JazzMonthly: What else are you doing these days? Who are you working with?
DW: I represent True North Records and Linus Records, which are owned by Geoff Kulawick. Koch licensed Sophie Milman from Linus Records, and in fact licensed their complete label. I work with two artists connected to these labels, legendary folk singer Bill Bourne and True North’s female duo MadisonViolet, helping them find traction for their careers in the U.S. Another management client is Sultans of String, a multi-award winning and Juno nominated instrumental group. These Canadian artists keep me very busy these days!
JazzMonthly: Some of the early artists you managed were Barry Manilow, Emmylou Harris and Jerry Jeff Walker. Has managing artists changed a lot since then? What is the role of manager now vs. then?
DW: Everything has changed so much. In the 60s, it was based on a very personal relationship to your clients and how good the artist was. You could get record deals for unknown artists and there were many ways of developing artists. Today, it’s very difficult to secure a management or label deal for a new artist, so many artists release their music independently and build their careers step by step. These days, a record company is one of the elements but not the most important one. Back then, you could have two or three artists you worked with full time and if they played two or three days at a tastemaking club for $75 a night, that was good money. I think the downloading aspect has made music more accessible but also more disposable. When music is too cheap or free, people don’t see it as having the same value. Full albums are less important. In general, that leads to more generic music over the airwaves. When I started the big labels were launched by passionate music people like Ahmet Ertegun, Jac Holzman and Maynard and his brother Seymour Solomon. Today, major labels are gigantic corporations run by accountants. The bottom line is their main concern, not developing an artist over a longer period of time.
JazzMonthly: I’m a big Barry Manilow fan. After his pop heyday, he had two critically acclaimed jazz releases in the 80s and later did Big Band and Sinatra styled albums. Was his jazz success a surprise to you?
DW: Barry was one of the most talented musicians and arrangers I knew, so his success in any genre was never a surprise. I first met him when he was the musical director for a show called “The Drunkard” at the historic 13th Street Theatre in the Village. He also had a cabaret act with Jeannie Lucas, but when she got married, Barry sort of retired for a few years. His sense of swing was great. As his first manager I wasn’t trying to do anything of great depth, just help book him and Jeannie. The funny thing is when Clive Davis first heard him, he didn’t know what to do with him. Later of course he figured it out and launched a legend.
JazzMonthly: Your earliest artists were more in the pop rock vein. What was your background in jazz and when did you start working in it? What kind of jazz do you like the best?
DW: That’s a hard question to answer. I came out of the folk and singer songwriter era, but when I worked at Vanguard, the label was devoted to artists in many different genres, from folk and classical to jazz. It’s never been about genre for me, because great artists are great artists period. You either have a tremendous talent and a charismatic approach or you don’t. An artist’s unique style is what makes them an artist. I was a fan of singer-songwriter music based on the Civil Rights era of the late 60s and gravitated towards jazz via my experiences with Vanguard and later with Danny Weiss, who I started the Cache label with that eventually became part of Shanachie Records. When Danny and I were at Vanguard, we signed Larry Coryell, Oregon, Brazilian artist Sivuca and the Players Association. At Shanachie we signed Noel Pointer, Kim Pensyl and Nelson Rangell. Nelson later released several recordings under me at Koch.