CBS Records President Bruce Lundvall had hardly stepped off the podium at the Jazz Times convention yesterday before he was surrounded by musicians, booking agents and publicists.
Drummer Mel Lewis invited the executive to a night of music by the Lewis band at a New York City nightclub. Another musician stuffed a cassette tape in Lundvall's hand, at the same time making an excuse for the sound quality. A publicist rhapsodized about the jazz programs of a national radio network.
Why did these people descend like hornets on Lundvall? For starters, he's one of the few people who began as a young jazz buff and grew up to become president of a major record company. They know he's got their interests at heart.
And he says his greatest accomplishment in four years as president of Columbia Records has been to infuse new life into the company's jazz program. "When I came to this position," he says, "I thought the company was dabbling in the jazz area. So I signed some artists who were commercially important and musically important" -- among them Dexter Gordon, Bob James, George Duke, Al DiMeola, Stanley Clarke and Willie Bobo.
Lundvall, 45, who wears a magisterial, closely cropped gray beard, had just flown in from the Country Music Association convention in Nashville -- and walked into a hornets' nest at the Shoreham Hotel. For two days 200 musicians, record dealers, advertising writers, radio announcers, critics, journalists and fans had engaged in a communal squawk session about the sorry state of jazz affairs.
Newport Jazz Festival producer George Wein said large record companies did not help jazz -- and neither did the musicians' union. John Koenig, of Contemporary Records, said he was forced to make records for those who sell discs, not those who buy. Saxophonist Frank Foster, composer of "Shiny Stockings," described himself as a victim of deteriorating conditions in jazz. And many from New York lamented the recent transition of radio station WRVR from an all-jazz to an all-country format.
Lundvall stepped nonchalantly into this quagmire, and said everyone -- musicians, managers, record company executives and programmers -- had "ignored the evidence that the marketplace for jazz has greater potential than it's ever had."
Demographic studies, he said, indicate that 25- to 35-year olds, "the more discerning, affluent listeners, are expected to increase over the next five to 10 years. And this is a very good sign for jazz." He also said younger people were becoming interested in jazz, judging by the growing number of jazz courses in conservatories and colleges and increasing requests for jazz arrangements by high school bands.
Jazz, Lundvall said, would account for $20 million in record sales for Columbia this year.
"That's a little less than 5 percent of total [domestic] sales," he noted.
"But the important point is that the $20 million I'm talking about is delivering a very, very handsome profit. We had done that much in sales in the past, but unfortunately we'd carried a number of artists who cost as much in the studios perhaps as a pop artist would cost, and the album sales didn't materialize. So we had to trim the roster a bit and trim marketing costs."
Like all record companies, Columbia was hit hard by the economic recession in 1979. In the overall industry, more than 1,000 persons lost jobs. Retailers returned hundreds of thousands of records and artists were dropped. However, Lundvall said Columbia appeared to be emerging from the slump. This had been accomplished in part, he said, by reducing the number of records a retailer could return, tightening the lid on money spent for signing artists and marketing records and releasing fewer records, choosing mostly those that would show a profit.
But Lundvall said he believes music comes first and that he feels obligated to keep some artists on the company roster even if they don't sell many records. Lundvall's been a devoted music lover since he was 13, when he started collecting jazz records.
As a teen-ager growing up in Glen Rock, N.J. (about an hour's drive from New York), he played tenor saxophone, but realized he was going nowhere. "So I thought the next best thing was to try and get in the record business," he recalled. In his undergraduate days at Bucknell he booked jazz concerts, and following a two-year Army hitch he went to work at CBS as a merchandising trainee. From there, it was just up the ladder.
As a person who supervises a $400 million business that records a wide variety of music and spoken-word discs, Lundvall said his phone hardly stops ringing. But at his suburban New Jersey home, he likes to relax late at night in a barn he's converted into a listening room and study that houses the 10,000 records he has collected over the last 32 years.
He leaned back in his chair on the Shoreham patio and smiled: "I think the most satisfaction you can have working at a record company is that of signing artists and nurturing their careers along."
Meanwhile, the hornets hummed. They were gearing up for today's panel sessions, one of which was titled "Who's Ripping Off Whom?"