Last December trumpeter Dave Douglas had a rather audacious idea, one that with time might catch on with more and more musicians. Booked for a five-night run with his quintet at New York’s Jazz Standard, Douglas decided that he and Mike Friedman, his partner in the Chicago-based Greenleaf Music, should record the entire stand and make all ten sets of music (two each evening) available as downloads. Douglas had a bunch of new tunes he was itching to get down on tape (or any format, really), but his group had just released an excellent studio album, Meaning and Mystery, earlier in the year. So he took advantage of the club’s vintage mike collection to record each set onto a hard disk, and after a quick mastering job, posted each of them to the Greenleaf site less than a day later. They sell for seven bucks apiece, or $70 for the full package. (Individual tracks are ninety-nine cents.)
Ten sets of the Dave Douglas Quintet may be too much for most people, but for fans it’s a feast. The full band, rounded out by Uri Caine (electric piano), Donny McCaslin (saxophones), Clarence Penn (drums), and James Genus (bass), is at a real peak. The performances consistently burn, and not only are there a slew of new songs, but multiple versions of them, which gives listeners the chance to hear new perspectives every time. Douglas and Friedman are never gonna sell enough to knock Justin Timberlake off the charts, but Friedman says the series has been the label’s most profitable offering, percentage-wise, to date. “More importantly for a small jazz label such as ours,” he says, “it’s the fastest Greenleaf title, by a wide margin, to turn a profit.” Indeed, small indies are usually forced to tie up a large amount of capital in production costs and marketing, which means it can take six months or more to see any return on the investment. Friedman and Douglas broke even within a month. Obviously, a scheme like this might not yield results for a no-name musician, but for anyone with even a modest following, it could prove to be a viable strategy.