Thursday, August 8, 2013
You've probably noticed the banner on the right side of my blog that has been advertising a fine website entitled jazzheaven.com for some time now. This website is a great collection of Jazz instructional videos, all produced by Falk Willis, that feature the likes of Eric Harland, Ralph Peterson Jr., Ari Hoenig, Lee Konitz, Jerry Bergonzi, Jean-Michel Pilc, Oz Noy, Kenny Werner and many, many others. I can tell you from first-hand experience that the quality of these DVDs is exceptional and second to none. Buy these DVDs and you will learn something!
Falk Willis is also a very fine drummer himself. I first heard Falk play at Cleo's Jazz Bar in Montreal (around the corner of St. Laurent and Rachel) around 1996 while he was playing with pianist John Stetch and bassist Joe Martin. I was a fresh undergrad at McGill at the time and hearing these guys play really changed my perspective on piano trio playing. Young New York Jazz drummers, such as Falk Willis, that would make the occasional trek to Montreal really had quite an impact on me (I would also include drummers such as Jorge Rossy, Joe Strasser, Daniel Freedman, Darren Beckett, Jim Black and Jeff Watts as others that I heard around that time as well.) It was all really quite a insight as to what was going on in terms of contemporary Jazz drumming in New York City during the mid 1990s.
Falk was nice enough to answer a few questions for Four on The Floor about jazzheaven.com:
Tell us all about jazzheaven.com. What is it?
It is a kick-butt music instructional video site with lessons and interviews with many of today's finest jazz musicians, ranging from Lee Konitz to Eric Harland. Formats are in DVD as well as streaming online versions, plus optional versions for mobile devices.
Why did you decide to pursue this project?
I had been a professional jazz drummer myself for 14 years. Then life took a left turn and I did completely unrelated things for ten years: running my own businesses, real estate investing among them. One day I listened to an interview with CDbaby.com founder Derek Sivers and he mentioned that the question he asked himself before starting CDbaby.com was "What would be a dream come true for...[fill in the target audience of the business you are starting]?" That really resonated with me, and when answering this question for young, aspiring jazz musicians, JazzHeaven.com was my answer to it. (I would have killed for something like the Ralph Peterson instructional video we did, when I was younger!)
What were the logistics involved in completing such a project?
A LOT more than I anticipated! I worked on this for over two years with a team of fantastic videographers, video editors & audio engineers. I leased a storefront in Brooklyn, NY, converted it into a video recording studio, bought loads of high-end video & audio recording gear and then we got busy! 20 test shoots and 31 real-life projects have been shot at this point. A lot of work, a lot of fun, and a couple of banks had to be robbed in the process to allow the production level we are going for.
What can you tell us about your background as a musician?
I am originally from Munich, Germany. As mentioned, I was a professional jazz drummer for 14 years, many of which in NY. In the mid-nineties, I had the pleasure to play (and live...) with many fine musicians that are now "Village Vanguard regulars", from Kurt Rosenwinkel to Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus.
How did your musical background and experience shape and inform your ideas about developing jazzheaven.com?
A lot! The fact that I personally know a lot of our artists already, had played with a lot of them myself years ago, sure made things easier. And I definitely needed my understanding of the music for directing the videos, where needed. Let's face it, most master players are not master teachers, and many of them can not remember how it feels when you are not a master yet. So, one line I frequently use at the shoots is: "Freeze! Don't change subjects now! But rather explain it to the "Cave Man" now!" True story. For fairness sake, some artists were really prepared and I didn't have to say a word. But that's the clear minority. As a result, I am proud to say that I feel all 31 shoots overall came out well and the viewer will have a real chance of actually learning something - rather than just sitting on the couch and watching somebody great, but later on not knowing more him-/herself. That's very important to me.
What have been some of the highlights and challenges while working on this?
Too many to list them all. Getting artists to respond. Getting artists to prepare. Dealing with building department violations. Wearing 278 different hats. Dealing with endless technology challenges. Exploding our budget. But...I can happily stand for the final result - and I am not easy to please. I think we have created something valuable and needed, and, not to toot my own horn, but we are treating the artists multiples times better than any other situation like this I am aware of. So, hopefully a great thing for everyone involved has been created.
What does the future have in store for jazzheaven.com?
Keep on doing what we are doing, namely building a great catalog of timeless jazz instructional videos.
Here's a few fine examples to give you an idea of the invaluable information to be found within these volumes:
Keep up the great work Falk !