New New York: The Search & Restore Interview, Pt. 2
by Patrick Jarenwattananon
New Yorkers Adam Schatz and James Donahue, ages 21 and 24 respectively, are the co-founders of Search and Restore (searchandrestore.com). In the first half of my conversation with them, we talked largely about their efforts in putting on interesting shows with important young artists. Which they still do: their month-long Charlie Hunter residency is still going strong on Sundays at Rose Live Music in Brooklyn, and next Tuesday, Aug. 25, they present the album-release show for bassist Linda Oh and her trio at Le Poisson Rouge in Manhattan.
Lately, though, keeping searchandrestore.com afloat has become more of a priority. So in this second part of the interview, I asked Adam and James to talk more about their Web site, and what it means to the scene. Here are their thoughts on presenting several genres at once, the problems of the Jazz Internet and why jazz has been reincarnated as a partygoing zombie.
So what are your roles, specifically? I think your Web site attributes founder and editor-in-chief to both of you. Do either of you update the Web site yourself?
James: Those are arbitrary titles.
Adam: I'm the emperor and he's the king of the Web site. We both edit. I think James is far more versed in Web lingo -- just, I know nothing about it -- so at this point, I'm doing more on the content side of things, and James is really great with handling all the logistical and structural things with the site. So I set up a lot of interviews, I do a lot of live reviews and I'm starting to reach out to other people to do some reviews for the site as well. And then we all work together with a couple other people -- we have a couple interns and some other strategists who work with us to gather all the venue info for every month. ... It can be sort of relaxed at times, but at the end of every month, when it comes time to sort-of purge every venue's Web site, it becomes, like, a two-day marathon.
James: It's fun.
Adam: Yea, I guess it is fun now that we have a couple more people working on it, it's fine. At the beginning, it was just the two of us, and we didn't have a day to--
James: That was terrible.
Adam: It was like a 20-hour process. And that was hellish. But now it's much better. And we're just constantly brainstorming for new content ideas, and new ways to make the site more engaging for people. We're trying to get this thing up and running where artists can input their own shows. Because occasionally shows are happening at what isn't a standard venue. And we can't find out about everything -- we're going to do our best, but right now we just get e-mails about it, and wouldn't it be great if the artists could just input it themselves, and then we could approve it?
The concert thing is what a lot of people have latched onto in talking about what you guys do. But for me, who lives outside the city, and for the national and international audience too, it's the Web site that we come to and experience. There's a lot there. First though: you said that there was a lack of online listings anywhere throughout [New York]?
James: Yea, it's tough. It was really going around to every single venue's Web site for a while. And it's really what we did to get this thing started anyway. It's sort of what we still do, to be honest.
Adam: We're doing the work so you don't have to. And we put it all into our database so that you can go to our Shows page on SearchandRestore.com and either click on the date -- say, July 29 -- and see every show that's happening in the city on that date, just listed alphabetically by venue. Or you can select any venue and see their shows for the current month. Or you can type in an artists' name, and it will tell you what shows they're playing that month. Which for me is the most exciting feature we have right now.
James: Yea, that's really great because of the nature of this beast. You follow one guy -- doesn't matter if it's his band, or he's a sideman, or what.
Adam: And the site is our new -- we're really throwing our energy into the Web site. We're applying for nonprofit status right now, which we're about halfway towards getting. And once we get that, we're just going to start writing grants that will allow us to throw shows and to keep the Web site running and developing in a big way, where it can become a hub and a home base for live jazz in New York. But also globally, just for people to see what's going on in New York. We want to be able to document it further with video, with more audio, partnering up with other sites, with other performers. And just -- giving the world a look into all the stuff that's happening that right now is just going a little bit unnoticed.
I noticed that you guys have more than just listings now. It's reviews, it's interviews, sometimes you do photos, even videos.
James: Yea, there's a lot of good content.
Is that all part of expanding it to become a hub of New York jazz?
Adam: Oh without a doubt. We have big plans. I really want to create a much more intensive video element, where we will eventually be going around to all these shows and filming these shows and documenting them really well. And then making them available through an easy-to-navigate interface. And then any time we have a show listed on the Web site, you can click on that artist's name, and it'll bring up every video we have of them. And it'll just be a better way, where you'll say, "Oh, I've heard of this guy. What's his music sound like? Oh, here's a great-sounding video of him performing." And it will be that easy. And right now -- most of these artists don't even have MySpace pages. It's be hard to even hear what they sound like, and their recordings often don't come close to capturing the energy they have live. You know, the jazz culture really functions off the live performance, so we just need to document that more, make it more accessible, and more integrated to the Internet culture that's pushing everything right now. Jazz is sort of the last music to hop on that train, just because, I think, people haven't really given it enough thought.
The other interesting feature I see is something called "Not Jazz." Why is that important to you?
Adam: So important. Because [while] on the one hand we need to be developing the jazz audience, there's such a thin line between what's happening right now in progressive rock 'n' roll and underground rock 'n' roll and progressive jazz music. But the audiences haven't crossed over at all. And so it has to go both ways in that I want to present concerts and make the site accessible for people who aren't necessarily jazz fans. And I also think it's important to show people who think they are jazz fans all this other music that's happening that they might be into, and just benefit everyone.
James: Open peoples' minds. In the jazz world, it can get a little narrow-minded sometimes, especially for the student of jazz. Like Adam.
Adam: Yea. And that's just the way it goes. But all I'm really going on is my brain, you know. The site is fairly unbiased: we do show picks, and they are what they are. I think a little bias is healthy, and I think it gives it a personal touch that some other Web sites necessarily don't have. It just feels stale without that personal touch. So Not Jazz is sort of a peek into our brains. It's like, "Here's some really crazy stuff that we're super into."
You guys are both in various rock and not-jazz bands too.
Adam: Sure. I mean, I grew up playing rock 'n' roll; I play in four or five rock 'n' roll bands now. I play in a couple improvised music groups that often are straddling that line and that often do play in rock venues. And so why not? Some of [the bands featured in Not Jazz], in the rock world they're obvious to people, and everyone knows these bands. But you know, you show a jazz fan Deerhoof and it blows their mind. And that's so much fun for me.
I would love for the future to be able to have the funding to really present concerts, present a band of that caliber in the rock world with a band of that caliber in the jazz world, and just totally bring it together. We've already done a couple shows like that, and it's been really cool -- we just hope to keep doing that. You know, Bill Graham had Rahsaan Roland Kirk open up for The Who ... And then nothing? We've got to get back into that vein; it's too--
James: We've done a little bit of that already. The New Mellow Edwards with--
Adam: Samamidon. And that was a really cool pair-up, because those worlds kind of came close anyway. Ches Smith was drumming for the New Mellow Edwards, and he's played with Xiu Xiu, and he's played with Trevor Dunn, from the New Mellow Edwards, who's also tied to Mr. Bungle, and has also played with Samamidon and Stars Like Fleas. There's all these connections.
James: Just good musicians. They don't need to be stuck in a genre, you know.
Adam: Well, and the musicians don't feel that way, because they're always, they're moving between worlds all the time. So I think they're really excited when we put on these shows, and just when we're making this actual effort to turn peoples' brains onto this new stuff, and hopefully just open up the perimeter a little bit.
So there's an interesting new study from the National Endowment for the Arts that says that the youth jazz audience is lower than ever. The median jazz concertgoing age these days is 46, where it was 29 in 1982. Do you think that this failure to cross over from between indie rock worlds and the jazz community has something to do with it?
James: Well, I was going to say, how are they measuring "jazz"?
I think it was if you said you went to a jazz performance in the last year.
Adam: I think a lot of it can be measured down to what's been made available to people. And whatever's the newer music -- in the '80s, free jazz was still fairly new to people. And it was still being made new and available. And Miles Davis was sort of a superstar. And now there really aren't any jazz superstars, because the most popular and biggest people in the spotlight aren't doing anything that would be considered new for people. There's no jazz radio. There's no jazz Web content. There's Down Beat magazine. And there was JazzTimes [Ed.: now back up and running].
James: And there aren't that many jazz promoters, really, either.
Adam: No, there aren't. And it sort of becomes a chain reaction where people start seeing that happen, and then promoters will say, well, this really isn't a lucrative music any more, so they stop putting it on. And then the artists start playing in smaller and smaller venues, and everyone's just trying to keep it alive. So it has to become sort of exclusive, where people who are in the know keep coming back to the shows. But guys don't want to waste money on trying to reach out to new audiences. I think it's just the way it goes.
And now indie music and that culture has such a huge Web presence, through blog culture and people communicating through that. And for jazz it's non-existent. And I think it can just be simplified to that, is that some musics have adjusted to new technologies, and some musics haven't. And I don't think it's a lost cause, but I think efforts like ours are what's going to help pull it out.
So what's the audience like at one of your gigs?
James: Pretty young. I would say that the average age is -- well, who knows.
Adam: Yea, the statistics get screwed up because the age range is 18 to 71 usually. But I think that's what's exciting about it. Guys are coming to us to help us promote their shows now because we can get young crowds out there. And it totally gets people going. And even generally younger performers. I remember saxophonist Pete Robbins played one of our shows, and he was just blown away by the energy and the crowd and the youth of the crowd. And he's a young guy! But still -- it's like, you're a young performer, and you immediately get thrust into a culture where you're playing for older people. And I don't think that's necessarily fun. It's not sustainable either. So we're really trying to make it so that our shows are an event, and you come out to them, and you know you're going to see something that you haven't seen before, and it's going to be really enjoyable.
James: It's a jazz party.
Adam: It's a jazz party. Kind of. But you know, I think that appeals to a younger mind. And I have a younger mind, so I'm sort of the guinea pig. What would I be psyched to see?
So jazz is alive in New York still? In some pockets, if you do it right -- where? What are the venues, what are the locations?
Adam: The Stone is good because they set some cool creative limitations. It's run by John Zorn, who is John Zorn, just a saxophone slaughterer, and sort of knows everyone. And since it's been started, The Stone has been run on a curatorial basis, where each month a new artist or presenter is in charge of booking the entire month. So it makes it always really different and cohesive within the month, as far as all those performers are connected to the curator.
James: Right, and the curators: you've got former owners of Tonic and the Knitting Factory throwing it together.
Adam: That was a really fun month. And then Tyshawn Sorey is doing August. And Steve Coleman has done one, Trevor Dunn has done one. This guitar player Grey Gersten did one and brought in -- I mean, I saw this band Lucky Dragons play at The Stone. They're sort of a very weird, very Not-Jazz band from California that does a lot of live delay and looping, with all these instruments they've built which the audience holds and affects. And it was great. It was great seeing a crowd like that in The Stone -- it was completely packed. As a jazz venue, I think the Jazz Gallery is probably my favorite venue in the city. It's not too big, incredible shows, not too expensive, and it's run by really cool people.
Would you say Brooklyn and some of the outer-borough places have interesting scenes?
James: Brooklyn, for sure.
Adam: Zebulon in Williamsburg -- they sort of go half-and-half with rock and jazz stuff. Barbes in Park Slope I think is one of the most incredible venues ever.
James: And Tea Lounge also.
Adam: Tea Lounge has great stuff, Douglass Street Music Collective. There's just more and more stuff happening.
James: And IBeam, all those decentralized, homegrown--
Adam: And those are artist-run. Brian Drye, trombone player runs IBeam, and a whole collective of great players runs Douglass Street. It's just a great way to keep things going. But you know, they're sort of small spaces; not all of them have bars, and we just need to find some more spots to make it happen. I just don't think there's the perfect place, and we need to find the perfect place.
You say something on your Web site: you want to create a "sustainable community" for jazz and improvised music. Is that sort of what you mean? Do you want to find a critical mass of venues?
James: You just want to see more and more of this stuff, you know? Younger people--
Adam: You just want to create as many environments as possible where people will want to come back. Where a jazz show doesn't feel like a vacation. It's like, "All right, friend's in town. Let's go see a jazz show."
James: "Let's go to the Vanguard!"
Adam: Some people equate going to see a jazz show like going to see the Statue of Liberty. That's ridiculous. It's just like -- that's hardly musical, when you think of it that way. But if people start realizing that jazz is actually some of the most human music out there, because it's always changing, and if people open themselves up to that, because we sort of present it in that light, then you're going to want to come back, because you're going to want to replicate that feeling as often as possible. I'm just trying to help people feel the way I felt when I first came to New York, and I would see four shows a night and just be blown away, and just need that again and again. And I think it's just the most stimulating music there is.
So how would you introduce jazz to somebody who wants to learn about it, but doesn't really know anything? How do you introduce people to what's going on today?
Adam: Without pressure. You take them to a show, you play them a record, or you show them a video. And all the pretense you need is, "This makes me feel nuts. This makes me feel so good to listen to this, to watch this."
James: "See how you feel."
Adam: Exactly. And what more do you need? I think if we present it like that, it's honest, it's there, and people are going to be struck by it.
James: And also, this is why we created the Web site. So if people want somewhere to go where they can just check everything out at once, basically, then they have somewhere.
One more question: the header of the Web site says "Jazz was dead, but it's back. In zombie form."
James: It's true.
Adam: I think it's incredibly for everyone not to take themselves too seriously. And in general, the bands that I love the most have a level of humor in their music and their compositions. And I think that's what's become sort of problematic with the jazz culture, is that it's been framed in an intellectual light, and a historical light, where you need to know what's happening in the music, and what's come before it. The classic line is, "What do you mean, you don't know so-and-so?" It's like, gimme a break! Give everyone a break. And that was just a funny thing. I came up with that phrase during our launch show for the Web site. I was standing next to James.
James: I was scrambling to finish the all the code--
Adam: Yea, James was in the back, while the show was happening, working on the site. And I just wrote the line down and showed it to him. And it's just -- you know, it's a funny thing, because it's easy for everyone to say jazz is dead. So we like to think it was dead, but now it's back. As a zombie. Who's ready to party.
Anything else you'd want to share or get off your mind about Search and Restore, or anything else?
Adam: We're always looking for feedback. We'd love to know what people would want to see. And right now, it's a very New York-centric Web site, but I think in focusing on New York, it can become really attractive to a lot of people who don't live there. So just sort of urging the national audience to check it out, check out the reviews, check out all the performers that we mentioned. And if there's anything they want to see covered that we're not covering, please let us know.
James: We've had a lot of great support from people.
Adam: Yea, if you're in the New York area and want to become a part, we love people working for free for us.
James: Well, I was going to say, once we get 501c3 status, maybe we'll get some grant money -- we can actually pay you for all your hard work.
Adam: At least we can pay us for all our hard work. That'd be great. But in time, you know, all in time. It's about the love.
12:27 PM ET | 08-17-2009 | permalink