the little flyers we send out, 'Join Bruce at Tonic tonight. We'll be closing early. No gig in the store.'"
TG: [laughing:] "Well, duty calls."
BG: "Yeah, I mean, this is important stuff. Plus, I tape things too. I've been taping gigs for a long time."
TG: "At the Tonic?"
BG: "Yeah. I mean, Tonic's been open, like, four years. But, no, I've been taping gigs since, like, '75."
TG: "Do you have your own portable system?"
BG: "Yeah. I've got a DAT machine, and I used to have a cassette machine."
TG: [joking:] "Wow, maybe I should use yours for this [cassette-taped interview]. This [the cassette machine] is, like, low-tech here."
BG: "Well, I was charging my batteries up, 'cause I taped some stuff last night. That's what I did, then went right to the store, 'cause I recharged four batteries. I don't like to have to buy batteries all the time. So, what do you want me to talk about?"
TG: "Well, maybe you could give me just a little background on you: like, how did you start your relationship with jazz music? You know, how did you get into it? I'm interested in: are you from New York, or did you come here? And so, could you tell me a little bit about your relationship with New York."
TG: "And then, lastly, besides your own personal involvement, I'm interested in the people that are involved in the music scene. So I'm sure you'll have some ideas about that, as the people who come to your store, or are part of the people that go out to hear the music [in her tain/regularly????]. That's a big question!" [chuckles]
BG: "I listened to a lot of rock music when I was a kid, like most people. I mean, I grew up in the 60s. I was born in '54, I started buying albums when I was thirteen, in '67, and, I mean, I had a big appetite for music, so I bought lots and lots of LPs."
TG: "What was your first LP?"
BG: "My first LP? I think I bought three greatest hit[s] records."
TG: "From Columbia House?" [thinking of his own first greatest hits records]
BG: "No, no, from some store, 'cause they were cheap, and I didn't know anything about regular-I didn't wanna take chances on albums that just had, like, one hit song on 'em. So, it was, like, [the] Rolling Stones' greatest hits (High Tide & Green Grass)], maybe [The] Byrds Greatest Hits, maybe-either [the] Four Seasons or [the] Four Tops."
TG: "Bird's greatest hits?"
TG: "You got to Charlie Parker, right off the bat?"
BG: "No; no, no, no. THE Byrds."
TG: "The Byrds! Oh, okay. Sorry."
BG: "Yeah, no..."
TG: "I was gonna say, 'Wow! That's very precocious of you!'" [laughs]
BG: "No, no; not at thirteen. But one of the first records I bought that changed my view of things was a Mother of Invention record. I bought that, like, that year, and it was called Freak Out! And I started buying this music magazine called Hit Parade, mostly because it had lyrics to songs and I wanted to sing along to the songs, just to see what-'cause I was interested in lyrics. Like, at that point, things were changing; you know, with songs like "Eve of Destruction" [by Barry McGuire] and all these protest songs happening, I became interested in what people had to say in their songs. So, I wanted-and you couldn't always understand lyrics, so I got this magazine to read the lyrics, and the magazine would have articles on different bands. So I started reading about bands that I liked, and I read record reviews, and one of the things they reviewed was the first Mothers record, Freak Out! And it said, 'This is the weirdest record ever made,' and they just described it. And I said, 'Man! That sounds so strange.' And then I went to the record store, and I'm looking at all the records in the racks. And, in '67, that's, like, the 'Summer of Love,' and the year when psychedelic is happening. And everyone looks kind of like a superhero on their album cover. And the Mothers looked really ugly and scary, and they're making these ugly faces. And I'm saying, you know, 'What's going on with these guys?' It's also the first double album in rock, and it was sold cheaply. So I bought that record, and I said, 'Man, what is this?' And the first-it was a double album-the first album was all songs, which I could relate to, sort of, and the second record was all weird singing and sound effects and stuff. And at first I didn't understand it, and I kept playing it, and I said, 'Okay, it's starting to make sense now.' So-and that led me to start-and then, [Frank] Zappa wrote tons of information on that record: people who influenced him, freaking-he talks about 'freaking out,'z which is trying to get away from norm, and being different, and reading, and teaching yourself. He makes fun of schools and he makes fun of going to college and makes fun of a lot of things about the U.S. He made me think. So, I kinda changed my attitude about music. I ended up buying lots and lots of records, all kinds of psychedelic and folk records. There were no categories at that point, so I didn't know-from black or white music, or jazz, or anything like that-I just bought what I thought was cool. And eventually, starting with, like, 1969, that's kinda where my progressive music began, with, like, the Mothers and Soft Machine and Miles [Davis] and all this other stuff. So I started getting into that. I took-oh, I grew up and I still live in New Jersey; I've always lived there. Actually, I lived in New York for one year, about 1980. When I was at college, I took a history of jazz course, 'cause I was kind of intrigued by it, 'cause all-a lot-of the bands I was into at the time said they were influenced by jazz music, and people like Zappa were getting nominated in jazz polls. So I thought that was kinda interesting. My favorite band, after the Mothers, was this band called Soft Machine, which started out as a psychedelic band and became a jazz band after awhile. I took this course, and what they-they were smart. They started everybody with-[to the serving person:] Thank you!-with electric jazz, like, modern stuff. Like, the first thing they played was Bitches Brew [Miles Davis] and a Herbie Hancock record called Sextant. And I'm listening to it and I'm saying, 'Man, this is amazing stuff! If this is jazz music, then I've been missing out on a lot of things.' And what they did is they worked their way backwards, so that they teach you the history of jazz. And the two guys that taught the course, a guy named John Tyson, and Manny Albam, who was a famous jazz arranger in the 50s, they were just great guys; really interesting guys who knew their history, and I just learned a lot from these guys."
TG: "A-l-b-a-m? Is that right?"
BG: "A-l-b...yeah, a-m; yeah. He had-his sorta-hit was-he did a version of West Side Story, like, right after it came out, a jazz version, and everyone loved it. And Bernstein, Leonard Bernstein, who composed it, called him up and said to him, 'You know, I wrote this music, and you're the only one who's actually interpreted it and done something different with it, and the work you've done is really beautiful!' So he was, like, flabbergasted that Bernstein would call him up and tell 'em that. So he was kind of an interesting guy, and he used to run the jazz ensemble on campus."
TG: "What campus was this?"
BG: "I went to Glassboro State, in south Jersey, and it was a good jazz school. There were, like, lots of great local jazz musicians in that school. And that was good; I mean, I learned a lot, I took a lot in. And there was a literary magazine on campus; they asked me to write for them, and I didn't know what to write about, and they said, 'Well, you wanna write about jazz stuff?' I said, 'Well, I don't know too much about it; I'm just learning about it.' But our school sponsored a high school jazz competition and a college jazz competition, so-and these things were, like, all day long; you know, ten bands would play over two days, twenty bands maybe-so I ended up reviewing that stuff and-well, you know-and I got into writing by doing that. I was taking journalism courses. I was thinking about writing for newspapers at that point. Then after awhile I said, '[Writing for] newspapers is just reporting the facts.' That didn't interest me; I wanted to write, you know, more opinionated stuff. So that's what I would do: you know, do record reviews and live reviews."
TG: "So you started going out to see these shows in order to be able to write about them?"
BG: "Well, there was stuff on campus and-the bus goes-in south Jersey, I would sometimes take the bus to Philadelphia and go and see music in Philadelphia. I mean, mostly rock stuff, but also occasionally jazz stuff too. And a lot of the good jazz people played at the college. There were tours-the first Return to Forever tour was there, you know, when it had Bill Connors [guitarist], not when they had [Al] DiMeola. That was great. Gerry Mulligan [baritone sax], Gary Burton's [vibraphonist] group when they had [Pat] Metheny and Mick Goodrick [both guitarists] in the band, [the] Paul Winter Consort. It was just-it was great stuff."
BG: "So, I just got more and more into jazz, and when I would go home, some of my friends at home were becoming jazz musicians, and a lot of them were becoming jazz snobs. So, like, they couldn't listen to rock anymore, even though they grew up on it, and even though they used to play it. So it's kind of a weird thing. This is in the 70s; I graduated in '72. The first-I mean, I became the same way for awhile, and then what happened was, after I'd sort of given up on rock-I worked for a little record store in Woodbridge, New Jersey, and towards the end of working there I was also [a/the] distributor. I got this woman, who was kind of a punk woman, a job there. And after I left I worked in New York for two years at a place called The Record Hunter on 42nd [St.] and 5th [Av.], which is, like, a big store; it sold a lot of different types of music, mostly classical, some jazz and folk. And I was their guy-on-the-floor that knew a lot about different types of music, to sell to people. The foreman, who I was friendly with, Yvonne -when I would go visit her, she would give me records. I'd just come in the store and she would say, 'Take this and this and this; just stick 'em in the bag,' you know? I wasn't gonna complain. Which-she ended up giving me the first Talking Heads record and Television, Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello. And I started listening to that stuff, and I realized there was actually some interesting rock music still being done. So I became fans of that and started going to those shows. And then some of my jazz musician buddies were playing in wedding bands and they ended up having to play Talking Heads songs and Joe Jackson songs, so they ended up borrowing those records, and they eventually had some sort of respect for that. So they kinda begrudgingly got into that. I used to have-I played drums in high school, like, rock drums; not really great, but okay. And when I went to college, I started meeting all these different musicians and we started having jams, where-I was also part of the poetry club there, so I was writing poetry and trying to get some published."
TG: "Oh, really?"
BG: "Yeah. But, I had jams where we'd just invite people into our apartment, from off-campus, and then have people just improvise; you know: rock musicians, jazz musicians. I'd recite poetry, I'd play percussion, you know? It was a fun thing. And when I went back home I continued to do that; I would invite people to come and play. I lived in suburbia, in Jersey, with my parents and my brother and my sister. Whenever my parents would go on vacation, I'd have jam sessions in my house; and if they went away for two weeks, I'd have jam sessions every night. Until the neighbors would complain or the cops would come, and..."
TG: "I was wondering."
BG: "They used to get out of hand, but I used to love doing it. They would always get pissed off, or the neighbors would complain, but-. Some of my friends had become really good musicians and I was also meeting people in rock bands. So I'd have these open-ended jams where different types of music would happen. That was a good scene for awhile. That happened from, like, I'd say '76 until the early '80s; I kept doing that, having these jams. I had some friends, this one guy Owen Plotkin, who was, like, a local folksinger, he got into-me and him both got into Television and punk bands together. So he put together a punk band called the Mopeds; it was just him and one other guy. He played rhythm, this other guy played lead: Mons. I played drums with them a little bit, but mostly I kinda managed them. But they were great 'cause he was a great songwriter, this guy. And he just wrote about what he knew, and he wrote about living in Linden-which is where we're from-and what a fucked-up town it was. 'Cause it was. I mean, growing up there, there were all kinds of-when I was growing up it was a very backwards community filled with greasers and jocks, and very few hippies. And I had a big afro in high school, and that used to cause me all kinds of problems. All the greasers would constantly hassle me, try to get me cut my hair-so I was happy to get out of that town when I went to college, and I was not happy to come back there when I graduated. But I still had friends. So Owen would write songs about what was going on in Linden, so I kinda got involved with-I mean, they were sort of a punk band; I don't know, they were pretty open-minded, and the jazz guys liked them 'cause they wrote their own songs. So-let me think-I worked for a place called Gem, which was the big distributor of import rock records, for about a year."
TG: "Was that over here in Manhattan, or...?"
BG: "No, that was in Plainfield, New Jersey. And I worked for them for a year before they went out of business. They went out of business 'cause the three guys that ran it were very greedy, and the whole distribution scene has always been about greed, and stupidity, and stuff. I mean, I learned a lot in that one year. But that's how I met Manny [Emanuel Maris], who's now my partner. One of the first things they gave me was-they gave me, like, twenty accounts: people to call and sell records and CDs to. Manny was one of my first accounts, and they gave him to me 'cause he was, like, a trouble account. No problem paying - he did sizeable business compared to any indie store, and it was by himself, no employees, 7 days a week - but he ordered stuff we said we had according to our catalogs, but really didn't. He was very, very finicky. But one of their in-house labels that they sold exclusively was EG. EG put out all King Crimson, Brian Eno, Robert Fripp stuff. That's Manny's favorite stuff."
TG: 'That was one of your accounts?"
BG: "Yup. And the first time I called him to solicit, he read me his version of a 'riot act' right after I said "Hello"! It was something like ,"if an shipment came without the items" he chiefly placed the order for, after being told at the time of placing it that we had them, he would refuse delivery and/or cancel the check! Which is why he wanted me to get up from my desk and go out to the warehouse and actually verify and pull those items to guarantee it! That first call, he freaked me out so badly I put him on hold and got my supervisor to ask what was wrong! He had to know when everything was coming in, like, street date-he just made my life really difficult. In retrospect, now that I run a store, I see why he succeeded with no seed money - he realized the kinds of things he wanted to stock his store with were marginalized by the very distributors who were authorized to stock them, and most often didn't arrive at all after repeated requests, so that to look better than the other stores and actually have them, he had to employ bullying and shaming tactics, including reporting them [various distributors] to the independent labels whom they allegedly served. So guess who's now chiefly in charge [for DMG] of starting new relationships with distributors and labels we've never done biz with before? Right! And our having the stuff for everyone to go ga-ga over proves him right!
It turns out that I knew him before that call, 'cause he used to sell strange selfmade rock buttons outside of concerts from '79-81 at the Garden, Palladium, in Central Park. So I finally met him at the Knit later that week, and I said, 'I know who you are, I see you at the Knit all the time - and you give me a hard time?' And then we became friends.
Anyway, starting with my college days, I started listening to more and more jazz records, and also, when I'd go home, I'd start going to jazz gigs in town. There was a loft jazz scene going on. That's, like, '72 onwards. So I would come in from suburbia every week with a few friends of mine. There were three places on Bond Street, right down the corner from this store. There was The Ladies Fort, which was run by a guy named Joe Lee Wilson, who's a jazz singer; there was a place called the Studio Rivbea [opened 1970], that was run by Sam Rivers and his wife, and that's how they got that name: Rivers, and his wife's name is Bea. Bond Street is only two blocks long, so three places on two blocks. And then there was a place on the corner, across the street from us, called the Tin Palace. The Tin Palace was booked by Stanley Crouch-or Stanley Grouch or Stanley Crotch, you could say-who nobody liked. But at that point, people liked him. But no one around here likes him anymore 'cause he's a conservative, and he's..."
TG: "He's a neoclassicist racist."
BG: "Yeah, yeah; he's a jerk; yeah."
TG: "He's written a nice book, though. [No!] That [Count] Basie book [TG is mixing him up with Albert Murray, who co-wrote Good Morning Blues: The Autobiography of Count Basie & Stomping the Blues]."
BG: "Count Basie book? Well, anyway, he knows his music, he just always had problems with white people. He would never give credit to anybody-[he'd] at least argue about that stuff. But anyway, he booked the Tin Palace. Tin Palace was a really great place because they'd have kind of adventurous jazz every night-it was, like, a bar, you'd have drinks; unlike the Rivbea or the Ladies Fort, which were loft spaces. You'd have to bring in your own, whatever you were drinking. And Stanley used to go and find all these legendary 'out' jazz cats [i.e. play in an adventurous, 'aharmonic' &/or 'arhythmic' style] that had retired, and call them up and say, 'Hey man, I'm giving you a gig. Come downtown, bring your shit.' He would push people to play. So he got a lot of people back out, that had kind of gone by the wayside. So I have to give him credit for that. That scene was a good scene, 'cause he had, probably, a dozen loft spaces all throughout Manhattan, mostly southern Manhattan, that were run by musicians and people who loved the music. And it was inexpensive and there was really good stuff going on."
TG: "What years were those, when the loft scene was really peaking?"
BG: "Well, I started going to loft gigs, probably, around '72 or '73, but it could have been happening before that. But I know that in the late 70s is when it really flowered. I think all those clubs were happening, like, maybe between '76 and '78. And that was just, like, maybe, a two-, three-year period of time before those three clubs all closed. The Rivbea got closed because the mafia pushed Sam Rivers out."
TG: "[He was] making too much money, or...?"
TG: "Didn't pay his ['dues']?"
BG: "No, they just weren't interested in that music at all. And I'm sure he had gotten good rent [i.e. a good deal on rent] and it was starting to change, and they wanted to get somebody who was paying bigger rent in there."
TG: "Interesting. You'd think-you know, I always hear the mafia's interested in people [who are] making money; they're not gonna bother ya if you're not making money. So I figure if you're in noncommercial jazz music..." [laughs]
BG: "You would think!"
TG: "...you would-nobody's gonna hassle you, you know? Who cares, right?"
BG: "Well, they obviously had their eye on that place, for whatever reason. And it was too free, you know? I mean, those gigs were good, you know, because you could go in, listen to music, pay five bucks, go downstairs, smoke pot with Sam and everyone else, come back upstairs, see another set-just very loose. It just was-it was a very good scene. So what happened was: there was a place called the Public Theater-well, I mean, it still exists-but they had jazz gigs there, in the 70s, as well, that were a little bit more serious. The World Sax Quartet played there, Cecil Taylor played there-people like that. And that-for about five years: late 70s, early 80s-that was a happening place to see jazz stuff-jazz, and also other new-music things."
TG: "What was the name of that? World Theater?"
BG: "Public. It still exists."
TG: "I was just speaking earlier with Jimmy [actually, Matt] Garrison, who's..."
BG: "Sure, Matt Garrison."
TG: "...Jimmy's son."
TG: "And he said his mother had stuff at her house a lot, that Cecil [Taylor] came over to his house when he was young. He's [Matt] about thirty now, I guess, but that scene was very active, and his mom a part of that. And so it was a wonderful experience, you know, 'cause he was very much in the middle of that as a young boy; [he was] even doing performance art stuff with them."
BG: "Sure. Sure. The loft jazz thing was good because all those guys were accessible. A lot of those guys, like Davis Murray, Hamiet Bluiett-they hadn't become stars or anything, so [you could] just hang out with these guys at the gigs, and it just was a very personal scene. You know, eventually it just became too expensive for those guys; they were moving to bigger venues. So that scene kinda changed."
TG: "Right. Now, when you say stars, I'm interested in that. When you say someone like David Murray's a 'star'..."
BG: "You know, when you first get into these people, no one knows who they are; I mean, there's no one writing about them. When that loft scene was happening, Stanley Crouch would write about these people for the Village Voice. So, slowly, those guys' names would get bigger and bigger. As time went on they would get bigger gigs, get paid more money-hopefully-start going to Europe. You see people's careers kinda build. I don't think there's anything-there's nothing wrong with that. I have no problem [with it]. How long the people play gigs that are affordable to the people that wanna see them play, you know? I wanna see those people get ahead, you know? I mean, what ends up happening is sometimes they get on labels, or they get paid okay money, sometimes they get on labels-like, major labels-where they get screwed, where they let 'em put out one record that they [the artist] want, and then they start pushing them into making produced records. I mean, I see that cycle always sorta going on, you know, where a major label puts big money behind somebody, like Arthur Blythe or someone like that, and then they change their style, and their original fans end up not liking 'em when they started making more commercial records."
TG: "Well, I guess the question was, you know, in a scene like an avant-garde jazz scene, it's not really a well-known scene, and jazz in general, even the more popular forms, the major labels are pulling out of those scenes."
TG: "So when you say 'star,' I'm saying that's a relative term, isn't it?'"
BG: "Yeah, yeah, yeah; but David Murray is well-known around the world. But you're right: being a big jazz star doesn't really mean that much. I mean, you're right: there're, like, little scenes all over the place where people-I mean, there're jazz festivals and if people play on the jazz festival circuit-if you get the latest copy of Downbeat magazine, they list, like, fifty festivals around the world that are happening this year. They describe each fest. So there's a big circuit for those jazz festivals, and a lot of American cats do really well playing in Europe. Some guys, they can't get a lot of gigs in New York, they end up hanging out in Europe doing more and more festivals. So that scene is always kinda changing, allowing those people to get bigger."
TG: "Well, some of the people have told me, you know, the way they make their money, really, is by touring; it's not here in New York. It's [touring] actually their lifeblood. It's going out, making the money, then coming back and making the contacts here."
BG: "Yeah, that's probably true; I'm sure that's true."
TG: "I mean, not everybody, but a lot of people have said it's very difficult to make a living here in the city."
BG: "It is, because there're not tons of gigs; there're only a handful of gigs, and some of the gigs, like the Sunday night series at CB's [CBGB's, Bleeker & Bowery Sts.]-nobody gets paid a lot of money to do that. People do that 'cause they love the music; they don't do it 'cause they're gonna get paid well. They really have to persevere. And it's hard. You're right: people have to do other things. Some people end up teaching, some people end up playing on the street, some people end up not playing music anymore, 'cause they get burned out and they've kinda knocked their head against the wall. There's always been a scene like that, and there's always gonna be people coming in, and old people falling by the wayside, maybe coming back. It's unfortunate.'
TG: "What's your sense of these musicians that have been doing this for a long time? Are most of them working day jobs as well, or...?"
BG: "It's very hard for most musicians to support themselves doing music only, so yeah, a lot of 'em have other things that they have to do. And they have to tour, go other places, get recording deals, [and] be involved with more than one type of music."
TG: "Yeah. I would imagine it would be particularly hard for someone who's doing very creative music, because it seems like the audience gets smaller for that sort of..."
BG: "I don't think it's smaller. It gets more intense. I think the audience gets bigger on a very small scale. There're always gonna be those diehards, like the people you've met, like Peter Cox and Roberta [Bergen] and stuff, that're there for the music. And you're right, it's a small scene that supports that stuff. That's why you go to Tonic on any given night, and unless there's some rock-oriented thing, or John Zorn playing there, most of those gigs are gonna be under-attended. And the ones that are better-attended, it's because people have worked really hard at their thing for a long period of time. It's a struggle for these people, I'm sure. What happened with was: my favorite band, Soft Machine, I always wanted to meet those guys and interview them. So when it came time to select someone to do an exchange program at my college, I applied to go to England. So, at first they didn't take me, and then they called me back and they interviewed me there, and then I said, 'Listen, I'm determined to do this. If you don't take me I'm gonna go anyway; I'm gonna save my money; this is important to me; I've been wanting to meet these guys and interview these guys for a long time.' So, when somebody else that they had picked decided not to do it, they called me back and said, 'Well, do you wanna go now?' I said, 'Yeah, I definitely wanna go.' So I spent one semester in England in the end of '75, beginning of '76, and I met all the guys from Soft Machine, and all the offshoot bands. I shouldn't say all of them, there were, like, twelve members throughout the history. I met about ten of 'em, and I met members of Caravan, and Hatfield and the North, and Gong, and [eighteen???] bands like that."
BG: And I'm still friendly with some of those people, and part of the specialty of our store-Soft Machine and this band Caravan come from Canterbury, in England, so the journals call that the 'Canterbury scene.' So that's one of our specialties. I've always loved it. That's my favorite music, by the way. There's a lot of jazz stuff involved with that as well. But the one band that came out of that scene that I thought was
BG: "There was a band called Henry Cow that was adopted by that scene. I thought they were the ultimate progressive band. They combined everything- free-jazz, rock, avant-garde, classical, Marxist philosophy within their music. They took off from where the Mothers left off from albums like 'Uncle Meat'. I wrote to them in England, between the time their 1st & 2nd records had come out and 3 of them wrote letters to me, Fred Frith, Chris Cutler & Tim Hodgkinson. They all wrote at length about their influences and the philosophy behind their music. I'm still in touch with them. \
[Tape ends-next segment, a portion of the interview is lost]
TG: "...or something, you know?"
BG: "That's their most famous record."
TG: "Right. But in that-so, I have some theory, and I said, 'Well, what do these guys [Bruce & Manny, at Downtown Records] think is good?' ''cause it seems like it's pretty eclectic. But then I look at the bands and it''s a lot of jazz, more than anything..."
BG: ":Yeah, sure.
TG: "...I thought; I mean, I haven't looked carefully, but..."
BG: "There is a lot of jazz stuff. I mean, I love the jazz stuff, and there're not, really, too many small stores that specialize in jazz stuff, especially avant-jazz. I mean, some of the big stores have a small section of that, but that's what I love, so that's what we're gonna carry a lot of. So we've always expanded our jazz section to include that. And the 'downtown' thing, that's bigger than just jazz. Jazz is only [part of it]."
TG: "What is that?"
BG: "Well, it's all these people who live downtown. And they're involved with a lot. The downtown thing, it sorta comes out of the loft thing. It just means that people can pick whatever type of music they want, and then mix and match all these different influences in their music. So it's totally open-ended; it's not just one category of music. But I'll get to the beginning of the downtown scene in a second. Anyway, so this band Henry Cow, that I had already been corresponding with-I met Fred Frith in England; I had interviewed him and we've been corresponding. And what happened was..."
TG: "He's a journalist though, isn't he? He's written..."
BG: "His brother, Simon Frith, is the journalist."
TG: "He's written some very interesting books on [music????]."
BG: "Yeah. They don't get along, those guys."
TG: "Oh, no?"
BG: "No. Simon's very conservative, and not easy to deal with. Anyway, Fred was one of my heroes, 'cause he was in Henry Cow and his approach to guitar was totally different. He used to lay his guitar on the table and bang on it and do all weird things with it; he always had a great approach. When Henry Cow broke up in '79, there was a producer, a British producer Giorgio Gomelsky that moved to New York. What he did is he put together a festival called the ZU Manifestival. That's some Egyptian hieroglyphic term. And what he did is was he invited, first, members of Henry Cow and members of Magma, from France-a whole bunch of progressive bands to play. It was-it went from-this is in November, '78-it went from 12:00 to 3:00 in the morning, okay? Twenty bands played, a lot of early downtown bands that I didn't know, and then all these early progressive bands played. And it was the first time four members of Henry Cow played together on stage in the U.S. And this was, like, a coming together of all these different scenes-and that kind of-and also Daevid Allen, who was the original lead guitar player from Soft Machine. He was only in the band at the beginning; he's not on any of the records. He had a band called Gong. Gong is like, sort of, the Grateful Dead, but this space-rock band."
BG: "Yeah, 'cause they actually still exist, sort of. And the Gong thing is-they have their own philosophy: they come from another planet, they all become superheroes when they go on stage; they all have to have separate names when they're on stage, 'cause they become these other people. Okay?"
TG: "Sounds like Sun Ra, or something."
BG: "Yeah, and they're influenced by Sun Ra, I would think. So Daevid Allen played. Now, Daevid Allen-Gong had already broken up. He left Gong, and when he left they became a fusion band, and they were no longer as interesting, they became Pierre Moerlen's Gong. So, he left, he started doing solo stuff. When he came to New York, since Gong had never played here and people wanted to see them, what he did is he put together a version of Gong called New York Gong. And the New York Gong ended up being Material, and with Bill Laswell and people like that, and that was their first gig in New York, was playing with Daevid Allen, and touring with Daevid Allen, as New York Gong. And then New York Gong broke up and they turned into Material. So I got to meet Daevid Allen, the early Soft Machine guy, for the first time, and Fred Frith. And right after this festival happened-and also made friends with all these other young people that were progheads; they were into progressive music, 'cause that's what people referred to it as. And I met a lot of the musicians. Fred Frith played a solo gig here, about a month later, after that gig in '78 at The Kitchen, and 500 people showed up. And, you know, he had his guitar laying on the table and he did all these great things. All of a sudden there's this new star of the underground thing: you know, Fred Frith and Henry Cow. Now, Henry Cow had broken up and Fred had been corresponding with Eugene Chadbourne and people like that, like, downtown guys. I don't know any of these people. And Fred, after he played the solo gig, and we were talking, Fred goes, 'I'm playing next week at this little loft space called Studio Henry, with a whole bunch of these guys from New York.' I said, 'Great! I'll come down.' So I came down there. Now, Studio Henry was a basement space on the corner of Morton and Bleecker, below a place called Exotic Aquatics, where they sold turtles and reptiles. This place was funky: it was really dark, it smelled of mildew, the toilet didn't work, it was very small and black, and it was run by musicians. When I walked in there I said, 'This can't be the place where Fred Frith is playing.' And he played a gig with Eugene Chadbourne on guitar and maybe three or four other early downtown guys; this is, like, 1979. And they're improvising, which-I didn't know anything about improv. So, there were sections that I liked when Fred was soloing, and then Chadbourne took this solo that went on for, like, twenty minutes, and would never end. And Fred finally went over to him, you know, and gently kicked 'im; he just nudged 'im, okay? And finally he stopped playing his solo. And after the gig I went up to Fred. I said, 'How can you play with this clown? This guy doesn't know what he's doing!' I said, 'He's not the same level as you.' And Fred said, 'Listen, this guy's doing something different, I like what he's doing, just give it some time.' So-but, right away, I said, 'Man, this guy Chadbourne's a nutcase. He has no talent.' I started going to gigs at Studio Henry and that's where I met [John] Zorn and Chadbourne. And that was kinda the beginning; that was kinda the end of the loft jazz scene and the beginning of a new kind of loft jazz scene. That was when..."
TG: "Like the Knitting Factory and all that?"
BG: "Yeah, that's pre-Knitting Factory. The Knitting Factory didn't start until, like, I think, '83, '84. So, from, like, '80 to '82, there was Studio Henry, and when Studio Henry closed Zorn and all these people just constantly had gigs in whatever small places they could find to play. And when I first met Zorn, he played a solo gig, and he wouldn't put his sax together; he would just play mouthpieces, cups of water that he'd blow into, birdcalls, and just take the mouthpiece and blow into his hand and make all these weird sounds, you know? And I'd look at him and he'd be making these sounds; everybody'd be laughing and saying, 'What the fuck is this, man? Come on!' And it turns out Zorn picked up the horn late and wanted to make strange sounds on sax. And he asked somebody, 'What's the most difficult music to play?' and everyone said 'bebop.' So he locked himself in a room for eight hours a day for three years until he learned how to play every bebop lick. So he can play that bebop stuff, which I didn't know until he actually put together a bebop quartet, which I saw play. He played fuckin' amazing! He knew all that bebop stuff. I was, like, 'This guy is a great bebop player, you know? How come he's not playing the Village Vanguard and stuff?' And I said, 'John, what's the story? How come you don't get gigs?' He goes, 'I'm a white guy. They're not gonna give me gigs at the Vanguard. I don't have a big history, no one knows who I am.' He goes, 'And I don't really wanna play at the Vanguard.' He goes, 'I'll play with my bebop [band], gig in different places-that's fine.' And he goes, 'As long as I can do what I wanna do, I don't give a shit about any of that other stuff.' And then, slowly, he started doing these things called 'game pieces.' Game pieces are named after games; they have nothing to do with the actual games: Hockey, Pool, Fencing. And game pieces are where there's a certain number of people, there's a guy who stands in front at a table-he's called the prompter, okay? or conductor. He has rows of cards, he's got cardboard cards, on this table, and what he does is: people cue him, give him directions, then he picks up the cards and he holds 'em up, and that tells people how to improvise within a certain parameter. Each game piece has a different number of people with a different set of directions. So, you go to game pieces and it'd be amazing to watch. And Zorn would stand in front and he'd cue people. And his most complex game piece is called Cobra, and they still do it. And they do it, like, every other month at the Knitting Factory. And I remember talking to Fred Frith about Zorn. I'm saying, 'You know, I'm starting to understand Zorn's horn playing now. I mean, I'm realizing he has a new vocabulary on sax when he plays bebop. So what's the game piece thing?' And Fred says, 'This guy Zorn is a fuckin' genius. This guy has come up with a new way of improvising; he's come up with a system to get you to get away from all the licks that you naturally play when you get into any sort of a group. Let's give this guy-he's gonna become one of the great composers.' And Fred started playing in Zorn's game pieces, and other people, other musicians were attracted to playing these pieces, so Zorn's group of players was getting bigger and bigger, and he started drawing from rock and jazz and world music. I ended up becoming close friends with Zorn and watching him grow through the years, you know, from someone who's totally unknown, when I first met him, to someone who's pretty renowned around the world, and runs a label, and has 300 CDs out. But we do the fulfillment for his label, off the website, and [in/from???] the store we sell CDs to people worldwide on Tzadik ['charitable (person)' in Hebrew]. We gotta get out of here in about ten minutes." [to open the store]
TG: "Wow, you're just warming up!"
BG: "Yeah. So, that scene-so, yeah, when the Knit opened in, like, '83, '84, that was the first serious place, looked at like a home, for all the downtown guys, and it was downtown, it was jazz [style/stop????], [one???] of adventurous music. So I was there every night seeing music, and it was very inexpensive when it started, it was very cozy; the same people would show up every night. And then the Knit slowly got bigger through the years until they got too big and they had to move to a larger spot."
TG: "Right, they moved down to Leonard St. They were originally on Houston, right?"
BG: "They were originally on Houston, yeah. Now they're on Leonard Street, in Tribeca. When they moved, that was kind of the beginning of the end, 'cause it was no longer cozy and they were trying harder to fit more people in there, so they started booking more rock bands and stuff. And a lot of the people who nurtured the musicians that they worked with in the beginning stopped playing there after awhile."
TG: "I heard there was one guy in particular who owned it, or something, or..."
BG: "Originally Michael Dorf and his buddy Bob Appel, who left after four years."
TG: "...and then he stopped maintaining the booking, or something, or it changed with him?"
BG: "Well, yeah, it changed. Instinct Records just completely bought him out, two months ago, so he's no longer involved. This thing hadn't started. And he ended up pissing a lot of musicians off, for a variety of reasons. I maintained a pretty good friendship with him, most of the time."
TG: 'But he was a big part of that [scene], wasn't he, with his booking policies and things, in the original club?"
BG: 'Yeah, well, the Knitting Factory got their name and built their label on all the downtown players. You know, they started a label and-there was a Zorn gig at the old Knit where it was-there's a punk band called Black Flag, and the guitar player from Black Flag, his name is Greg Ginn, and he ran SST records. He had a band called Gone, G-o-n-e, that was, like, and improve-punk-metal power trio. And I wrote for Jersey Beat magazine in New Jersey for ten years, writing about music in New Jersey: rock bands, jazz bands, whatever I wanted to write. And I ended up becoming friendly with tons of Jersey bands. That scene doesn't really exist anymore, but I was involved with that scene and used to book shows at different places in Jersey. One of the bands that I was involved with was called Regressive Aid. They were, like, a power trio that were a mixture of punk, funk, and jazz instrumental. They were fuckin' amazing: super tight, super fast. And when they opened up for Black Flag on some tour, Greg Ginn, the guitar player, looked at the rhythm section guys and said, 'These guys are incredible!' So he invited them to start this band; that was called Gone. And that rhythm section-when Gone broke up they went into the [Henry] Rollins Band, when Black Flag broke up. I was friendly with those guys, and I said to Zorn, I said, 'Would you like to play with the rhythm section guys from Gone and the Rollins Band?' and Zorn goes-Zorn had got into hard-core music at that point-so he said, 'Yeah, I would.' So I called these guys, Andrew and Sim; I said, 'You wanna play a gig with Zorn?' and they said, 'Yeah!' So I booked it at the Knitting Factory. And the second band that those guys have is called Scornflakes, and they called it that because they were pissed off 'cause they'd never gotten any fame for their first [one/record????], and they were very-that's-you know, they were very scornful, you could say.
BG: 'So the gig at the Knit-I had this guy Thomas Chapin I was friends with; he was a great sax player. But I knew him from when he went to school in New Jersey, and he was in some bands that I was friendly with. I had his trio open up for Zorn and the Scornflakes guys, and Michael Dorf, the head of the Knit, he said, 'What should we call this gig?' I said, 'Well, you could call it Zornflakes. But,' I said, 'that's a goof and you'd better not do that!' That's what he did. He put it in the paper. Zorn called me up; he goes, 'You're ruining my career! How could you do that?' and I said, 'I told Dorf not to do it, man!' So I had to make an apology from the stage. But Chapin opened up for Zorn. He played with his own trio at the old Knit. And the two guys who ran the Knit at that point were blown away by Chapin's opening set, and the audience was blown away, so they started a label, like, a month later and the first person they signed was Thomas Chapin. He was my buddy, so I was happy about that."
TG: 'That's great!"
BG: "I sold most of his records that he recorded with all the Knitting Factory people."
TG: "Yeah, I've seen a couple of those out, with the black and white photos and..."
[Break in tape-relocation, after brunch, to Bruce's shop, Downtown Music Gallery, on Bowery bet. E. 2nd & E. 3rd Sts.; music is playing on the store system]
TG: "[Do] you guys survive by being, like, the niche for this, or-is that basically it?"
BG: "Yeah, yeah. I'll give you a quick history. [guitar music comes on over the shop speakers] Around the corner from the old Knitting Factory was a place called Lunch For Your Ears. That was Manny Maris who ran that place."
TG: "Your partner?"
BG: "Yeah. He was in two other locations from '85 on, and, basically, his place always evolved and grew. And he was also a part of the scene and was friendly with a lot of the Knitting Factory musicians, and he sold a mixture of progressive and art stuff. His favorite bands originally were, like, King Crimson, and people like that."
TG: "Gentle Giant, Yes, Pink Floyd, that kind of stuff?"
BG: "Yeah, but the explosion of creative music in '80s NYC opened up other worlds for him - He flipped over things like Curlew, Massacre and Material. And so his place was open from, like, '85 to '91. Eventually his last location was open about three years. I worked with him for a year; I had worked in other record stores [Record Hunter] before JEM Distribution. When he heard that JEM was closing he invited me to be his first employee ever. He eventually had some problems-actually, some drug problems-and the store eventually closed. And I left before that; I couldn't deal with his problems anymore. But he had a good store and he had a lot of friends, and he started having free gigs in '88 on Friday nights, and a nice scene kinda developed out of that. As the Knitting Factory grew, his store kinda grew. And then he disappeared for, like, seven or eight years. In the meantime, two guys that I knew-one guy was a friend, one guy who worked [was] a corporate lawyer-approached me and said, 'We wanna open our own store, and we wanna sell used CDs.' I said, 'That's fine.' And they wanted me to run it for them. They knew Manny's place was just about finis, and realized he had built a clientele that would need a new home. I said, 'That's cool, as long as you let me sell I care about, and used CDs, then no problem.' So they were cool with that. So it took me about a year to find a place that was affordable, and then plan it and build it very quickly. So that was-we opened in May of '91 at the 5th St. location, where we just passed, actually, where we were walking down the block."
TG: "When was that, when you first opened?"
BG: "May of '91. Manny's store closed at the end of that month technically speaking, because it was only sporadically open for months before that. And I ran it with-it was me and a guy named Steve Popkin, who was ten years younger than me, and I used to manage a band that he was in. And he would play-he became my boss after a couple months, 'cause he got tossed from his job in the garment industry, for being unprofessional; I don't know, he had problems."
TG: "He was out."
BG: "Yeah. And so what happened was, it was just me and him working there and the place couldn't afford two full-time people and, plus, he was lazy and he would create a lot of problems and alienate a lot of my friends. Eventually he stuck a record rack in the center of the store that Tower had thrown out, and that ended all the free gigs we had-just, you couldn't move it; it was in the middle and he didn't care about having free gigs. So that kinda put an end to/of a certain scene, 'cause we had free gigs for the first two or three years, and then no gigs for about two years."
TG: "Did you pay those guys, or they just came to play?"
BG: "No, they just played."
TG: "An exposure thing?"
BG: "Yeah, just an exposure thing. But a lot of interesting people, and even famous people, ended up playing there 'cause they just wanted to play in a cozy sort of place. So what happened was, after we had been there, like, five years, Popkin's partner David Yamner -he was the guy who was the sixty percent owner, the guy who was a corporate lawyer-came in the store with a business associate of his who said to David, 'You don't want Popkin in this store anymore. Popkin is creating a lot of problems, the store is gonna fail, and the sixty thousand bucks you put in when you opened-you're gonna lose.' He goes, 'If I were you, I'd let Bruce run it and see what happens with that.' So Dave called me and said, 'You know, what should I do?' I said, 'Take your partner's advice: get rid of Steve, let me become the manager, and see what happens; and let me do what I want, and I'll turn this store around.' So that's what he did: he fired Steve-he bought him out, and I became the manager, and then a year later he offered me the store. So that was, like, in '97. So, once Steve left-Steve was a deejay and so he had a lot of records in the store and a lot of shit that we had acquired that he had held onto, so we ended up with a lot of garbage. So the first thing I did is I sold off-I got rid of all the dance music that was in the store, 'cause I hate disco."
TG: "'Garbage,' okay. What do you mean by 'garbage'?"
BG: "Just music I don't care about, that's all, you know?"
TG: [teasing:] "Okay. Disco would be on the top there?"
BG: "Yeah, yeah, exactly."
TG: "Even BeeGees?"
BG: "Well, I like early Bee Gees. But no, Bee Gees when they went disco? No. I don't like-disco, for me, was kind of the downfall of creative music in the 70s, you know? It was a culture of stupidity. You know, if people like that stuff, fine; I'm not gonna insult anybody's taste. And I've learned through the years to keep my mouth shut and not insult people's taste, in any way. If I don't have something..."
TG: "Well, let's put this in a more positive way: what are you trying to cultivate here? Like, when you started molding this more in your vision, what kind of music...?"
BG: "A mixture of avant-jazz and progressive, and intelligent pop music, and-I mean, it's basically reflected in what we have in this store, in the different sections. You know, there's enough intelligent pop music out there for us-which-that section is now gonna be growing, 'cause now I can get more of that stuff. And I grew up with that, so I still like that stuff. And I also am a big fan of folk stuff and psychedelic stuff. There're tons of reissue things coming out so I'm trying to get a hold of more and more of that. I mean, just take a look here; I'll show you."
TG: [carrying his tape rig:] '[???] my mic with me."
BG: "Okay, this is-everything in these two racks-well, up to here [indicates]-is new stuff. And I have it-[points:] Zorn's label [Tzadik] and Radical Jewish Culture stuff; that's what this stuff is here. All the Zorn things have these black spines on 'em, so you can see 'em from the side. He was smart to do that. There're a couple-everything on Tzadik has to fall within a series. The series are: Jewish Series; Japanese Series, 'cause he spent a lot of time in Japan; Archive Series, which is anything of his which has gone out of print; Composer Series, for the more serious stuff; and he just started Oracle Series for female composers; and stuff that's too weird to fit anywhere else goes on Lunatic Fringe Series. Okay. These two rows are 'downtown' stuff, mostly; so these are just different downtown musicians or people affiliated with them."
TG: "These [looking at an Either Orchestra CD] are Boston guys, aren''t they?"
BG: "Yeah, these are Boston guys.'
TG: "I had a friend in there." [Dan Fox, trombonist]
[Break in tape]
BG: "...uh, two rows of downtown stuff. This is imports, this-mostly from Europe, but also from Japan. I stick [seapan????] up there."
TG: "Is there a big crossover between the European improv scene and the more American style stuff? 'Cause I noticed [that] there seems to be a big difference, in some ways, between-you know what I'm talking about?"
BG: "Well, there's a lot of respect for both those scenes, that goes back and forth. But the European guys definitely have their own sound. I mean, that's why everyone is going to be at that gig tonight at Tonic, 'cause those are the three leading lights of the European scene: Evan Parker, [Alexander] Schlippenbach, and Paul Lytton. We [used to/usually] slip something out there, something fairly [??? to ???]. [reading:] Evan Parker. This row is contemporary classical electronic, this is world stuff, this is progressive stuff, this is weird rock things-not always weird, but what little rock new stuff that I like, and weird rock stuff, goes in this section. I mean, there's some normal stuff too. This is reissue jazz, reissue rock and folk and psych[edelic]-and those things continue-and then everything from here on over [indicates] is all sale stuff, so everything is either ten bucks, or eight bucks, or twelve bucks, pretty much. And the sale stuff we have listed in our website, and there're about five hundred items on that site. And the deal is with that, if you buy six of anything on that site, you get a free one for the seventh one. So you get orders from around the world of people ordering, like, seven, or fourteen, or twenty CDs, from that."
TG: "You do a lot of mail order as well?"
BG: "Yeah, we do about 60% mail order; yeah, we do a lot."
TG: "Do you have special people just handling all that?"
BG: "Yeah, yeah. Well, our newsletter goes out to five thousand plus people every week, via email, and then there're also people who read it just on the website. So every weekend after we-we send it out every Friday, the newsletter, where I review anywhere from ten to twenty or thirty releases."
TG: "Oh, so you write all the notes and...?"
BG: "I write most of 'em; Manny writes a few-he writes about the things he especially cares about-but yeah, I write most of that stuff. A few of the reviews, towards the end of the newsletter, is stuff that I borrow from other distributors-new release sheets-if I think they're accurate, 'cause sometimes I don't have time to do twenty reviews in two days-on my two days off."
TG: "So a lot of people are reading your take on...?"
BG: "Yeah, yeah."
TG: "So they trust you?"
BG: "Yeah, yeah; yeah."
TG: "Interesting. And who does your newsletter go out to? Where/what places does it go?"
BG: "All over the world; everywhere."
TG: "Like where, for instance?"
BG: "We have people in Japan, and Australia, in Africa sometimes, Asian countries. Part of the way we've built up our database of customers was Tzadik, Zorn's label; their website fulfillment comes to us. They have 400 CDs on their label, and at the end, when you get-you know, the order comes here through the computer, through the email, and then at the end they get a tag back, asking if they wanna get our newsletter; and if they say 'yes' then we put them on our newsletter list, and that's helped us build. Plus, we have-it's not up right now-but we have a list, a clipboard, which people can leave their email address here when they come in, so we get it that way."
TG: "Who are these people out there? Do ya got a sense of your audience?"
BG: "They're just interested-they're just people who have eclectic tastes."
TG: "Do they come by when they're in town...?"
TG: "...and say, 'Oh, is this the place?'"
BG: "Yes, yes; yes, they do. When they come..."
TG: "And/so what's your sense of these...?"
BG: "You know, they could be any color, they could be any age-I mean, I'd say the majority of them are probably [sighs] guys more than women, in their 30s, 40s, 50s..."
TG: "Like us?"
BG: "Yeah-who grew up listening to a lot of rock and folk and psych and progressive stuff in the 60s, and then got into jazz, and now are open to a lot of different stuff. So, it's funny: a lot of people come in here and there'll be music on and they'll say, 'Oh, you guys are a jazz store.' And I say, 'Well, that's part of what we sell.' And I try to be eclectic; I try to play a lot of variety, 'cause there's a lot of good music that's not jazz, and I want people to realize-and, plus, a lot of the progressive stuff-oh, let me finishing explaining the genres/filing in store.' This whole section..."
TG: "So this [section in front of store] is your: 'People come in; let's catch their eye with-here's some, what I think is good stuff, from a variety of genres..."
BG: "Yeah, yeah. And..."
TG: "...sort of like they do in the Barnes & Noble, at the end of the bookcase?" [laughs]
BG: "Exactly. Everything here, except for the small used section, is new/previously unopened. So [the] first thing to look at is the new stuff, besides what's in the window, but anything that comes out, for about a month will be up in here [eye level, case facing customer]. Okay? Then, after it's been here a little bit longer, it might go down here [stacked in the bins]. But, first thing, it goes on display. This way people know it's new, and they know to look. And then if they look around or they ask me, I'll explain what the categories are. This section here is the used section, and it's mostly progressive and downtown and jazz."
TG: "I noticed you have a lot of straight-ahead stuff in here, too."
BG: "Yeah, 'cause we buy collections from people."
TG: "Oh, is that what it is?"
BG: "Yeah, so we end up with that stuff."
TG: "And does that sell pretty well too?"
BG: "Yeah, we sell, yeah; yeah. And I'm happy to carry that stuff, too. Okay, this is used pop stuff-not this, but these three rows-this is a lot of stuff that sat in the other store and never sold, until we moved here, which is kinda nice. I mean, more people coming in, and more pop people coming in, so I'm glad to have this stuff here to sell. This is a Radical Jewish Culture section, which is a series of Zorn's label, which he calls-it's just Jewish musicians, and they can deal with it in whatever way they want. [Steven] Bernstein has two records on that series, so that's what that is. And then Zorn's band Masada-actually [reorienting a section of CDs], it goes like that. [???], okay. [moving on:] This is the rock section. Look! Everything over here, from that end to here [indicating], is what we specialize in, so it's a mixture of downtown, avant-jazz, and progressive; so that's what this whole section is. It's all alphabetical, and I try to keep as much stuff in stock..."
TG: "So this is the official bin name: [reading:] Downtown/Avant-Jazz."
BG: "Yeah; yeah."
TG: "If you have to narrow it down, that's what it's going to be?" [amused]
BG: "Yeah, yeah. And I really should say 'Progressive' as well, but the thing is, if progressive music has a lot of vocals in it, then it goes in the pop section, 'cause I want to have an intelligent pop section; so that's how we kinda separate things. When Manny had a store, he only had two categories."
TG: "What was that?"
BG: "Vocal and instrumental."
BG: "Yeah, and he's the only store I've ever seen that did that."
TG: "Where would he put Bobby McFerrin?" [laughs]
BG: "In vocal if it contained recognizeable lyrics, but I know what you're saying, yeah. Okay, this is the small Contemporary Classical & Electronic section, which I'm trying to make bigger, 'cause I really like this stuff and no small stores carry any large amount of this. And I'm very hip to this stuff, and it's very adventurous music, and every week I try to order a couple more pieces so this section gets bigger. Okay. These are the cassettes we had left over from the old store [chuckles], which I didn't even think we were gonna sell; but they've been selling, and they're cheap."
TG: "You getting out of cassettes, pretty much?"
BG: "Yeah, yeah, 'cause they're tough to sell, and no one special orders them. [A] small reggae section; a world music section, which I'm also trying to make bigger and bigger, because, once again, most small stores don't specialize in any world music, and I like a lot of that stuff, so I'm happy to carry it. So, slowly, this is [expanding]."
TG: "Yeah, no, I'm starting to really get into this stuff."
BG: "Okay, now, Jazz section. Now, this is more mainstream and avant-jazz, but not-very few downtown people are in here. I only put downtown people in here if they're very popular."
TG: [recognizing a name:] "This [Deidre Rodman] is a friend of some friends; I've heard a lot about her."
BG: "Oh, you know Deidre? [gets a nod] Yeah?"
BG: "That's a good record. Now, that's just-that's someone who lives in New York, who came in here, who left me a copy of her record. I said, 'If it's not too mainstream, I can probably sell copies for you.' So she left it with me, I reviewed it, and I sold some copies."
TG: "Interesting." [looks at the CD, then starts to replace it in the shelf]
BG: "Yeah. But because she's more on the mainstream side-ah, no, no; these are alphabetical."
TG: "Oh, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry."
BG: "That's the only way we can find stuff. So she's [Rodman] probably in the Downtown section as well. Okay, this is the Rocks/Roots/Prog[ressive] section, so that's a mixture. So, folk, country, psych[edelic], rock, prog-vocal stuff-it's all gonna be in this section. That's it; that's pretty much all the sections that we have."
TG: "Do you make a conscious choice to: on the one hand, find things that the other stores aren't gonna have; and the other one is avoid things?"
BG: "Yeah. I don't carry any metal or hiphop or any commercial or techno or any stuff like that. The thing is, I have no problem with that music, but that's popular music that people don't have any problem finding in other places. I want us to specialize, 'cause that's the only way we can survive: is by having adventurous and weird stuff that people can't find in other places. So as many labels and musicians that'll let me deal with them direct, I do that. This way we can offer stuff at a little bit better price, you know? It makes for a lot of work, sometimes, but that's okay."
TG: "Well, it seems like your prices are very reasonable. I mean, that's one of the problems that non-chains [i.e. small stores] is to be able to bring it [prices] down to [competitive levels]...""
BG: "Yeah, that's true."
TG: "...'cause you're not dealing with the volume."
BG: "We've been selling more vinyl since we moved over here, too. So this is all [walks to high displays at very front:]-this is reissue vinyl; reissue and a few things [that are just there???]. But rock stuff is on this side, and jazz stuff and avant stuff is on this side. And then through here is the used stuff: used rock and used jazz. And then videos, DVDs, books go on this side. I have to keep that locked up because that's, like, rare stuff. I mean, look at this boxed set: 200 bucks, a twenty-CD boxed set, by a Japanese composer. We're the only people selling this stuff in the U.S. When this guy sent this on consignment about two years ago, I said, 'Seigen Ono. We're never gonna sell any copies of a 300-dollar CD. We sold about eight of 'em already, which amazes me! People dropping 300 bucks on a twenty-CD set? But you never know; I never know - but I live a very austere life. Most middle-class items are like luxuries to me. This enterprise [DMG] is not a get-rich scheme!"
TG: "Well, I mean, the people that know what they want...then, you know..."
BG: "Yeah, and if people know that they're not gonna find it elsewhere they'll come in here and buy it.'
TG: "It's really the only place in New York-isn't it?-that really fills this [niche]?"
BG: "Well, there's no..."
TG: "There's another jazz record store on-what is it?-23rd [St.] or something?" [actually, 236 W. 26th St., #804]
BG: "Yeah, that's the Jazz Record Center. They're more into more mainstream jazz stuff, and they're into getting a lotta stuff as it comes-exactly the day it comes out-but more mainstream stuff. They carry some avant, too; and they carry more vinyl And the guy that knows it's really knowledgeable. He's a good guy: Fred Cohen."
TG: "Right, but this is more for...?"
BG: "For-more mainstream, for the most part. There're also some other stores, like Other Music and Kim's Underground, that have some progressive and some psychedelic reissues, but very little jazz, so they/there's a little bit of crossover between them and us. But Other Music has moved away from the avant-jazz thing; they sell very little of it now; they kinda left it to us, to sorta take over."
TG: "This is fine, right?" [laughs]
BG: "Yeah, yeah. Well, I'm happy. I send people over there, 'cause I know what they specialize in. They sell more kinda kitschy stuff: there's a lot of French pop music, there's a lot of psychedelic and prog reissues that they seem to care more about. Some of that stuff I'll stock; and some of it I can sell, some of it I can't sell, or it's very slow to sell, so I might end up sending it back at some point."
TG: "Do you know: are there other stores-like, say, if you go to San Francisco-do you know who's there that carries all this stuff too?"
BG: "Amoeba. Amoeba has three stores now: Berkeley, San Francisco, and [in] L.A., I think, one just opened. That's the main store to get a lot of weird stuff and a lot of good used, from what people tell me. I haven't been there, but I've heard good things about [them]."
TG: "Oh, it's awesome! And we [Berkeley/Bay Area residents] used to have one that was like this called Rather Ripped Records."
BG: "Yeah, I've heard of that, sure."
TG: "That was on northside [Berkeley neighborhood north of the University of California], and they had all that stuff..."'
BG: "That's Berkeley?"
TG: "...there was pop-[what you call 'intelligent pop'-and everything crazy, anything, from delta blues to..."
BG: "I lived in Berkeley for a month with one of my friends, at one point, in the late '80s-no, mid '80s, and a store called Rasputin?"
TG: "Rasputin's, yeah."
BG: "Yeah, I just remember a few stores. Gramophone? [???] I can't even remember the names of the stores, but I bought some good used vinyl albums."
TG: "Leopold's was another one that had good stuff."
BG: "Leopold's, okay, yeah."
TG: "Well, it's nice there because there's a big used market, so you can really pick up a lot of stuff from what people are returning. So it's very eclectic, that..."
BG: "I mean, that was one of the reasons why we opened the first store, was to do more used stuff, of which we still have some. And we've been buying more collections over the past couple years, so that's a good thing. And what we do with this is, every two or three months, we type it up and we send it out to our email list, and we'll sell, like, a coupl'a hundred of those CDs over a weekend, once it goes out."
BG: "Yeah, 'cause, it's near half the price of what things cost new, a lot of that stuff. And then we also fill up that list with rarities, so there're tons and tons of rarities, things that are twenty bucks and above, that you can't find anywhere else. So we'll often sell a lot of the rarities that way too. So itBG: "There is a lot of jazz stuff. I mean, I love the jazz stuff, and there're not, really, too many small stores that specialize in jazz stuff, especially avant-jazz. I mean, some of the big stores have a small section of that, but that's what I love, so that's what we're gonna carry a lot of. So we've always expanded our jazz section to include that. And the 'downtown' thing, that's bigger than just jazz. Jazz is only [part of it]."
TG: "What is that?"
BG: "Well, it's all these people who live downtown. And they're involved with a lot. The downtown thing, it sorta comes out of the loft thing. It just means that people can pick whatever type of music they want, and then mix and match all these different influences in their music. So it's totally open-ended; it's not just one category of music. But I'll get to the beginning of the downtown scene in a second. Anyway, so this band Henry Cow, that I had already been corresponding with-I met Fred Frith in England; I had interviewed him and we've been corresponding. And what happened was..."
TG: "He's a journalist though, isn't he? He's written..."
'll be a used and rarity list. But what Manny'll do is he'll stay up two nights in a row, or one night, and just type up this entire list; you know, it's a lot of work. But then we'll send it out and we'll do a lot of business that weekend. Right now we're working on a sealed vinyl list, which is gonna be vast, so Manny's been working with a database and gathering up a list of labels of stuff we either have or can get. And I've been ordering vinyl from different places to fill out that list, so we sell a lot of vinyl that way. We're selling it now, as it is, and now we have a better selection than we've ever had, of reissued vinyl."
TG: "Do most of the people that are out and playing around the city have stuff available through this?"
TG: "Or, do you think they're selling it on their own, also?"
BG: "Some people have their own websites, and some people sell it at their gigs. But a lot of people come in here and they sell it to me direct."
BG: "Yeah. If they self-produce it, then very often I'll do consignment work with them, unless I know I can sell a bunch of copies; then I'll pay them up front."
TG: "So, in a way, this is helping them, too, as far a giving them a little extra?"
BG: "Yeah, yeah, yeah. Plus, I'll write about it on the newsletter, and then they'll sell it to people around the world, you know?"
TG: "Now, I'm curious-this is something I'm interested in: the role of the critic-how that influences the sales, you know? 'cause I get that little-what is it? Doubletime Records, right? And they have their list of 100 Greatest Jazz LPs. So someone like me sees a list like that, a collector, and they wanna own that list, right? So they go and buy what the 'experts' think is the good stuff. Now..."
BG: "That has some affect."
TG: "I'm just curious: in your role as an expert, do you find that if you put something-if you...?"
BG: "Yeah, if I stick something in the newsletter, that will affect some sales; I can sell, like, 15 to 25 copies of something, based on a really good review. That doesn't always work."
TG: "Okay, but that's not a huge number; that's not..."
BG: "Well, but it's a huge number for something [real???], that I only have five or ten copies of. No, I-it's hard for me to sell a hundred copies of something, based on a review. I mean, I'll sell a hundred copies of a Zorn CD, because it's a Zorn CD, and people trust his stuff. And especially if it's a great piece and word-of-mouth gets out and everybody wants to get a copy of it. So, yeah, my golden reviews only affect a certain number of sales. But then something'll become my favorite and I'll just keep playing it in the store and sell copies that way, so it'll sell more over a period of time.
[Break in tape]
BG: "Where'd you say he was from originally? He might be from California by way of Philly; I think he was living in Philly, and just moved to New York. But he's just one of those guys that sent a demo to Zorn, and Zorn liked it and put it out."
TG: "You know, I just got that Luminescence thing [Daniel Carter CD], on Roberta's [Bergen] recommendation, and I see they're coming up to play that."
TG: "That would be really cool."
BG: "That's a beautiful duo."
TG: "It's just a really nice-the whole album is a nice..."
BG: "It is. It's a quiet thing, yeah; it's lovely stuff."
TG: "That's something I would get for somebody who's not into the squeaking and honking, but it's got the open feeling, you know?"
BG: "Yeah, yeah; yeah, well, it's recorded right after September 11th."
TG: "Right. It was up in Seattle, wasn't it?"
TG: "Sort of a reflection on that?"
BG: "Yeah, that's where [trying to remember:], um-that Reuben [Radding] was living, the bass player on that. He's back living in New York.""
TG: "Yeah, I'd love to come see that."
BG: "Yeah. [to patron:] You okay? They [did a plays????] here. They played here once, that duo-actually, for our opening, our opening celebration. They played, actually, a trio Dee Pop, the guy that books the Sunday series ["Freestyle Events"]. Yeah, it was nice."
TG: "So, can you give me any thoughts about, more, the now stuff?"
BG: "Well, what do you mean?"
TG: "Well, you gave me a good history of how the loft scene developed and the Knitting Factory thing and-."
BG: "Well, most of the people of interest to me stopped playing at the Knitting Factory when it moved, and that was, like, around '94, '95, okay? So other places started becoming-. I mean, people continued to play the Knit, but people like Zorn and John Lurie from the Lounge Lizards were pissed off with the Knit and refused to play there."
TG: "Right, I heard they basically moved to the Tonic; that became the new Zorn pub, venue, or whatever."
BG: "Yeah, yeah, so that's become the place to play, as it's grown and developed."
TG: "Does a guy like Zorn kind of dictate the scene, a little bit, because he's a name, people are gonna come in and see him, and..."
BG: "I wouldn't say he dictates the scene."
TG: "Not dictates, but-you know what I mean?-he's gonna make some money for these places, so-g-."
TG: "As opposed to somebody people don't know, you know?"
BG: "He definitely makes money for these places. He doesn't ask for special treatment and, actually, he pays his musicians really well and he's an incredibly nice guy and his label's helped out a lot of people. He does occasional booking. When Tonic first opened, they had no idea what kind of direction they wanted to go in. And Zorn happened to walk in and became friendly with those people pretty quickly. So they asked him to do the booking and he said, 'I'm too busy, but how about this: I'll book for one month or two months out of the year and then we'll get other musicians to book it for the other months. So, the first couple years it was booked exclusively by musicians. Since then, they let musicians do occasional booking, and then the people who are the owners do the booking in-between. So there're, like, three different people who do most of the booking when musicians aren't involved. So it changes month-to-month, depending on who's doing the booking. I mean, some people, like William Parker, doesn't play there that much, 'cause he doesn't get asked to play there that much, for whatever reason. So he was kinda upset with them. So that kinda made the CB[GB]'s thing happen more, 'cause he'll play there. But he's on the road anyway, and he's busy. He's one of the few cats that can actually make money from music because he's in a bunch of different bands, he runs a bunch of different bands, he's always touring; he keeps busy all the time. And him and his wife run the Vision Fest[ival] every year."
TG: "Right; I've heard a lot about that."
BG: "That's a great fest."
TG: "I've heard [that] I have to go there." [laughs]
BG: "Yeah, no, [it] is! That's the one..."
TG: "Roberta [Bergen] was really raving about the Vision Fest."
BG: "Yeah. Of course, it just happens once a year. It used to be eleven days, which is kinda long."
TG: "That's William Parker's baby, you said?"
BG: "Actually his wife, mostly, Patricia Parker-Nicholson. She's the one that kinda runs it, but William is involved. But there is a committee of people who help run the thing." [looks for a new CD to play]
TG: "So, where is he playing, then? Is he out in Europe, or around the states...?"
BG: "Both, both."
TG: "...or, where are the gigs for this stuff?"
BG: "They're all over the place. Now, William Parker [does] do some U.S. touring. There's become more of the downtown guys going out into the heartland and playing gigs, over the last five years. I know Ned Rothenberg tells me that he's been going to Florida or Atlanta or Chattanooga; he's been getting gigs-South Carolina?-he's been getting gigs other places. So slowly, that scene is opening up, 'cause people're getting tired of having to come to New York to see those guys."
TG: "So they'll come and play one night...?"
TG: "...and everybody [that] knows about 'em'll come that night?"
BG: "Yeah, yeah."
TG: "Sort of a kamikaze..."
BG: "Yeah, and there're more people doing little tours now: Dave Douglas-. Most of the downtown guys can now go out and do little tours in different places. They go to managers and they'll play major cities in different places."
TG: "So there's a sense that there's a network out there of people who are into this and..."
TG: "I guess the net probably helps with that too...?"
TG: "...'cause that seems to link people of similar tastes, and they can get synched up as far as what events are happening in their area. So, what are the venue options in town for these [i.e. downtown] guys, besides Tonic, besides CBGB's basement thing?"
BG: "Well, that's for the more avant stuff. And there's Roulette [W. Broadway @White St.]; the Knit's Old Office has some of that stuff going on. Hm, what else is there? Sometimes, someone'll get a good gig up in Merkin [Concert] Hall [W. 67th St., bet. Amsterdam & B'way], which is part of Lincoln Center. Some of the downtown guys get gigs-that's more kinda contemporary classical, in some ways; but a bunch of different downtown people who get grants will play there. Same thing with Roulette. Roulette has people getting grants a lot of the time, so they get some government money. So, no matter how many people show up, there's still gonna be money involved."
TG: "Totalitarian jazz?"
BG: "Well, I don't know about that."
TG: [laughs] "I'm making stuff up! Yeah, I was asking Jeff [Arnal, drummer] about that, and he was saying a lot of it really does focus around the Tonic and a few other places, but it's not like a huge network of clubs. How about organized happenings? Do you have a sense of that? Do you get out much, yourself, to go to these things?'
BG: "I go-I don't go to as many gigs as I'd like, but I do go to a lotta gigs."
TG: 'Right. How often do you get out, say, in a week?"
BG: "Three or four times, two or three times; it kinda depends. It's, like..."
TG: "Right. So you're pretty active yourself, as a listener?"
BG: "I mean, I've probably been to more gigs than most people in town, 'cause I used to go to gigs, like, every night, for a long time. But slowly, as I have more responsibilities in the store, I have to go to less gigs. So-but I always go to gigs Friday and/or Saturday, and then sometimes early in the week. But, I mean, I'm known for going to gigs. I mean, people always see me at gigs, and they always see me taping at gigs. So that's been going on for a really long time."
TG: "And do you use those [tapes] for your private collection or [do] you give copies of the [tape to the performers]?"
BG: "I do it for myself, and then if musicians want copies, fine. If someone can twist my arm into making a copy for them, if I trust them, that they're not gonna turn it into a bootleg, or something, then I'll do it for other people too. But I don't have that much time to do that [actually, so???]. I mean, at some point I'll get a burner so I can burn stuff onto CD more quickly, but I haven't yet."
[Bruce has since stopped taping gigs altogether, due to the breakdown of his 2nd DAT machine, and found he enjoys gigs much more this way!]
TG: "Wow! You know, you probably have an amazing archive, that might be really valuable if you ever made it available to people who are interested in what went down, you know?"
BG: "Well, we're getting-we're starting a label here, and we're gonna be doing some of that. I already have three things lined up to put out, of old gigs that I've taped."
TG: "It's like Grateful Dead tapes, you know?"
BG: "Yeah, although the Dead do it themselves, whereas I've documented a pretty big scene, so-but yeah, we're working on that. The other guy, besides Zorn, that's extremely popular here, who's stuff we carry-everything by-is Bill Laswell, who's a bass player & producer, and then about 20 other strong player/composers including Elliott Sharp, Fred Frith, Dave Douglas, and so forth..
[Break in tape]
TG: "...and then Dennis Chambers and those guys, and he [Matt Garrison] did this loop thing, an electronic-like a dance-beat thing, [laughs] with Pharoah [Sanders]. And Pharoah came out, and he was a little skeptical about the electronics at first. And Matt said they kinda of a little thing with the tour, 'cause he ended up enjoying it and working with it, and it was kind of a new thing for Pharoah..."
BG: "To do?"
TG: "Yeah. But it was an interactive tape-loop. It was sort of a-you know, Matt's trying to experiment with how you can 'breathe' with the machines, if that makes sense?"
TG: "I don't know if he'd say it exactly like that, but trying to make a little more user-friendly or interactive machine. So he's really working with how you can kinda have some flexibility with them."
TG: "And he said he'd get Pharoah to come out in this big shiny suit [chuckles], you know? They did a kind of a theater thing with it, you know?'
BG: "Sure." [BG staples stuff]
TG: "It sounded very interesting. [pause] Can you comment a little more about, maybe, some of the people that are out there, that you see, that are part of this-you know, I'm interested in the audiences and the people who-the larger support network."
BG: "Well, we talked about most of the people. I mean, there's a guy named Harold Meiselman, who's a schoolteacher, now he's an administrator, who's been-he got into avant-jazz kinda later on, over the last ten years, and I always see him at gigs. You know, he's married, no kids. His wife doesn't go to the gigs; she's not interested, really. I mean, there're a lot of-I mean, there's a handful-well, there're a 'lot': there's a handful of people that are just passionate about that music, that'll come in when new things come out, and pick 'em up on CD, and will go to the select gigs that they want to go at Tonic. There're these people that are ripe for European players over the downtown players; there's been more of that. And over the last few years there's been more of those European guys coming over and playing, so there's become a nice scene for that stuff."
TG: "Seems like there's a little bit of a different-I mean, traditionally there has been-between the Ornette Coleman's versus the Derek Bailey's. I mean, this..."
TG: "I don't know if it's a racial thing."
BG: "No, they're just coming from different backgrounds, that's all. And they say, you know, American jazz musicians are more influenced, or their basis comes out of, blues and gospel stuff, whereas Europeans come from some other [kind of???] background."
BG: "Yeah, classical, and their own folk musics of whatever country they come from, and stuff like that."
TG: "Do you still see those kind of-I mean, it's hard to break up those categories-or, do you think it's more kind of mixed up now?"
TG: "Seems like the boundaries are blurring more."
BG: "Yeah, and they've been blurring for awhile. Yeah, I definitely think that's true." [continues stapling]
TG: "Would you say there's still a sense of-I wondering-how do I ask this? I'm worrying-wondering about racial things, or cliquishness, or-I mean, it's almost like who you like to hang out with, and who you like to play with. But, you know, you've got Zorn with a Jewish label, right? And you still have, sort of, your more..."
BG: "But that's-I know that some people kind of get upset, or feel alienated, by some of that. The thing is, that's only one part of his label. I mean, he didn't even realize that he had a lot of Jewish friends until he rediscovered his own Judaism. But that's not his only thing, and that label also deals with Japanese culture and classical culture and all that other stuff. So that's just a part of that stuff. So-I don't know-yeah, there probably is some kind of clique-ishness, but, I mean, part of Zorn's thing is taking people from all different worlds and throwing 'em together. I mean, his Game Pieces-all he worked with, when he has people from completely different backgrounds kinda throw in their ideas-and they work because Zorn has found some way of getting the best out of improvisers from different worlds. So, he doesn't think in terms of those boundaries. So, I mean, he put together Masada-'cause he wrote a book, his father died, he wanted to look at his own identity, as far as being a Jew. He took a year off and studied Jewish philosophy and religion and music, and gave himself a goal to write a hundred songs based on Jewish melodies, in one year. He sat down, every day, for one year, and wrote, like, a tune every day, until he had a whole book. And then he put the band together after the book was done and liked the way the band sound[ed]. So he decided to keep the band together and recorded all ten Masada CDs in, like, three years; like, two at a time, two different CDs at a time. So now, about a hundred and ten Masada tunes have been recorded. And then he wrote another hundred songs the second year. So he was inspired. I think he wanted to have a book like [Thelonius] Monk or [Duke] Ellington, that book that dealt with melodies, melodies that people could hold on to, and could be interpreted by different people."
[Tape cuts off]