Avishai Cohen is one of the most in-demand and well known musicians of today.
The Israeli bassist sells out large concert halls and has millions of listeners all around the world, all whilst playing what has been described as a sophisticated mix of post-bop and contemporary jazz infused with Middle Eastern traditions.
Which, as I’m sure you’ll agree, is not usually considered a genre with a mass market.
As with many great musicians, this is not the story of an overnight success or a lucky break, but of an established, long-term career built steadily over time. And, as with other great artists, he wasn’t alone on the journey.
To learn more about that – and how other jazz musicians may take inspiration and advice from his career – I talked to his personal manager Ray Jefford.
But before we dive into a largely unedited transcript of our nice, inspiring chat on a calm winter evening (thanks Ray!!!) here are some interesting thoughts which stand out:
You have to be ready for opportunities!
“A key issue in this industry is that you’ve got to connect and meet people that are either believers or are up for taking risks.
Unfortunately this business as with others is full of people who don’t understand the concept of risk and reward: without risk you cannot achieve a reward.
There are so many great musicians who have their music in their cupboard drawers but they don’t take the risk.
They don’t see an opportunity.
And when an opportunity presents itself, they don’t take it, they’re not ready for it.”
Find someone who can help with your planning, time management and structure.
“Even if someone can spend 4 to 8 hours a week with a musician to put the simple steps and actions in place, it may help the musician also to plan themselves more effectively. It doesn’t have to be a manager!
It could be an assistant/volunteer.”
Your ‘team’ doesn’t necessarily have to start with a manager
“One of the biggest investments (ongoing) we’ve ever made was engaging a sound engineer at every show.
A reliable sound engineer is a consistent anchor, front of the house.“
What was your route into music management?
It’s quite a unique story because I was never thinking about being involved in this industry at all in 2000 / 2001.
I had a sabbatical and decided not to carry on my finance career for over the past 20 years – I was in sales management working for a big organization and I just had enough.
I met Avishai through Chick Corea who I met in New York. During that time Chick was doing a run of events and shows there.
I found it was just an inspiring moment in my life, I was just hanging around in the music and understanding how artists and musicians think and work.
I’m not a musician – I arrived as a fan, not a bad place to come from.
Was Avishai your first client?
During the time I met and spent time with Chick, Avishai was performing with him.
Avishai worked with him on many albums and tours but he was also very connected to Chick in many ways musically as composers and partners.
They are both very special people.
They have a very dynamic, unique ability, they have something very expressive, very powerful and they’re great composers – this is a big fact which some musicians seem to miss:
Before you start anything, your compositions have to be really, really good. From an artist point this industry is all about composition. Without that you don’t have much to offer.
Avishai and I got very closely connected and shared some ideas together to develop his profile in music and of course I had many ideas coming from a sales background.
Eventually Avishai and I decided he would break from Chick after 6+ committed and enjoyable years.
Avishai was my first client, and only one, I haven’t worked with anyone else during the past 20 years. And he hasn’t had any other manager. We’ve grown together, step by step.
What were the first steps in your collaboration with Avishai?
I took over everything from Avishai to allow him to concentrate fully on performing, recording and writing music.
In the early days we didn’t have anybody else around us. We were lucky enough to take risks but we also had a vision and content – Avishai’s music.
When I came in Avishai had already released his first 4 albums out there and his reputation was growing. So we concentrated on expanding his live touring and network and expand his recording and releases.
Very early on we decided that we go it alone. I checked out all the major labels at that time in NYC – no one wanted to take it on, nobody wanted to take the ‘risk’.
A key issue in this industry is that you’ve got to connect and meet people that are either believers or are up for taking risks.
Unfortunately this business as with others is full of people who don’t understand the concept of risk and reward: without risk you cannot achieve a reward. There are so many great musicians who have their music in their cupboard drawers but they don’t take the risk.
They don’t see an opportunity.
And when an opportunity presents its self, they don’t take it, they’re not ready for it.
You have to be ready for opportunities!
These phrases are absolutely relevant for Avishai’s career, and our own ongoing decision making, even today.
We always will come across problems that don’t allow us to take the route that we would ideally like to take, but these obstacles are supposed to happen to allow us to take another route – another step forward, maybe sideways or even backwards.
But you have to wait for the next opportunity and be aware of it, be out there, and ultimately ready!
You have to be determined but at the same time be patient.
No one deserves the right to have good feedback or a good response without the real work going in, but you have to persist on getting the positive vibes out there.
This is why you established Razdaz Recordz I guess?
When Avishai left Chick, we had no label, no distribution. We had a roadblock so we had to find solutions.
So over the next few years we created the label Razdaz Recordz and of course that was down to persistence.
At that point Avishai continues to write the music, wishing to record.
The first album on the label was Lyla (2003) which was a struggle but to be honest it came out really well, its one of my favorites from Avishai as it shows his eclectic nature in music and composition with a strong command of his signature and sound, we took a risk.
It was all based on trust, passion and vision, working things out.
It did not stand on financial reward, just commitment to each other.
It was just about being on the journey together, building something and learning from others.
The vision behind Razdaz Recordz is to support new talent and you have helped artists like Kurt Rosenwinkel fulfil a similar vision.
Do you think this concept of established artists curating and releasing younger projects will be an increasingly popular model for the future?
We will continue to work with young talent through Razdaz.
We have a few things in mind about what we would like and what we’re planning to do this coming year or so.
The music and albums we released on Razdaz are linked mostly with people Avishai has worked with or supported and to help their own beginnings such as Mark Guiliana, Karen Malka.
It doesn’t always need to make money but commercially and artistically it should make total sense.
I think Avishai was the first jazz musician to launch his own label, with full global distribution back in 2002.
How far ahead are you planning in terms of schedules, plans & goals?
Touring can be anything up to 2 years ahead, album releases at least 1 year ahead.
We have to turn around a lot quicker these days but we know it involves so many different partners that you can’t rely on everybody to drop what they’re doing, so you have to square this within your planning.
The bookings of tours and performances planning must be in a conjunction and worked on at the same time when a new recording is being developed in its early stages.
So you give the agents time to book, bearing in mind you need good PR, excellent content, a story, branding and quality digital content.
Releasing perhaps the 1st single 3 months before you finally end up releasing the final album globally.
It needs patience and lots of effort and I don’t believe you can succeed without these steps, unless you’re very lucky.
How would you best sum up the role of an artist manager in jazz and at what point should a jazz musician start looking for one?
As early as possible!
Most people I know in this industry are not a manager to one artist, they are multiple managers to many, this is something I don’t recognize too well.
I believe if you’ve got a strong artist (which I always believed), managers also need to be very creative. I would never work for another artist while working for Avishai, it’s a full time job and more.
We now have a team of staff and we contract, publicist, external PR people…
I would love to see more managers out there who could just take care of one artist and grow.
Is there anything significant – apart from talent & creativity – that has helped you and Avishai establish him as one of the leading artists of his generation?
One of the biggest investments (ongoing) we’ve ever made was engaging a sound engineer at every show.
Live shows are so important to any artist.
I would recommend before you get a manager, please engage a reliable and good sound engineer who wants to work with you, and pay them.
Because a live performing artist who has a good sound engineer can grow together and build with them is probably the biggest statement they can make as a live artist.
A reliable sound engineer is a consistent anchor, front of the house.
It can make a very positive difference to the audience live experience as well for the artists and it also should give a consistency about the live show and touring.
Avishai’s own sound engineer has been with us for 14 years and has completed in excess 1500 shows around the world with him.
In fact in many ways I think this is the biggest and the most effective way for an artist to have a live presence out there, whether it’s 10 shows a year or 250.
The sound engineer does all the prep, the technical side of things before and after the show, he works and comforts the musicians on stage…
The audience should come away with a great experience.
A live performance show is the very tip of the triangle for many Jazz artists.
It’s not always a great album, it’s the live shows that gets the message out on the ground.
If I was looking for a new artist today I would be looking for an artist with a great live show, whom connects with the audience and has something unique to say.
For a new artist with no team and a million things to take care of, what should be the priority in terms of growing their profile?
Most artists, if they’re smart, they know themselves.
They know what they’re good at, they know their vision.
But what I have found, is many of them usually are, and I’m sorry to put it so frankly, they’re all over the place.
They got no schedule, no significant or solid plans, no idea about what they’re trying to present.
So I would recommend any artist in a similar position to hire someone who can organize them, put them in a routine, support them with a full schedule and plan.
If they don’t have any real structure It’s not their fault, it’s just the way the majority of creative people are in especially their early days.
Even if someone can spend 4 to 8 hours a week with a musician to put the simple steps and actions in place, it may help the musician also to plan themselves more effectively.
It doesn’t have to be a manager, it could be an assistant/volunteer.
That’s why I say as early as possible.
When I speak to Avishai on our regular meets and calls I have a list for him every time and a full update.
I have a list for everybody we work with in the team.
Yes find someone asap!
It could be a fan, it could be a friend, it could be an associated industry person that you’ve met or will come across in time.
It’s an important first step Ask yourself: perhaps this person could help me, not as a manager, but as an assistant, think about it together share some ideas, how you could work together on what they and you need to do, planning is so important.
Don’t be scared to ask people for help.
People like to help!
Presumably you have a large network of contacts inside the industry. How do you manage that communication on a practical level?
- Be in touch on phone calls regularly
- Don’t rely so much on emails as much as you think, I’m not a great believer in a thousand emails
- Don’t always use WhatsApp for communication with promoters or agents, always use emails. I noticed recently many more of us are communicating on WhatsApp and similar platforms, which is not an ideal business model. It’s not that private and does not come across professionally. You should be aiming to make yourself a business or brand as a musician, so this will enhance your chances and to make your music and presentation a brand in itself
- You might want to use a WhatsApp call sometimes to communicate quickly but not anything more than that
- You’ve got to be very careful on social media, it could go against you
- Read industry news
- Make a contact list and create news items and newsletter, through a mailing list provider. Always have something new and fresh to say
- Ensure you have an updated website, project press kits and news about yourself and music
We have an in-house publicist on board all the time, and we have another member of the team who looks after social media every day, we wish for Avishai and his music to be engaging, entertaining and reliable out there as much as possible.
You’ve got to create a new whole world for any artist, whatever platform you’re using or wish to use – with quality content.
You have to take risks and you mustn’t ever undersell the artist. NEVER!
Artists must not undersell themselves.
How do you perceive these tricky corona times – and how do you think it will affect the scene?
It’s going to continue to be a challenge for all of us.
But young talent will have a big opportunity if they’ve got their act together and are being progressive.
There’s going to be a vacuum, promoters and venues will want to do ‘LIVE‘ shows, venues and festivals and many countries will want to tap in to local talent, local accessible good talent, so we need to get ready!
This will be an opportunity for the young and upcoming musicians to make strides.
Events and show budgets will be pressured downwards.
So if you are a new young talent who wants to get out and start gigging, it’ll be crazy not to be ready for this OPPORTUNITY when it comes but you need to be ready!
This is the most important step to take right now.
‘Make history in the future’
Ray, thank you very much for taking the time to share these thoughts!
And if you’re wondering what’s new in the world of Avishai, Razdaz Recordz just released “Avishai Cohen – The 50 Gold Selection” – a collection of his most popular songs chosen by his fans through a 2019 fan survey in a unique Limited Edition Vinyl Box Set featuring 6 remastered Golden 180gr LPs.
It also includes a 32 page hardcover book with notes written personally by Avishai, rare photos, a special poster and other exclusive content.
You can follow future news of Avishai Cohen by subscribing to his newsletter or connecting on all the usual social media platforms:
A trip to Youtube to see him in action ‘live’ is also highly recommended!