By Fernando Gonzalez
This is the second part of a conversation in Miami Beach with music entrepreneur, producer and musician Larry Rosen. Part I addressed the state of the music business. This second and final installment focuses on Rosen’s work as a live jazz producer in Miami.
Rosen, who has been living in Miami since 2,000, is the producer of the jazz series Jazz Roots, now in its second season, at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami.
PART II: The Next Important Thing: Selling jazz in Miami — and selling jazz.
FG: You are now producing a jazz series for the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami. Looking at the history of Miami as a jazz market, what did you think would be the challenges now, and what that made you think it could work now?
LR: Running GRP records I had artists traveling all over the world. So when artists had a record out, they would go out and promote it in different cities. We would know what the sales were in those cities; I knew what kind of market [that city] was. So when I came here, after leaving GRP, I certainly knew what it was like for jazz here. Anyone who’s in the jazz business knows that Miami is not a jazz market. But you don’t really understand Miami unless you live here. So once I started living here I got a much better understanding of the ethnic mixture of Miami, what audiences go to see, what’s happening, where is it happening and what the general vibe is, and I understood why this is not a jazz market.
FG: What are some of the issues that you see as particular to Miami?
LR For starters, among the majority of the population here, there is no real history to listening to jazz when they were growing up. And then, there are no jazz clubs. The thing with New York City, or most cities, is that there are clubs, audiences build through those clubs, and then they’d go to the record retail store and buy the music, go to concerts, and listen to the stations that would support [jazz]. But not here. So the reality in Miami is a very limited audience experience in a changing environment.
FG How did you then approach selling jazz in Miami?
LR When I came here I got a better understanding of why this was not a jazz market, and I also started to understand the dynamics of the market more. At the time the Performing Arts Center was being built, so when I thought of jazz here, and considering that there are no clubs, it sounded like the Performing Arts Center is the place. But I also knew that it had to be different from other jazz programs at performing arts centers in other cities. I felt here it had to be catered to this community not only in that [the program] had to present world-class artists but also that there would have to be an educational component.
You had to educate the audience — at all levels. It wasn’t just for the person that would spend $100 in a ticket but the young people in school. So an education program had to be a very important piece because education is a way to reach out to a community in a much more in-depth way.
FG: So by “education” you mean not only work with the schools and creating educational activities but also a certain approach to the marketing.
LR: My approach was to connect the dots. In New York you say ‘Tonight at the Village Vanguard: Sonny Rollins,’ you don‘t need to say anything else. They know. Any place else you do need to connect the dots. You need an over-arching theme. ‘Jazz at the Center’ is not going to sell the program to people. You need to make connections [about the music] for people, and for that you have to go to the roots. And the roots of all the music of the [Atlantic side of the] Americas are the drums. It came from Africa and became the roots of Brazilian music, Cuban music, Puerto Rican music, reggae, calypso, and in the United States it developed into blues and jazz and gospel and rock and rap. So the pitch that I wanted was Jazz Roots meaning these are the roots of much of the music of the Americas and given the ethnicity of Miami if we tell that story well, we connect the dots: if you like samba you should like Sonny Rollins; and if you like Sonny Rollins you should like Machito and if you like Machito you should like [Tom] Jobim — because everything is coming from the same source. From a musical point of view we are all related, we are all cousins. That was kind of the main focus. So the series would touch on all these different styles that are all related to jazz.
FG: Do you see this as a strategy that can be used elsewhere besides Miami?
LR: I think what is happening in Miami is something of a beta test of this idea of using the performing arts center [as the hub of the marketing jazz in the city], and also involving NPR radio, the PBS television affiliate here, going out and creating educational programs, and creating marketing packages. Packaging becomes extremely important.
FG: What kind of work has been developed in the schools in Miami?
LR: With the schools we started with different ideas. We found out that in Miami-Dade [the county where the cities of Miami and Miami Beach are located] there are 900 kids in jazz bands. So there are jazz bands in every single high school, and they may play Afro Cuban jazz or Latin jazz. Other might play Duke Ellington. So one of the things we decided was: we’re going to bring every one of these kids to these concerts. We raised $280,000 and the first thing we did was to bring in these kids. So working with the performing arts center, we reached out to the school system and figured out how to put group schools together and bring them to the shows, 150 kids to each concerts.
They would come in the afternoon for the sound check, meet the artist, then we’d take them to the educational center and have someone from FIU [Florida International University] or some of the schools to give them a talk about the roots of the music and how this related to this particular show and this particular artist. And after that we’d give them dinner and bring them in to sit in the audience, experience the show and then get back in the bus and their community. Realize that 99% of these kids would never go to a performing arts center because their parents would never go to a performing arts center because they think of them as some sort of expensive, elitist place to go. You can change kids lives by doing this.
FG: Is there also a curriculum component to this?
LR: Next year we are writing a curriculum for the whole Miami School System that would be both in middle school and high school that’s going to take about the culture related to the music. So [through] the University of Miami doctoral department we are working in conjunction, writing this curriculum that’s going to meet the regulation of the state of Florida so — when a teacher is teaching History, English, Social Studies or anything else — they can then utilize this information and integrate it into their curriculums. This is not just for music teachers. I’m making music samples for them and there will be a turnkey thing where to get this information so Jazz Roots becomes much more in depth as an educational program in Miami. And if it works here, it’s another beta test, we’ll move it to other cities.
FG: You have been living in Miami for awhile now so that might be reason enough, but still, you are a business person, why Miami and why Miami now?
LR: If you look at musical movements in America they’ve all come from some city that’s going through some social change: think New Orleans, think New York City, obviously; or Chicago and the blues; Kansas City at a certain time, Nashville of course, Los Angeles, San Francisco during the ‘60s.
I think the next place is Miami. I totally believe this is where the next music in the United States is going to be formulated. Something is going to come out of here that’s going to go around the world.
Because [to create that] you need certain things: you need ethnic mixture, cultures rubbing together, you need art, and we have Art Basel, the biggest art market in the world, and you have the style thing of South Beach, plus you have financial wealth.
And you have the Performing Arts Center, which can be the centerpiece of this whole thing, and you have a city looking to reach out to the arts to create something here.
That’s’ why I think the next thing is going to happen here. And that’s why I think it’s so important to organically build what has to be built here in order for this new music to come out. Jazz is going to have a part of it, Latin music is going to have a part of it, electronics will have a part of it, and it all fuses here to create something that entrepreneurs can step into.
And I think something really important is going to happen here…in Miami.
To read Part l of the Larry Rosen Q & A click here.