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Can a person of only 30 years create a new jazz label and record such stars as Henry Threadgill, Anthony Braxton and the Art Ensemble of Chicago? And also record new stars as the fascinating Fieldwork? Pi Recordings is the name of the label and Seth Rosner is his owner. José Francisco Tapiz talked with him (2003, december) about the label, its origins and goals.


José Francisco Tapiz: What was your contact with jazz and/or improvised Music before the creation of Pi Recordings?

Seth Rosner: The label began really because I had an opportunity to record Threadgill. That was pretty much the inspiration for the label. I had worked at the Knitting Factory from 97-99 and came away wanting to have my own label one day, if for no other reason that to try and do things my own way and of course to build an identity for a label that I saw. Having met someone who was and still is associated with Threadgill at the Knit I knew Henry and knew that he was ready to record again. At the time that I began the label I was in school studying music, but once the label began it demanded too much time and attention. I would like to go back to school eventually though. If not to study performance than at least to study in the studio and eventually become more hands on in the studio. At this time I do not work in the studio with the musicians at all.


José Francisco Tapiz: What's the reasons that lead you to create Pi Recordings?

Seth Rosner: Again from having worked at the Knit I knew how to proceed in terms of setting up distribution, radio and press promotion etc. It took about 8 months from incorporating to recording the first 2 albums for them to come out. In that time I built an identity, logo etc and proceed to record and manufacture CDs. I first got with my distribution company by piggy backing with another label. Once my releases for 2002 were starting up they offered me my own contract. I started the label because with all of this know how and ability I wanted to be able to start my label and work with the music as I saw fit. Of course I was also anxious to record and release the music that I love as well.

José Francisco Tapiz: Did you have some label in mind when you were thinking of Pi as a project?

Seth Rosner: I hold ECM, Blue Note, Nessa, and Arista from the 70s in very high esteem. I definitely have tried to emulate the way Blue Note artists recorded on many different albums with many different people, and eventually all sidemen became leaders in their own right. And of course ECM for their adventure choice of artists and attention to studio detail.

José Francisco Tapiz: What's the reason for such a mathematical name as Pi for your label?

Seth Rosner: The number 3.14…… is endless, never repeats itself, builds off of what has come before it and clearly has a logic to it despite the fact that it might not be apparent to the naked eye. I feel that great music should and does do the same thing.

José Francisco Tapiz: It's some kind of joke that Anthony Braxton plays compositions that approximately number Pi 100 times in his duo with Wadada Leo Smith?

Seth Rosner: Very funny but no, no connection between Pi and what Wadada and Braxton do together.

José Francisco Tapiz: You say that "you have a very specific goal towards working with composers". How do you try to reflect this in Pi releases?

Seth Rosner: The composers that we work with all record original music for us and many of them have their own musical systems that they work with. I am thinking here of Henry and Wadada especially. The goal of working with specific composers comes out in our choice to only work with people who record their own compositions, as opposed to standards and other songs well associated with jazz and who have their own music and original approach to recording music. This takes years to develop which is one of the reasons that we have worked primarily with older established musicians who have been putting their music together for their entire life, and one of the reasons why it is so difficult to find younger musicians with whom we can work and who we believe are carrying on the torch and tradition set out for them by people such as Threadgill and Roscoe.


José Francisco Tapiz: Can you tell us the name of some young musicians that are developing a personal languaje and that in a near future could be recording on your label?

Seth Rosner: Some young musicians who are developing their own language that could one day wind up on Pi might be Rudresh Mahanthappa, Craig Taborn, Mark Shim, and Dafnis Prieto to name a few. Please keep in mind that some of the people above are in my opinion in the midst of developing their language and direction in music, all musicians are of course but perhaps some of these artists are at an earlier stage than others, but I think that they all show potential and the earnest motivation and ability to accomplish what I think many of the older musicians that we have worked with have accomplished.

José Francisco Tapiz: In your first releases, composition and arrangements play a very important role. In your two more recent releases (AEOC & Braxton-Smith duo) I think that the improvisation is more important than the composition-arrangements. Are you going to work with some kind of instant compositions or free improvisation in future releases?

Seth Rosner: I don’t have much interest in instant composition or free music per se. Albums by Wadada and the AEOC do have more of a focus on improvisation than say Threadgill or Vijay, although I feel like Fieldwork rely as heavily on improvisation as they do, they are still within the context of a very strong personal sound and mode of writing. Whether that be Wadada’s use of his musical system Ankhrasmation or Braxton’s own compositions that draw from his many different bags to the way that the AEOC have created a dialogue and language between themselves that is all there own. On top of that I consider the AEOC’s use of little instruments and their percussion pieces to be a level of composition/improvisation that is much different than the improvisation or instant composition that you mention, although there are similarities of course.

José Francisco Tapiz: Is there some other musicians with a very personal language you would like to record specially?

Seth Rosner: Well I have always thought that if I got to record Ornette Coleman I would stop right there and never release another album. I would not stop but Ornette, and I am not speaking just about music here because everyone that I have worked with has accomplished something very important, but that beign said Ornette has certainly accomplished more than most people out there so to be able to work with him and document his music would be a serious accomplishment and goal for the label.


José Francisco Tapiz: You have just released two records of "newcomers": Liberty Ellman and Vijay Iyer. What are you planning for the next year? Apart from them (Ellman & Iyer), do you have any other new group or musician (I'm thinking of such a surprise as Fieldwork was in 2002) for the next year? Is there going to be a next Fieldwork release?

Seth Rosner: Next year we will be releasing another album by the AEOC recorded in the same time period and the second set of Wadada/Braxton that was recorded that night at Tonic in NYC. Fieldwork are beginning to work on a new direction for their music and I do not know if they will be ready to record next year unfortunately. I had hoped that they would but it does not seem to be realistic. I am always speaking with Vijay about other projects though and it does look like we may do something next year together again. I believe that Liberty will wait to record a little while before he goes back in as he has a different approach to how he wants to work behind an album. There are other younger artists out there though that we would like to work with and I would not be surprised to see one of them record for the label. It is my intent to grow the label with both the older and younger generations side by side.

José Francisco Tapiz: The two first releases of Pi recordings meant the comeback of Henry Threadgill to jazz recordings. Are you planning to record and/or release some new records of this great musicician?

Seth Rosner: I would love to record Henry again when the time is right. That is a decision left up to Henry though and we have not discussed it yet. I hope that we have a moment to discuss it some time soon though as I value his music in the highest sense and want very badly for the label to continue with him, but as you know Henry has recorded for many labels.

José Francisco Tapiz: Somebody says that we're living some kind of crisis in jazz and in the music bussines. What's your perception about it?

Seth Rosner: The musical crisis that is happening now has less to do with jazz than it does with what I think many people look for out of life. I think that for one thing as life becomes more complicated, as I believe it inevitably does as a culture, world, society etc grows older we want simpler things from our forms of entertainment. We do not want to be challenged as much because we are looking at entertainment to take us away from the daily challenges that life supplies. On top of that of course the role of jazz has changed from what it originally was, not so much because of the musicians working within that field but because of the possibilities out there. Many of these possibilities will lead in directions that at first glance are not as rewarding as earlier possibilities therefore seem less appealing. It requires an interested and inquisitive person to see that with time these choices open up even more possibilities than one could ever imagine and that that in turn delivers us more experiences and heightens our life. As all of life grows the choices become greater. Some people will want to embrace those choices and some will not. As far the business goes I feel very good about the ability to get music out there to people. Whether it be through the internet which allows you and I to speak and trade ideas much more rapidly than was once thought, or just the ability to record and document music more cost efficiently do to advances in technology. The real challenge to the industry now is in trying to foster an environment where artists can grow and develop their craft. Too often the next big/young thing comes along and is thrust out there with high hopes only to return with the same results as many who have come before them. They lose their record deals and never have a chance to grow in an environment where they can be seen by large audience and that audience can become familiar with them. With time the audience for jazz can grow if they see someone developing and can follow that artist’s growth.

José Francisco Tapiz: For you, what are the future paths of jazz?

Seth Rosner:
I am looking for the internet to allow people to hear and see this music who would never have that chance. I think that that is the future. Bands tour less now unfortunately, so they must rely on the internet to get their message out there. It has worked thus far in terms of getting music out there so I see the next logical step as live performances via the internet. This will hopefully result in growing the audience for music and then eventually lead to the demand the band to perform live. As for the direction of the music, well my tastes obviously lead me to seek out composers who write their own music and develop their own systems of music just as most of the founders and legends that we all hold in such high esteem did.

©José Francisco Tapiz, Tomajazz 2004

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