The following is a brief interview with jazz pianist and Inarhyme Records Artistic Director Keith Javors on life, music and the business:
Tell us a little about your background in learning to play and produce music.
I’ve loved music as long as I can remember. I started picking out songs by ear on the piano at around three and led my first groups when I was in high school when I really knew nothing. I attended college as a Jazz major at the University of North Texas and later as a Music Education major at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, both terrific schools. Somewhere between there and now there has been a lot of fun, passion, and some blood, sweat, and tears too. The best facilitator for me in learning, beyond the truly exceptional teachers and schools I had, has been the hands-on experience of being out there playing real gigs with real people. It all adds up, and while I’m a ways away from where I’d like to be, both as an artist and a human being, I regret very little. Usually it’s the things I didn’t do or try.
How did these roads lead to producing music on your own label?
I’ve been organizing groups to perform and tour, all the way back to Carbondale Community High School in Illinois, where the first ensemble I directed at 15 was a vocal jazz group I started called the Jazzmatics. We did some really nice concerts, but the most rewarding experiences came from a big tour of Children’s hospitals in the St. Louis area. I like what music does for the soul; the passion behind it all. Eventually I moved on to bigger and better ensembles all the way up through now, as I’ve also continued to grow. Somewhere along the road, I fell in love with the power you have in the studio to craft listenable records, and these two loves collided to form Inarhyme Records. I had started to see the music industry begin to change so rapidly and people losing control, so I wanted to take the proverbial bull by the horns, if you will, and try and create a company by musicians and for musicians, where integrity in the artistic process could still matter.
How did you come up with the name Inarhyme?
My friend Dejuan Everett wrote a particular line in one of his raps that really resonated with me. The line is “Dig deep into the crates of the mind. Put a message in the line of a rhyme.” That got me thinking about the word rhyme as a verb, which is defined as “to accord in rhyme or sound”, and so this whole idea of consonance in life and in music kept running through my mind. I would think, “What’s in a rhyme” which, when joined together, is Inarhyme. It seemed to just fit.
How is Inarhyme different from other Indie labels?
Where a lot of quality in the recorded album has given way to expediency and corner-cutting, we still are very much about detail in the process and production. Our releases all include liner notes from distinguished writers and a lot of time is taken in the mastering, the artwork, just the overall presentation.
What type of music do you generally look for?
While we definitely lean towards jazz, the classification of genre isn’t necessarily the most important criteria for us. We look for music that is first genuine or sincere to the point that it feels natural. It’s got to have heart and tell a story and it’s got to be played with a passion. Jazz music lends itself to this, but we’re also involved in some pop and world, even rap. I’d like to think that our byline is a good descriptor: Adventurous. Artistic. Accessible. In regards to the accessible part, we think it’s important for us to remain relevant, and so we try to strive and find a way to meet the audience half-way, give them some kind of handle to hold onto. A good friend of mine sometimes says that as jazz musicians, “we make no real effort to reach the audience in any kind of meaningful way and then are, lo and behold, surprised when that is exactly the result.
Does Inarhyme do anything outside of producing recordings and tours?
Absolutely. That’s just a part of what we do. With my background in music education, we make it a priority to get into the schools where the real teaching is happening and try to make a difference there. We’re involved in some philanthropy, our latest project being trying to get the Philadelphia chapter of Jail Guitar Doors started, which is a great program started by Wayne Kramer which provides instruments and instruction to incarcerated inmates as a form of rehabilitation. We also provide a host of PR and production services to aspiring artists around the world. It took a long time it feels like to get here, but trying to give back and help the overall arts movement however we can is central to us.
What is the current state of the music industry these days?
Well, it’s changed and it’s changing. It’s no longer lucrative to rely on CD or album sales as a form of income. Streaming music stations have become the norm and the payout to artists is pitiful. You’ve probably seen some of those visuals on how little you get from Spotify or Pandora, for instance. It’s really not fair at all to the music’s creators and artists. So things often seem as if there in some sort of flux. At the same time, there are some pluses. We’re able to get our our music out to more people and more quicker than before. The artist has more control and clout over their career than they ever did, and the industry’s at a real open place where there is room for that next innovation down the pike. I don’t want to sugar-coat it though. It takes heart and brain power to be successful at it and I don’t know how I’d feel if my kid came up to me one day and said “I’m going to go into music.” So as is often the case, a lot is left up to the individual.
What innovations do you see coming down the pike?
I think we’re already seeing it. Individuals and companies, the really smart ones, aren’t whining about the good ole days. Necessity is the mother of invention, and so they’re finding innovative ways to increase their revenue in other ways, through new artist-to-fan types of platforms, through alternative income streams like publishing and so forth. But the first part of the equation is to understand the change that has already happened and will continue to happen in the industry, being a solid advocate, but you still have to roll with it to a certain extent.
To what do you attribute Inarhyme’s success?
First and foremost, credit must be given to the great artists and writers who appear on our catalog. They are truly some of the best in the business. The same goes for our incredible staff and industry partners. We truly are blessed to get to work with so many outstanding and dedicated professionals who share a common denominator of passion towards what they do. I’m a self-professed micromanager, and so one of the tough lessons I’ve learned is how to step back and let the people do what you’ve hired them to do and in the way they see best. Creativity can emerge more freely when people don’t feel boxed in or under the pressure of deadlines. Finally, thanks must be given to our fans and supporters. It’s cliche at this point, but we wouldn’t be where we are if it wasn’t for them.
You were in the academic trenches, so to speak, before going out on your own..? How do you think all of this relates to education?
The good news is that we do have some gifted and passionate teachers and players working in the schools, perhaps now more so than ever. The one thing that concerns me, and I see it in my travels, is that the wheels of change can grind slowly in an institution, especially regarding curricular change, and it is often dramatically outpaced by the changes in the business. So the need there is to remain relevant and on top of what we’re preparing students for, which is often to survive amidst an often uncertain career where there are no guarantees, no promises, no practice rooms. While in this date and age, I would never steer a student away from the academic experience and the credentials that come with it, it’s important to remain cognizant of experiences beyond the academy, which is often where the real learning takes place.
What should up and coming musicians in the schools do now to prepare for a career in music?
More than ever, they should focus on mastering their craft but also getting into the business of it all. Music as a major often has little resemblance to the real world and being both knowledgeable and ready to handle it is important. There should not only be required music classes for a collegiate performance major but also ones in business, finance, home economics, and so forth. Students, in addition to learning to play and write at a high level should also know something about calling an club owner or contracts or just basic networking. This is even before you get into some of the finer points. And most importantly, they should look for extra-academic experiences, because a school just can’t mirror that reality. But it’s probably not a mystery that there’s more that goes into the star equation than talent alone. I sometimes lament that it’s that way but that’s really futile. I think it was said by Don Henley that “An angry man can only get so far, until he reconciles the way things aught to be with the way things are.”
What’s on the horizon for you?
Musically, I have several projects in the pipeline. Oleg Kireyev and myself will be releasing The Meeting with Tom Harrell, Ben Williams, and E.J. Strickland this Winter. All the guys played great and we’re excited about getting it to the public. I’m working on a new jazz record for quintet with guitar, which has already been a lot of fun to write for, and also a project with the great vocalist and my friend Jennifer Perryman. There’s a solo piano record in the works there somewhere as well. Between that and all that’s going on at Inarhyme, it keeps me busy and off the streets.
Any parting thoughts?
When it comes to the music, we’re all in this together. Lets uplift each other and do our best to keep this crazy world moving forward in a positive way.