During the last decade, pianist Matthew Shipp has spent lengthy chunks of time on the CMJ Jazz chart, both with his own projects and as a sideman playing with David S. Ware or Roscoe Mitchell. In the past five years, he's proven himself as one of jazz music's most challenging and rewarding artists. After claiming that 1999's DNA would be his last album, Shipp has come back to the recording industry to oversee The Blue Series, a line of jazz recordings that will be released by Thirsty Ear. The series will begin with a Shipp quartet release entitled Pastoral Composure, followed by albums from violinist Mat Maneri, bassist William Parker and pianist Craig Taborn.
Why did you start The Blue Series?
It was something proposed by [Thirsty Ear President] Peter Gordon and it made sense. I think people perceive me as someone with visionary capabilities, mainly because of the music I make. I'm also perceived as someone who has insight into how the music works within the industry. Thirsty Ear also thought I would be a good person to start a new line of jazz works because they knew that I knew players that had something to say.
What's the series' objective?
The main [objective] is to release music that is solid. We're trying to fill a hole in jazz marketing. [We're looking for] people who really understand the jazz tradition, have an understanding of avant-garde or new music, and have a very melodic sense of playing. The be will be similar to what the ECM label was like when they started out in the '70s. Those records had a unique aesthetic that was jazz-based, but they also had an open pastoral quality about them. We're looking to make pretty albums of forward-looking music that [are] rooted in jazz. That doesn't mean that anything is set in stone. I'm not going to be fascist. I'm going to listen to any ideas they have, but we are definitely going for a certain sound. We also want to get key people in at key times in their career. For instance, violinist Mat Maneri is known for his work with his father Joe Maneri, and we really want to present Mat in the full glory of his own talent. He's one of the few people in the generation under me that will be the guiding light for that generation. I'm in my late-30s and I'm looking for people who are in their mid-20s. That's one aspect of it.
So you're looking for younger musicians who are ready to break out?
I'm definitely looking for people with major talent and vision, not necessarily someone that adheres to my perspective as a Lower East Side-type of improviser. I was talking with someone on the street the other day about the label and I told him I had signed Craig Taborn. Craig's a major, major talent. He plays with James Carter. The guy said that he was surprised that after Craig's playing on Carter's records that he didn't get a deal of his own. Craig's a great straight-ahead pianist, but he also understands the avant-garde. There are a lot of facets to his talent and hopefully we'll bring it all out.
Does working with younger musicians mean you'll be open to people who use electric instruments?
It's definitely not out of the question. At this point, I'm not sure if it fits into the overall philosophy of the label. But [I would consider] an improvisor who tastefully used it as part of their vocabulary.
How involved will you be in the day-to-day [production] of the series?
My major thing is signing people. Then [comes] overseeing [the recording of] their albums, and... helping with the decision-making and editing process. Other than that, I'll working with [publicist] Laurie Stalter because I have my own vision of how jazz should be marketed. But I'll be keeping abreast of everything that is going on with the series and offering suggestions.
You mention ECM as an inspiration for the series. Are you going to utilize their album cover design aesthetic of using black and white pictures without people In them?
[Laughs] No. Since the [series] is called The Blue Series it will have blue and white covers.
Yeah. There's going to be a distinct look to the [series] and a distinct sound. Even though I'm pushing the individuality of each artist, there is going to be a general theme of the label that is going to hold it together. I'm not going to define it. It will be up to the people to buy the records and figure it out.
You're launching the series soon after claiming 1999's DNA was going to be your last album. It didn't take you long to return to recording.
I'm not recording it because I wanted to be back in the limelight. I'm recording it because it seemed apropos for me to initiate the series. I was asked to do it. This is a new role for me, as far as running a [series) and being a producer, and I had to go into this in a way that makes sense. I'm never again going to announce that I'm retiring from recording. Believe it or not, I'm still trying to get out of recording. If being a producer and running a [series] works out, the Shipp will slowly sink into the background. [Laughs]
For more information on The Blue Series, contact
Laurie Stalter at Thirsty Ear: phone 212.889.9595;
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