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Dave Love, President of Heads Up

Dave Love Dave Love
Just in time to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the end of Apartheid in South Africa, Dave Love speaks for the many creative musicians still in that part of the world who as yet, don’t have a voice on the world stage. A remarkable producer, founder and president of Heads Up Records, Dave Love also has a vision: bringing the world together through wonderful music and fantastic artists.

Love’s timing is impeccable with his January 2004 release: Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s Raise Your Spirits Higher. Ladysmith is the name of Shabalala’s rural hometown; Black is a reference to oxen, the strongest of all farm animals and Mambazo is the Zulu word for axe-a symbol of the group’s ability to chop down any singing rival who challenges them. The group has a gospel sounding edge with tight harmonies and an uplifting message of world love. They have recorded with world- known artists including Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton, George Clinton and The Wynans.

As if this magnificent work isn’t enough to add to the tremendous Heads Up Africa series, Love is releasing Africa Straight Ahead in February 2004. Fusing the hottest jazz talents of Africa with all-star American artists such as Andy Narell and Darius Brubeck, Love brings the best of both continents together with a smooth, straight-ahead jazz style-with an African slant.

JazzReview: Hello, Dave. I’m pleased to be able to speak to you and I’m very excited about this series. Let’s begin with the series most recent release.

Dave Love: Ok. I have two records in the series - one just released, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and one to be released in February, Africa Straight Ahead on the 24th of February.

JazzReview: Let’s talk about the one that just came out.

Dave Love: We released the Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s Raise Your Spirits Higher and the Africa Straight Ahead series in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of the demise of Apartheid.

Since the mid-90s, I have been frequenting the country of South Africa. I had a recording artist, Joe McBride, who was invited to perform at the very first Jazzathon Festival in Cape Town. He was the first American jazz musician to be invited to this festival. Arriving in Cape Town and performing, we realized Joe had a fan base really, since 1992. He had a song he recorded called Sunny that turned out to be a big hit. Again, we had no idea how big a hit Joe was there. So as we put this together, the DJs and folks, Joe being sightless, I was able to go with him. I was totally mesmerized with the fan base Joe had when he arrived. I was also mesmerized by the amount of people who knew about the Heads Up music.

JazzReview: Really?

Dave Love: Yes, and subsequently later on that year, I brought Andy Narell and did the Jazz on the Lake series, which is part of the Arts Alive series in Johannesburg. Andy performed for 70,000 people. When we arrived at the airport, again to our surprise, there were probably 40 people waiting, dressed in Andy Narell T-shirts and hats. We quickly learned that this audience had an organization called the Andy Narell Fan Club. They had a charter and had rules and regulations for being in the club - and they met once a month to discuss Andy’s music.

JazzReview: Fantastic. So he had his own fan club set up when he got there.

Dave Love: It had been set up there for years. Between the two of them, Joe in Cape Town and Andy in Johannesburg, I realized that we were onto something. With the end of Apartheid, these people were very, very hungry to have American music in their country.

When I was there, I was blessed being able to listen to all these wonderful musicians in Johannesburg and Cape Town. And very quickly I thought there’s a lot of untapped talent here that deserve to have worldwide recognition. They deserve to be brought to the worldwide stage, and I’m in a position to help that. The next question was, "How do I go about doing that"? There were so many of them.

When Joe and Andy went down there the first time, the promoters didn’t have the funds to bring their own musicians, so they were asked to perform with these South African musicians. What a great experience it was for those artists to perform a cross-cultural collaboration. The different sounds that were coming from the bandstands were really, really special. At that moment, I knew I was onto something. From a business standpoint and the idea of commerce, I thought this is really a new country. We are an international company and we need to be involved. But from a musical and cultural standpoint, it was overwhelming.

This April will be my 11th trip to the country.

JazzReview: Oh, my goodness!

Dave Love: Throughout the years, I have been very fortunate to bring several artists who record for my label to South Africa Spyro Gyra, Yellowjackets, Marion Meadows, and Pieces of a Dream. In April, we will be bringing Hiroshima.

JazzReview: Do you find these musicians sort of slide in and fit easily, or is it an effort to blend?

Dave Love: I think it is a very easy connection because these are very talented musicians.

JazzReview: On both sides.

Dave Love: Yes, yes. They have been studying American jazz and contemporary jazz music, and they have an idea of what we do here. With what they do - their indigenous music - the melding of the two is really incredible.

In my quest to help some of the people down there, I recorded a project called Smooth Africa. This was a culmination of a lot of the most talented musicians from this area. I spent a month in the studios of Johannesburg and Cape Town and was able to put different artists together in recording sessions, where they never had that opportunity in the past. There might be a wonderful artist who plays saxophone in Johannesburg and a tremendous guitarist in Cape Town who knew each other, but hadn’t had the opportunity to play together. I wanted to capture something new and fresh, not only for the world scene, but also for the South African scene.

JazzReview: I see.

Dave Love: I was able to put these artists together in an environment that was magical for them. And again, I was able to introduce some of our wonderful Heads Up’ artists to them, such as Joe and Andy.

In the idea of marketing this talent to the world, I felt it was necessary to get some sort of artist or artists with name recognition that people would associate with, and combine it with South Africa. So, I was able to enlist help from Hugh Masekela and Jonathan Butler. Absolutely, the record was very much an international success.

This obviously inspired me to continue with this series. The next project was the Andy Narell, Live In South Africa, a two-disc set, which we recorded in Johannesburg after he was invited back to do a 17-city tour with South African musicians.

JazzReview: Andy Narell plays steel pan. A lot of people have never heard that term. Can you describe steel pan?

Dave Love: Sure. Steel pan is really an instrument that was invented in the fifties in Trinidad. Originally these were made out of drums like oil drums and like, car rims. Andy’s father was a social worker in Trinidad when the evolution of these instruments came about. When he would go home to Brooklyn to visit his family, he would bring these drums home to his sons. That’s how Andy became involved with the steel pan. Of course, Andy’s taken it to a completely different level.

He’s very popular there [Africa] and throughout the world. He’s a big proponent of the steel pan, and the country as well. It was kind of a surprise to have his music so well received in South Africa he has such a big following.

JazzReview: I can tell each of the CDs in the series has its own particular flavor; each has a personality of its own.

Dave Love: Yes, well after we released Smooth Africa II last year, which is much more vocal, I really thought it was time to start documenting the straight ahead jazz artists. That led us to our February release, Africa Straight Ahead. We’ve taken the crème de’ la crème of jazz artists from the country and recorded them to release this album.

JazzReview: I was surprised. It is an outstanding straight ahead jazz sound with an African slant. All musicians are great, each group is tight nothing missing.

Dave Love: Well, thank you. It was quite an accomplishment and, you know, I think to aid some of the lesser-known musicians, I needed the names of some more recognizable artists. That’s why we brought in Ladysmith Black Mambazo - the biggest known name in the world from South Africa.

Being the year of the tenth anniversary of release from Apartheid, the release of Raise Your Spirits Higher, is certainly inspirational. It fits in with the mood and vibe of what we’re trying to accomplish here. It certainly deserves the recognition of the international community.

JazzReview: Absolutely.

Dave Love: Later on in the spring, we’re bringing in a Miriam Makeba album called Reflections, where she does some of her material from the 60s and 70s.

JazzReview: Wow, that’s exciting. You are a tremendous marketer. You know your markets and you know your sounds. You know which artists to put together to create success. You went to college in Texas and established your Heads Up group there. Can you tell our readers about that?

Dave Love: Well, I attended North Texas State. I left New Jersey in 1980 and I moved to Texas to go to school. While I was there, many opportunities presented themselves.

I was blessed to win a couple of scholarships, the Dallas Jazz Scholarship, which gave me a platform to perform. And, of course, I needed to put together a group and needed a name for this group. So I came up with the name Heads Up, basically to say "heads up--to be aware of what’s around you." Like you would say, "Hey, heads up!" That’s really where the name came from.

While I was in school there, a lot of opportunities presented themselves. My group would open up for other artists, a lot of big name artists like McCoy Tyner, Phil Woods and then we had a situation where Donald Byrd had come to the school to become an artist in residence. At the time I was doing a lot of arranging, and I was a copyist and a trumpet player. Donald took me under his wing and mentored me. That relationship lasted for several years.

Touring with him and my own group, Heads Up, I also put out a record and was able to travel all over the world. We played in fifty-two foreign cities and nine countries. We weren’t even out of college yet.

JazzReview: That’s pretty heady stuff.

Dave Love: It was pretty heady stuff. Donald had gotten his masters and fortunately, Dean Myers, head of the music school at that time, recognized [that] this could be an opportunity of a lifetime for my band and I. It was hands-on training with an artist who has been very much involved in education throughout his career-one who had been involved with Blackbyrds from Howard University and the 125th Street Band out of North Carolina Central. And there was something there, from an educational outlook, that Dean Myers felt I should be a part of.

JazzReview: Absolutely.

Dave Love: Doing all this things at an early age and having to organize, I was forced to get a good business head on my shoulders. I attribute a lot to my mom. My mom was a very good businesswoman. She was in the travel business for many years. She’s very wise and I think a lot of her attributes rubbed off on me. In retrospect I think being at such a young age and being responsible for other people, you just have to step up to the plate, you know.

JazzReview: Being from New Jersey, you have a very diverse culture up there. You learn to appreciate several different types of people-and they become integrated into your lifestyle. You pick up a little bit of everything.

Dave Love: Absolutely. I’m in love with Africa. My wife is from Mexico. My children are bi-lingual. Most of the artists on my label are African-American.

JazzReview: Yes, I think that’s great. You’ve risen to another level. A level that many people never achieve.

Dave Love: It’s been a lot of work and a lot of blessings.

JazzReview: That was another thing; you have really learned to stretch yourself. Just going from New Jersey to Texas was like a trip across the world.

Dave Love: Yes, I told my mom, "I’ve gotta get a pair of cowboy boots." [chuckle] The students were saying, "But, it’s 110 [degrees], take those silly things off!"

We were in Texas for ten years. I met my wife there. Then an opportunity presented itself. I’d done a recording with Dave Liebman and sold the record to an up-start company based in Seattle. At the time, I owned a recording studio in between Denton, Dallas and Ft. Worth. These people (in Seattle) knew they were not only getting a recording artist, they were getting someone who had some business sense. They offered me the possibility of moving to Seattle. So I took my experience as a musician, bandleader, recording studio owner and a booking agent, and I felt this would encompass all these things. I was really going to take advantage of this opportunity, and that’s what brought me to Seattle. We were there ten years, as well.

I moved here to Cleveland because of the synergy with Telarc, and I’ve been here since 2000.

JazzReview: So that’s what took you to Cleveland?

Dave Love: Right. At the time, Telarc was distributing Heads Up domestically. There were just a lot of wonderful things that occurred over a part of the 90s. They said, "Hey, if you were here in Cleveland, you could help us and we could help you." And that’s how it really came about.

Coming to Cleveland and working with these fine folks, I was able to go out and really seek out the artists I admired, those who inspired me and got them to come record for me. I’ve been blessed to have the Yellowjackets, Spyro Gyra and Hiroshima, and all these wonderful artists who have recorded for me put their faith in me to go out there and take their career to a different level.

JazzReview: I notice you have a special talent of knowing what is good and what works. You have a tremendous roster, including Philip Bailey of Earth Wind and Fire fame, plus Marion Meadows-folks known worldwide

Dave Love: Philip is a wonderful human being.

JazzReview: Yes, these artists are great and would be known by their names no matter where they went.

Dave Love: Yes, and Sypro Gyra and the Yellowjackets, too. They’re household names.

Again, to be able to help the lesser-known people, you need the bigger people to help carry that. Whether it’s the Heads Up Africa series or the label in general, I try to keep the roster small. I try to buckle down and work with these artists, and help them get the recognition they deserve-the recognition that for many years, they didn’t get, you know

JazzReview: It’s nice to be in a place to be a voice for others whose voices aren’t heard yet.

Dave Love: We always need to try and make new stars.

JazzReview: Absolutely. If you have a mentor and are able to get past the hurdles, it’s nice to be able to reach back in and bring others with you.

Dave Love: Absolutely. I just feel this is cyclical in life. I mean so many people helped me whether it was Donald, or Dave Liebman, or these people. Who am I to not get out there and try to help others? I’ve got to do the same ‘cause so many people helped me to get where I am today. I have an obligation to not only work for the established artists, but to bring new artists into the fold.

JazzReview: How do you manage to keep them with you? How do you manage to keep them on top-keep them out there?

Dave Love: Through a lot of hard work. I also have a great staff that believes in these artists. We get up every morning and look in the mirror and say, "Ok. It’s really about promoting these artists." We can’t lose site of what we’re doing. And what we’re doing is: capturing art. This is someone’s work. It will be part of music history and we have to remember we are a part of that.

JazzReview: You are an amazing individual. Let me ask you how did your family feel when you moved to Cleveland?

Dave Love: [Chuckling] To be very candid with you, my wife felt it was a couple hours closer to get to Mexico from Cleveland than from Seattle, so she was fine with it. But on days like today, with the weather as it is (5 degrees) she wishes she were back in Texas.

JazzReview: What are your future goals?

Dave Love: I want to work hard for these artists. I don’t want to expand too quickly. I don’t want to get too big. I’m a very artist-driven executive. I want every one on my roster to be a priority. I want to concentrate on the artists I have. I’m looking at a couple other artists now. If they join our ranks, fine. If not we’ll stay the way we are now.

JazzReview: About your trumpet playing, are you playing now?

Dave Love: To be honest, it’s about the muscle, the embouchure. You have to do it all the time or give it up. I write and produce two or three albums a year, but I’m very involved in what is produced. I don’t want mass production where I just slap a label on it just to sell a lot of records. I do play piano, but the trumpet I pretty much have laid it down.

JazzReview: I understand the muscle thing. What do you project about the future of jazz?

Dave Love: Well, It’s a cyclical business. In the last ten years, people’s entertainment forms have broadened and diversified. In the early eighties, everyone was asked to put their records away and get a CD. Now, we have Mp3, we’ve got DVD a lot of different things we can do to entertain ourselves. So I think music, in general, has suffered due to all these other avenues to spend money. The price of CDs has been pretty much the same all these years, but the price of baseball tickets have gone up. Things like VHS going to DVD have happened All these wonderful companies have developed these games for your television people are constantly updating themselves, so that costs money.

I think people say, "Hey I want to have a new computer," or "there’s a new computer game I want." I think that money, where before it was going to concert and live entertainment, now they’ve got a lot of choices. I think that’s why the industry, as a whole, could be hurting. But, the key is great music. I think if we make great music, people will want to buy it. I think there are a lot of the younger groups including samples of the older groups into their music. That obviously has some help in exposing the younger listener to what we know as jazz.

JazzReview: Well, you have been great to talk with. Is there anything I didn’t bring up that you would like to talk about?

Dave Love: No I think that’s everything. The thing is, it is the artists who really need to talk. But in this case, they all live in South Africa, so I have no problem with trying to be their voice at this particular time.

JazzReview: Thank you so much and good luck with your marvelous series.

Dave Love: Yes, thank you.

With such warmth, sincerity and commitment to his crew, Dave Love definitely has a formula for lasting success-and it shows.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Dave Love
  • Interview Date: 2/1/2004
  • Subtitle: Jazz Africa Series
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