My column in the July/August JazzTimes (not online, alas), concerns music publishing, an issue of stealth importance today. To parrot a dry but earnest line from my own self: “At a time when most jazz musicians are composers, and other sources of income are dwindling, music publishing may be the one area with growth prospects.” Given the thrust of some recent bloggery, it seems a good notion to revisit.
Jazz musicians have long paid the price for inattention to their publishing. In some cases, it’s a matter of ineffectual policing. You may know, for instance, what happened with Thelonious Monk’s most oft-recorded composition, “’Round Midnight.” After it had been introduced to Cootie Williams, the song was filed for copyright with three names on the certificate: Monk, Williams and lyricist Bernie Hanighen. “Consequently,” writes Robin Kelley, “Hanighen and his estate receive a third of the royalties from every version of ‘’Round Midnight’ produced. And in turn, the original composer and his estate receive only a third of the royalties -- to this very day.” Got that?
But let’s set aside the Big Fish example from a bygone era. Most present-day jazz musicians will never write a “’Round Midnight” -- and that shouldn’t at all diminish their interest in the publishing game. In the column, I seek illumination on that point from Dan Coleman, whose publishing-administration company, “A” Side Music, works with the likes of Maria Schneider, Brad Mehldau and Billy Childs. (More on him in the comments.) I also consult with two publishing-savvy musicians, bassist Ben Allison and keyboardist Larry Goldings.
Both had a lot to say. Allison, on one hand, was proactive about the issue early on: “I remember these fantastic stories about Duke Ellington and Monk, a lot of musicians of that era, signing off their publishing early on in their careers and living to regret it,” he said. “In the case of Monk, he ended up being very careful about his publishing, but he learned the hard way.”
Goldings, on the other hand, admitted that he had been largely indifferent to music publishing earlier in his career. “Even when I was writing music, which was initially almost always for my own records, it wasn’t really part of my thinking,” he said.
“On the New York scene, nobody really talked about it. It was more about honing your craft as a player. That’s all changed, with the record companies not really existing, and record stores not really existing. Now that I have someone like Dan [Coleman], who’s trying to find placements for my music, I’m definitely thinking in different terms. When I make a record, I want to include pieces that aren’t nine-minute-long blowing sessions. More and more I’ll include a handful of tunes that are more songlike. I definitely do have in the back of my mind: ‘It would be nice to have something that’s beautiful and palatable and that could actually be licensed.’”
Not every jazz musician is inclined -- or for that matter, equipped -- to take this market-conscious approach. It’s working for Goldings, though. On his most visible gig, with James Taylor, he often plays an original interlude called “School Song.” (It’s on the recent album One Man Band.) Other Goldings inventions have been recorded by Curtis Stigers and Bob Dorough, while “Dario and Bario,” a waltz from his 2006 Palmetto release Quartet, is currently in development for the repertoire of Madeleine Peyroux. (It also appeared, as “Tuscany,” on the soundtrack to Funny People, the Apatow-Sandler film.)
And consider “Benny’s Dream,” which Goldings has recorded with tenor saxophonist Harry Allen and some Vince Mendoza strings (for the forthcoming, honest-to-goodness album When Larry Met Harry):
After producer Larry Klein heard the song, he decided it would be perfect for an album by the Australian singer-songwriter Mark Sholtez. The album -- The Distance Between Two Truths, due out this Friday -- features the lyricized version of the song, with its new title:
I know, I know: this is more the exception than the rule. But Goldings, through his persistence -- and on some level, the advocacy of “A” Side -- made it happen. And much the same could happen even for those whose music runs thornier and less obliging. I couldn’t help but notice that in a recent appearance on the public radio program Studio 360, pianist Jason Moran said he was always thinking about the sweet spot of a given track, the “break” that a hip-hop producer might sample. That’s a creative motivation, but it has its fiduciary side effects.
And Moran’s comment arrived in the context of his take on Monk, which brings us full circle in this roundabout post. Here’s his version of “Crepuscule with Nellie,” which appears on the new Blue Note album Ten. Proper royalties were remitted to the Monk estate, I’m sure.