NOT TWO AT DOWN BEAT
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DOWN BEAT, OCTOBER 2009.
PETER MARGASAK FROM DOWN BEAT INTERVIEWS NOT TWO FOUNDER MAREK WINIARSKI.
DB (Peter Margasak): How did you get interested in jazz?
MW (Marek WiniarskI: During my collage years (earlier I was interested mostly in blues and rock) I started to attend jazz concerts in Krakow and once a year I used to go for Warsaw Jazz Jamboree Festival. These festivals were the only chances to listen to American musicians live then – four days every October were a celebration for every jazz fan not only from Poland but also from Eastern Germany, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. I was simply shocked during my very first visit to the Jamboree in 1972 by the Charles Mingus Quintet and Elvin Jones Quartet. In the next years I was lucky to meet and listen there to nearly all most famous jazzmen in the world (except Louis). Also Polish (and German and British) jazz scene was very interesting in late sixties/seventies - f.e. Tomasz Stanko or Zbigniew Seifert often played in Krakow’s jazz clubs. I started to collect records by trading with other fans from various countries. No American LP’s were available in shops during these times.
DB: I know you started a record shop before starting a label. What led you to do so?
MW: I started a record shop in late 1982 – the darkest year of the state of war in Poland. Knowing many people here and having a lot of pen-friends around the world I decided to go on my own (and I got permission from the city government) and organize a “real” record store. In these times the problem was not to sell something, the problem was to get goods for sale. Thanks to my wide contacts I was able to offer a really huge range of LP’s in my shop.
DB: Can you tell me a little about GOWI? What was your motivation and what were your goals with that first imprint?
MW: With a friend of mine – jazz drummer Zdzislaw Gogulski (GOWI is GOgulski and WIniarski) – we started GOWI in 1988. We wanted to try at doing something of our interest. And, the first experiences were very promising – our first title (Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers licensed from Timeless) sold quite well. Then came CD’s by recognized Polish stars (Tomasz Stanko, Adam Makowicz), well-known Americans (David Murray, Chick Corea, Dennis Gonzalez, Joey Calderazzo). Milosc (Love) - the best Polish group of the 90-ies decade – was our discovery. We released it’s all five CD’s and it’s album Milosc & Lester Bowie “Not Two” was our biggest success at GOWI.
DB: Could you give me a history of the Not Two?
MW: After some ten years of cooperation my partner did not want to deal with releasing CD’s. And for me it was always the most interesting field of activity – so we split. That’s why my label is named Not Two - first because of the great Milosc & Lester Bowie CD and second because I’ve been alone now, deciding by myself what and if to release. That’s very comfortable situation for me.
DB: I know you started out by primarily releasing records by Polish artists. How did the label expand to international artists? Also, the label seems to have gone from mostly mainstream sounds to more avant-garde—how did this happen?
MW: My very first release on Not Two was the Polish duet: Adam Pieronczyk (sax) and Leszek Mozdzer (piano). And this was a big success – both musicians are, let’s say, stars in Poland now. At the beginning of Not Two I tried to find a balance between releasing younger interesting musicians and the recognized names. For example I released the first titles by the Simple Acoustic Trio (now known from several CD’s with Tomasz Stanko and under it’s own name on ECM) or Oles brothers (with David Murray or Mark Taylor or Theo Joergensmann).
Having more and more international artists in Not Two was the natural process, I think – I used to meet a lot of great musicians during concerts in Poland, listened to their music, talked to them and all that led to further CD releases. From the other side first years of the XXI century were not too interesting in jazz in Poland, except two or three younger musicians who searched for new possibilities/directions.
And record labels all over the world nearly forgot to search for, and promote new things in music. I think in every country – large or small – one can find at least several people or circles of people trying to look for something new / fresh in music. And this has always been my main idea, so changing from mainstream to avant-garde was my only possible reaction to that “desinteressment” of most radio stations, labels or promoters.
DB: How important is the packaging to you and the label’s aesthetic?
MW: As I can remember, back in 1995 I had a stand with my CD’s at a festival in Germany and a man came to buy a CD of a totally unknown (even in Poland) group, just because he liked the package/design. So, that means packaging might be really important – either as a collector item or as an additional trump in promotion. Like Blue Note LP’s from the sixties or CTI ones from the eighties – people knew from the first sight: that one might be of my taste. From the other side – my gatefold mini-LP sleeves are not so heavy as normal jewel boxes.
DB: Does the label break even or require you to subsidize it?
MW: It is not easy to say – if one doesn’t have ambitions to be a millionaire running an avant-garde label, everything is much easier: you lose money with one title, earn with the other but all the time you try to do, what is your real passion. And for sure it is worth to live that way. As long as nobody subsidize you, nobody can press you – and that’s freedom. I can drink for that.
DB: How has the label fared with the increase in downloads? What percentage of sales are represented through downloads?
MW: I don’t bother too much about downloading. Maybe that’s why downloads are less than 5% of Not Two sales at the moment. I have been a record collector for years and owning the original LP/CD release has been always very important for me. And I believe I am not alone on this planet thinking that way. But of course I understand - times have changed and many people download music via internet. For me, the increasing sale of LP’s nowadays from one side and increase in downloads from the other simply show two directions for the future. And both ways will coexist till new discovers.
DB: Can you explain your relationship to the club Alchemia and how it is fit into the label’s output?
MW: For the first time I visited Alchemia in 2004 asking for the possibility to organize the five days stay of the Vandermark Five there. I found very open-minded and friendly people (although they did know nearly nothing about jazz these days). Our cooperation started very easily and after 5+ years I can only immodestly say that together we built the name of the club as one of the most interested and creative places for avant-garde / free jazz / improvising music in Europe. I have had a free hand to book any artist I wanted and soon we started the Krakow Jazz Fall – the three months festival of improvised music at Alchemia, more than 150 concerts in four years. Of course all this helped a lot to increase my record catalogue – many CD’s were recorded at Alchemia. I think live recordings are the most interesting and creative forms of music.
DB: I’ve heard that Alchemia has changed its booking policy. Can you comment and explain how that could affect the label?
MW: I don’t think they changed their way of thinking about booking concerts. The overall situation nowadays forced them to remember more about the financial side of booking artists. Anyway the program for the Fall 2009 is fixed and it speaks for itself: Burry Guy, William Parker, Larry Ochs, Steve Swell, Augusti Fernandez, Roy Campbell, Ken Vandermark, Gebhard Ullmann, Fred Lonberg-Holm to name but a few. I think the Alchemia owners did the fantastic work during these years and I can only thank them for all that. No black clouds on a horizon, I hope.
DB: How involved are you in actual album production? Do you leave everything up to the artists?
MW: There are two ways of having a recording for possible future release – getting a rough mix or ready to press recording from an artist, or organizing a studio or live session by a label. In both cases my main criteria is: I must like the music and then everything goes easily. Of course in this kind of music the artists are always on the first place – we can discuss but their vision of the final product is the most important thing.
DB: With your ambitious Ken Vandermark projects you’ve gone beyond typical releases—how important are these box sets to you?
MW: When I first talked to Ken about releasing the whole five-days-stay material in a 12 CD’s box, he said I was totally crazy. And my idea was to show the band (working band) rehearsing / playing / jamming – ten sets plus jam sessions of creativity. As Ken wrote in the liner notes for the box; “the music on these CD’s represents who we were and how we really played on those 5 nights, right or wrong”. Four years after the releasing date I know I was right – comments and response from jazz fans all over the world were enthusiastic. Now I know, too that people appreciate the risk in creativity of the artists (from the other side it was my risk then, too). For September 2009 I’m preparing another box (10 CD’s) – Ken Vandermark’s Resonance. This one documents six days at Alchemia of the 10-people band – rehearsing and playing the music written by Ken specially for the occasion. I am sure the new box will receive the great response, too.
DB: Any future plans?
MW: I’ve got a lot of new titles in my shelves – the nearest releases are: The Peter Broetzmann/Joe McPhee Quartet, Sabir Mateen / Matthew Shipp Duo, Szilard Mezei Trio, Trio X + Mikolaj Trzaska, the new Vandermark Five titled “Annular Gift”. And of course many more recordings waiting in a line. Always being optimistic I still have a lot of things to do and a lot of fantastic music to listen to.