Sheets of Sound: Interview with founder Leonardo Pavkovic
by Dr. Gary Gomes
Moonjune Records has released numerous albums since 2001. The music they record and release is intended to avoid pigeonholing, so they have an immense catalog of various types of music, including jazz, jazz-rock, music from around the world. The inspiration for the label was the need to record a project for ex-Soft Machine saxophonist Elton Dean.
The label has gained a solid reputation for putting out unique, high quality product, with excellent production values and stellar performances from a variety of musicians who would otherwise go unheard, although the label is also responsible for recordings of the late great guitarist Allan Holdsworth, legendary jazz rock band Soft Machine and the Stick Men, among many others.
I will let the man speak for himself; he has a lot to say.
PSF: What led you to found Moonjune records?
LP: I don't know why things are happening in life. Things are happening for an unknown reason, because I believe I am a natural improviser in life because the way I live my life, the way I survive, the way I had to grow up. It was always that survival instinct that led me to improvising life. I am a very optimistic and positive person. I like the unpredictable, the unknown, like whatever is known to everybody-I'm not saying it's boring, it probably is not-[but] it doesn't attract me. It came out of nowhere, a coincdence, a set of circumstances. It is a very long story, but you can shorten it.
I befriended (saxophonist) Elton Dean in the 1980's when I lived in Italy and then in 1999--I lived in New York City since 1990 and I had lost contact with Elton. When I was in London in 1988, I had lived with Elton-I didn't speak very good English in those days--and of course through time, you forget each other. This was before the internet and email, sometimes you could send a postcard. It was a different world years ago.
In 1999, that was the start of internet-well it had been around a few years--but I was a member of a couple of listserv groups, one for the Italian group PFM and one for Canterbury music, through which I met Aymeric Leroy, with whom I became very good friend. Someone had posted that there was a festival in Germany and a project or band called Soft Ware were playing and members of the band were Elton Dean, Hugh Hopper, John Marshall and Keith Tippett. I actually knew three of those people. I never met John Marshall. I knew Hugh Hopper because he was often coming to New York in 1993. I knew Keith Tippett because I met him at a couple of jazz festivals in southern Italy in a little small town near where I lived. And then of course I knew Elton. That was October and maybe a month later, because I was working in a graphic company with a Brazilian friend and we had a lot of clients in the music business and of his friends was a very well-known ehnomusicologist, Vern Achilles. Vern Achilles used to date Don Cherry; he was also married to a well-known sculptor. She also managed Roswell Rudd. In those days I also discovered Cuneiform Records because of the archival records of Soft Machine archives and of his dedication to British jazz of which I am a big fan; he also put one out for Roswell Rudd (I can't remember the name), but when Roswell Rudd came to our office for publicity shots, we were sitting in a coffee shop very close to Union Square and I said to Roswell, 'you just recorded and released an album on Cuneiform Records with Elton Dean, could you put me in touch with him?' and he gave me Elton's telephone number and email.
In those days in England they had an email system in which you could receive short text messages on your cell phone and Elton did not have a computer but he had this device. I sent the message around Christmas time and then I went with my wife and child for a small vacation in Florida around New Year's and when I came back on January 1 and when I went on my computer, the very first messages were from Elton Deam and he sai "Hello Mate, What' going on. Long time!" Then I called him the next day and we spoke for maybe one hour and he said, 'look, I have this project.' Elton was always going to be pushing--in a good way--because Elton was a free jazz player; he never compromised his life. And being a free jazz player, it wasn't easy, especially playing the kind of music he was playing...
PSF: Of course...
LP: ...and then I told him the story that I was doing graphics, but a lot of my customers are in the music business. I was friends with Jim Eigo, who is a very well-known jazz publicist and started a small label called Jazz Market, and then Elton said, 'well, maybe you can help me. I can talk with other guys and maybe you can help us do something in the U.S.?'
In those days, I did not have any booking contacts- I only had contacts because I was doing graphics for some music labels. And then he gave me telephone numbers of everybody. I called Hugh—'Do you remember me?' -because we were hanging out in New Yord with Daevid Allen and Giorgio Gomelsky. And then he said, 'yeah, I'm interested if the other guys are interested.' And then I spoke with John Marshall, and he said 'yeah, I am interested if the other guys are interested.'
And then I called Keith Tippettt. He remembered me. And he said, 'look I am only interested in doing occasional gigs. I am not interested in doing any project. They are all my friends. I am happy to do it from time to time, but having a band, not really.'
And I called Elton and he said, 'well, maybe we can find another guy, we have three members of Soft Machine.' And you know, he was pushing for his friend, Alex Maquire but you know (then) Alex Magure is not a very big name. In order to get excitement of the market we need another big name.
PSF: But Alex Maguire is very good.
LP: Of course, but the first thing that comes to your mind when you are thinking of Soft Machine is another keyboard player and Mike Ratledge stopped playing keyboard in 1977 and I know Mike and that's not his thing now, so we were looking for a keyboard player.
2000 was a very important year for me because I discovered a couple of progressive rock festivals in the U.S.A. And there is a certain kind of prog that had developed--Neo-Prog, like Dream Theater, wasn't really my thing. I was always interested in jazz, because I was in New York and you could see a lot of avant garde jazz, like John Zorn, Elliott Sharp, but I was also attracted to rock, like progressive rock. Somehow I thought progressive rock was over, then I heard about this festival and this group from Italy, Finasterre. The band called me and the band, the manager and record label said maybe you can help us in USA.
I knew the band and so I said 'sure'--and the manager told me he was coming to USA to attend NEARfest which was in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and I said I did not know this existed. When I went to purchase tickets it was sold out and he said 'maybe I can try to get you a ticket,' and I was searching online. Maybe one month before the festival, this guy who is the manager of the record label tells me he has an illness in the family and he needs to care for his mother, and he says 'why don't you take my ticket. I know you are trying to go.' So I took my family and they stayed in a nice hotel in Bethlehem. I only knew two bands. I knew Happy the Man and I knew Il Balletto di Bronzo. I did not know many people. I had no idea what to expect. I met Steve Feigenbau ftom Cuneiform and introduced myself. I was just a fan.
The first band did not impress me; but the second band blew my mind. There were elements of fusion, Return to Forever, Banco, Gentle Giant. This was PFM. They were coming to New York for about 3-4 days and I brought them around the city, and they were happy with their recording and so that was how we got together.
Then I got a phone call from Elton who offered me a recording of a duo recording with English guitar player Mark Hewins and asked if I could help him. And I tried to help him, but nodody wanted it. It was kind of ambient, free improvised jazz, but nobody was interested.
Then this manager from Finasterre, whose mother was ill, had a recording of the group at a festival in North Carolina. The festival had printed 500 copies to recoup costs and give some some money to the band. So I said, 'you know, I would like to reissue this, and maybe add some cuts from PFM and maybe start a little label, through Jazz Market and maybe distribute it from San Francisco.'
So now I decided to start a label with three live recordings- Elton Dean with Mark Ewings, Finasterre-Story Book and PFM from NEARfest. And that's how I started.
Leonardo with Markus Reuter of Stick Men in Rio
Meanwhile, I decide that Moonjune should not be a part of Jazz Market, that I should own it and distribute it on my own. I had started Moonjune.com in 1997; the internet was not like it is today and people were doing webpages on their favorite topics, so I decided to do a web page for my favorite band, Soft Machine. When I started the label, I wanted to call it NOANOA music; I am a big fan of painter Paul Gaugin and I had a big collection of books on the South Pacific. I had a lot of interest in Polynesian and Melanesian culture, especially Polynesian. And Paul Gaugin had written a short book of memories on small Pacific island, called NoaNoa, a memoir of his life, and since I am a huge fan of Paul Gaugin, I (decided that I) will call the label NoaNoa. Then I thought, 'it is a good name for a company, but not a label,' because if people know Soft Machine, they will know what Moon June means. I have a very heavy accent, and that can distort certain words, but if you say Moon June that can be understood in many different languages. It is very easy and musical.
In June 2001, I released the albums and I went to sell my three recordings at NEARFest. I set up a table with three CD's, mainly to help out two Italian bands and my old friend Elton Dean. Elton told me several times that he needed money and I was able to send him a bit of money.
Back in 2000, when Elton and I spoke, he told me he was going to be in New York for the first time since 1971 when Soft Machine was opening for Miles Davis at the Beacon Theater. He had been to the U.S. several times but ths was his first time in New York since 1971. He was playing with (drummer/synthesist) Joe Gallivan and the group had Evan Parker (soprano and tenor saxophones), Hawaiian Singers, Hawaiian dancers and drummers, and a Mini-Moog (Joe Gallivan had an Hawaiian wife and used to live in Hawaii). Elton had a hotel room paid for two days. I said 'why don't you stay for a few more days; you can stay with a friend of mine and stay for about four more days.' It was on the same block.
I saw the band and Elton and I spoke. Elton started talking about Soft Machine and he was saying maybe at his age-he was not old, but he was approaching 60- he needed something more stable. He said it would be easier to book Soft Machine and get gigs. This was when his dream about Soft Machne started. And I said to Elton, 'well I am interested too, Soft Machine is one of my favorite bands.' And later on that year, I found out about other festivals, like the one that is held in California called Prog Fest. I went to that festival in September and there is another one held in North Carolina, called Prog Day, that I went to in October.
There is a very big correlation between these festivals that's very important. They are all interconnected. Going back to 1999, when I first connected and found out about the German festival and Software, I was buying CD's--obscure, psychedelic, progressive CDs from a mail order company called BPF Videomatic. I was buying from time to time, maybe three times a year, 10-15 CD's that they were sending me. And then there was this guy at BPF and he and I were sort of friends and he and liked the same kind of things. I have always been interested in different music from all over the world- Africa, Asia, South America, all countries. And Mellow records has released a sampler of Indonesian progressive music. So this fellow told me 'I know you like Mahavishnu, Yes, Gamelan. This group combines all of this and has some of Yes's symphonic element in it.' I asked him what the name of the band was and he said 'Discus.' So I told him to put it in my order out of curiosity and he did it.
When I listened to it, I was blown away. So there were two email addresses on the packaging and I sent two emails-one to the guitar players and one to the record label owner--and heard back within a day. I had always wanted to communicate with Indonesian people, and over a few months, we exchanges ideas- what kind of music we like and we like the same kind of music.
A few months later, after the emails ended for a while, I heard from the guitarist that Discus has been invited to two small festivals- Prog Day and one in San Francisco, run by Peter Teller. Teller is married to an Indonesian woman and loves Indonesian music.
So I hear from the guitarist and he asks if I can arrange a gig for them in New York to give them some credibility with the Indonesian Consulate. They didn't need money, but they needed some recognition. So I said I could arrange for a small room for them, around 60-70 people. So they said that was fine.
So I arranged to go to Prog Fest in Los Angeles, which was very important for me. Then I flew to North Carolina to Prog Day, which is held in a park, and I saw Discus play and I met them and we talked, then we headed to New York.
The band played on Prog Day on Sunday and on Tuesday, they played in New York. Only about ten people showed for the gig, but you know how that is. So they stayed in New York for about 7 days and had a nice vacation.
One of the members of the entourage, the guitarist's son and I started talking and he was mentioning Jan Garbarek, Bobo Stenson, psychedelic and fusion, ECM, all the people I like-- it is easy to find people who know about Pat Metheny on ECM, but with John Taylor and Bobo Stenson, you know that person is really into the music. He had a group and its name was Simak Dialog. He gave me his CD and it didn't sound that special, but he explained that that CD did not reflect them and this was the record company's idea.
End of Part 1
Also see the Moonjune website
Leonardo with Mike Ratledge of Soft Machine
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