Industrial Mediation in Jazz Production
Throughout the 20th Century, the writing of jazz history has produced a canon that privileges jazz’s key figures, its major stylistic periods and seminal works. This emphasis on jazz as a form of autonomous musical expression has helped to marginalise the industrial contexts in which jazz music is recorded, packaged, sold and consumed.
Founded by production team Dave Grusin and Larry Rosen, American jazz label GRP Records (GRP) achieved significant commercial success during the 1980s with a style of pop-influenced jazz-fusion known as ‘contemporary jazz’. By making a case study of this successful jazz business and its relationships with musicians and organisations within the music and media industries, this work makes the argument that industrial practices around composition, recording, marketing, radio and corporate consolidation transform jazz products all the way through the production process and feed into future production work.
Chapter One examines the role of the producer as an intermediary. Focusing on Grusin and Rosen’s approach to finding and signing young jazz musicians and Grusin’s skills as a musical arranger, it explore the ways in which intermediaries can shape the sounds made by jazz musicians.
Chapter Two examines the agency of the recording engineer as a user of technology. By following Grusin and Rosen’s pursuit of high fidelity recording solutions, this chapter demonstrates how studio intermediaries collaborate with jazz artists within the constraints of new recording paradigms.
Chapter Three examines the role of marketing as a force in jazz production. GRP adopted a variety of marketing strategies to help sell its products. This chapter demonstrates that intermediaries act on information about the jazz market in order to ensure that jazz music is conceived and produced in line with market demands.
Chapter Four examines the relationship between commercial radio formats and jazz production. By exploring audience research techniques and GRP’s relationship with the ‘smooth jazz’ format, it demonstrates that jazz can be tailored to the needs of radio programmers and listeners.
Chapter Five concludes the case study by demonstrating how corporate strategy can play a role in the production of jazz. Using the example of GRP’s expansion and consolidation into MCA, Matsushita and Universal, it explores the ways in which strategic decisions affect the opportunities available to staff and artists, and the products they make.
Through this detailed case study, based on over 100 interviews with industry workers, this thesis aims to complicate the dominant perception of jazz as a largely unmediated form of art music.
This work was my PhD thesis, submitted at the University of Liverpool in 2009, and defended in a viva voce examination to Professor Simon Frith.