ROP: Did your time working with KBM prepare you for starting Jazz It Up Philly?
Charlie Barlett: Absolutely. Tony Kaufman and I realized we really wanted to get our hands dirty with production. We obviously needed to make a business out of it, and to get paid you have to make a presence here first. So, we then we started branding ourselves as Kauffman & Bartlett Music. Then we started doing shows at the Hard Rock with Untapped and we started inviting people to join us to make a presence. Thomas Camarda was at one of our shows and he pitched me and idea one time about Jazz It Up Philly, which was funny because it seemed like he didn’t think I’d get it [laughs], he’s 52 and I’m 26. I didn’t grow up in Philly’s Jazz heyday, but I understood where he was going immediately. Within one month we put on our first show and we had three weeks to fill the Union Trust with 250 people. Going from the Hard Rock to The Union Trust is quite a difference! The turnout was incredible though. We had twenty-somethings who were doing something esteemed and regal [and an] older crowd who felt like they were being hip.
ROP: How does Jazz It Up Philly support the young artists who perform at their events?
CB: People want an experience when they go to a show. The most popular things you find people searching on late night searches YouTube is documentaries or behind-the-scenes videos. It’s not a monologue. The way we program–we call them productions because we don’t just book a band; we book an MC, Bud Scheerer of the Philly Pops, who’ll introduce someone who really hasn’t been on a stage that big or had that kind of attention before. Bud will give their entire backstory and, before you know it, they’re mingling with everyone like Paul Jost. It’s almost a mini-networking event for the industry that the audience gets to witness. All of a sudden, a younger person may get asked “Can you play my party? Where can I buy your CD? Where’s your website?”
One of our biggest goals was to provide everyone there with their own slot on the website so somebody could at least find a landing page for that artist. So every artist that performs one of our shows gets a bio and a link on our page. It was our intention to really promote and spotlight these artists whether it be a video or photography. We release about 250 photos from these events. Younger artists can see that it’s not going to be singing in the back of the room with nobody listening. When the shows start, everyone’s listening.
ROP: What was the vision Tony Kauffman and you had when you began working in Philly?
Tony Kauffman and [my] vision was to bring industry here. When we first started, we realized you need a front of the house and a back of the house, you need a lot of connections, you need a lot of capital, you need everyone working together. It’s not like working opening a retail store where you have to find supply and demand. It’s a little bit of politics, it’s a little bit of music, and whole lot of follow-through. Unfortunately, in the art world, they’re left with a bad taste in their mouth because of lack of follow-through. It’s not because people mean to not follow-through, they get lost and priorities change. That can be a little disheartening, but we still want to manage young talent and older, seasoned talent to work and see each other because they’ll be able to learn from each other to keep the industry in this city.
ROP: With the attention to detail, the variety the audience and the setting for these shows, it seems like you are able to instill a truly communal atmosphere
CB: Yeah, I’m glad you recognize that. I typically don’t do something that traditional. Tony and I sort of politely bulldoze our way in [laughs]. It was a lot of leg work to get one party to agree with the other. Being on the campus around the Kimmel Center, one that does a lot to further arts in the city, we work very closely with them to put on one of these shows. Just to get one thing on the books is two guys working a month and half, doing five meetings, all while working with the restaurant. The thing is we love it, we’re able to do because we absolutely love it. First things first, I’m a double drop-out [laughs]. That traditional route just wasn’t for me, so I had to figure out a way I could live in the art world and make it my living.
ROP: What are some of the ways you connect with these performers.
I think, for me, I knew I didn’t want to be a performer, but I think it’s very important that when I explain to artists that I was never hustling on the stage like these guys do just to make ends meet at the end of the day. And then, they have to find a record deal or pay for studio time to even get their stuff recorded, because when do they have time to do that themselves? This is exactly why Tony and I got together in the first place. We thought to ourselves “There’s got to be another way for these people.” We want to see them succeed and they want to be a part of what we’re doing. It’s important for artists to realize there is a dollars and cents to working as an artist. It’s partly entrepreneurial. It’s understanding there’s give and take. Sometimes that means you need to pull a lot of this resource that’s not music related and incorporate it into your music world. You may want to a day out of your week where you’re not around other musicians like go intern at a mutual fund. Something that’s totally out of left field because you’ll get learn something out if it. I’ve learned [that] the most important thing for a young artist is to be able to observe yourself through a mirror and say, if someone is critiquing your art or you’re not sure why you’re succeeding, it’s not appetizing for some people or I need to adjust myself here. An artist never wants to feel like they had to open a business for their art. The moment you open your mouth and record something on a CD, what is the purpose of that? To show other people! You can’t tell me you don’t want to successful whether that means being heard, to make a difference, or earn a living. It’s for your love but it’s also meant to be shared. Our job is help find a way to share that without damaging the integrity of their art. That’s one of the ways we connect with some of these artists.
Make sure to catch Jazz It Up Philly’s upcoming Valentine’s Day Special Event Cupid’s Arrow, hosted at The Union Trust on Feb. 14th from 5-8 pm.