Eureka! A Wired World Leads Ears to New Music Discoveries

Appeared in the February 2008 edition of DownBeat, an internationally circulated jazz magazine.

In the non-wired world of yore, the search for new music to suit personal tastes was largely a hit-or-miss endeavor. The stock at the local record shop, the whims of the disc jockey, the wisdom of friends and the sheer coincidence of random chance directed what people sought out and listened to.

The modern digital devotee, however, has a more finely tuned, custom-tailored process. Endless stockpiles of downloadable music, Internet radio stations that play only what you like, online friends who share your musical tastes and ways to try before you buy have streamlined the music discovery process. Traditional discovery methods haven’t gone away—radio and TV (and magazines, of course) continue to play tastemaking roles. However, by using online tools that emphasize community and compatibility, listeners are honing in on the music they like best and artists are finding fresh new audiences for their work.

“Discovering a new piece of music I like is one of the sublime things in life,” said Tim Westergren, founder and chief strategy officer of Pandora Media. Westergren’s love for discovery—and his desire to help musicians promote themselves—led him to create Internet radio platform Pandora, one of several online services that use a computer algorithm to recommend music.

Drawing on a detailed taxonomy of songs known as the Music Genome Project, Pandora creates streams of music it thinks you will like based on the musical qualities of artists or songs you indicate to the computer you’re fond of. Plug in Ben Webster, it streams Coleman Hawkins and Don Byas; plug in Miles Davis’ “So What,” it gives you Herbie Hancock’s “Dolphin Dance.”

Pandora’s algorithmic approach to recommendation stands in contrast to software programs like, which produce streams of recommended music based on the tastes of others with similar listening habits. Drawing on data from a network of users to make recommendations—a process called collaborative filtering—hinges on the notion that if two people like Cassandra Wilson and one of the people also likes Wynton Marsalis, the other person might like Marsalis too, even if he isn’t all that musically similar to Wilson.

On, sometimes the discoveries come more directly from other users—you can browse your friends’ listening histories (a sort of musical voyeurism), send messages to other users, join fan groups and recommend songs. It offers word of mouth for the digital age, often among strangers who happen to share a common love for a specific artist.

Web sites devoted to jazz bring together fans from around the world who share an appreciation for the music. Bulletin board forums on web sites such as and Jazzcorner’s Speakeasy ( feature thousands of users trading ideas, arguments, recommendations and reviews on a wide range of topics.

Also, music tools allow friends who use social networks like MySpace and Facebook to expand their musical horizons. As these networks have embraced widgets—special applications that can live on existing web pages, such as MySpace profiles—more users are finding out about new music from friends online in territory traditionally associated with other types of socializing.

In May, a music discovery network called iLike created a Facebook application that allows users to post streaming clips of favorite songs, “dedicate” songs to friends and receive news about their
favorite artists, all within Facebook’s virtual walled garden. The service now has more than 15 million users.

“Part of our premise is to bring music to places that don’t already have music,” said Ali Partovi, founder and CEO of iLike, who said iLike widgets will also appear on, and a host of other sites.

From some record labels’ perspectives, if Internet users like discussing music and socializing on web networks, why not provide a home—on the labels’ own web sites—for them to interact and discover new jazz? That’s what Blue Note Records and Verve Music Group had in mind when they recently redesigned their sites. “The major initiative is to get the site beyond a destination for visitors to get information about just our artists or our upcoming releases,” said Matt Fitz-Henry, who heads up digital and strategic marketing at Verve. “It’s more of a destination, a community, rather than just a product presentation.”

On, users can create personalized pages and blogs, post images and playlists, and even send instant messages to other site members who are online. Plus, Verve will provide incentives for the visitors to become members of the site’s community, such as members-only Verve Vault titles as digital downloads. offers similar features and also includes full-song streaming previews. The name of the game is engagement. By letting users interact with and guide each other, labels are beginning to facilitate the discussion and discovery process, all in a jazz-focused environment.

“Maybe the level of participation is writing a review of a record that they liked,” said Jeff Zakim, senior director of e-commerce and Internet marketing at Blue Note. “Or maybe they want to build their own radio station of their favorite music, which is bebop, and then share it back with the audience. Maybe it’s someone who’s a jazz expert who wants to write a review, post blogs and comment. We want that person to feel comfortable and do those things as well.”

Of course, the sites also allow record labels to better manage and nurture relationships with fans. But what about artists on smaller labels—once listeners have discovered their music on discovery services like, how can they easily reach out to their fans?

Since 2003, MySpace profiles have enabled bands to become online “friends” with fans, allowing them to send messages with news and other information. iLike has come up with another novel idea: the news feed. After users tell iLike who they like—which they can do directly or by downloading an application that analyzes listening habits on their computers—the service dishes them a customized feed of event listings, news and other information from those artists. If you listen to a lot of Hancock on your computer, for example, your feed might contain a video of the pianist in his practice room.

Though it’s up to the artists to post the information onto iLike’s syndicated channel, it gives them a new way to connect with fans without requiring them to actively seek out relationships. “We’re essentially turning over the keys of the castle to the artists,” Partovi said.

The ultimate test is whether services like iLike can turn new discoveries into album sales. Initial data look good: More than 40 percent of Pandora’s 9 million users said they’ve bought more music since they started using the service. According to a survey released last January by the Digital Media Association, nearly seven in 10 users of online music services are enjoying new genres of music.

“I remember having a 75-year-old guy tell me ‘I never used to listen to new music—I like Benny Goodman, Fats Waller and all these folks,” said Pandora’s Westergren. “Now with Pandora he's finding and discovering new music, and he's enjoying it. This is a transformation for him.”

Adonis Rose: Texas Catalyst

Appeared in the November 2007 edition of DownBeat, an internationally circulated jazz magazine.

If you're not sure where Adonis Rose is from after listening to his drumming, you'll know it once he opens his mouth.

Rose speaks with a classic New Orleans accent, morphing words like "there" into "theyuh," and "orchestra" into "auchestra." In the same way he drops fat Big Easy bombs into his crisp, clean drumming, he speaks with a cadence that leaves little doubt about his New Orleans roots.

His accent might be why he sticks out in Fort Worth, Texas, where he moved after Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent floods ravished his hometown. Here's another explanation: in a city known for its honky tonks, Rose is building a jazz institution.

Last year, Rose launched the Fort Worth Jazz Orchestra (FWJO). Having recruited some of Texas' top young players, he hopes the presence of the big band will help build up the city's fledgling jazz scene, which at one time included thriving territory bands and such luminaries as Dewey Redman and Ornette Coleman. Jazz musicians have migrated away from the city or opted for higher-paying church gigs over the years. In 2001, the city's flagship club, Caravan of Dreams, closed, leaving jazz audiences deprived.

"There's a good corps of jazz fans in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, and I'm trying to reach out to those people," Rose said.

The drummer came to Fort Worth from his home in New Orleans a few days before Katrina hit. He didn't think he'd stay long.

"I thought Fort Worth was just a place where you have a bunch of cowboys and people riding horses down the street," Rose said. Upon arriving, he was surprised with the city's cultural offerings, and when he found his New Orleans house destroyed by the storm, he decided to make the move permanent.

The jazz scene was a far cry from what the 32-year-old drummer had grown used to in New Orleans, but he saw potential. "The vibe down there was happening," Rose said. "There were people playing music, just not any jazz. I saw an opening."

Rose also saw an opportunity to break out of his sideman role, which had included stints with trumpeters Terence Blanchard and Nicholas Payton, as well as a tour with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in 1994 while on hiatus from Berklee College of Music in Boston. "The nature of the business is to look at other instrumentalists as bandleaders and not drummers," he said. "I'm trying to break that cycle."

Starting a big band in a new city is no easy task for any musician. Rather than go it alone, Rose registered the FWJO as a non-profit, opening the door for corporate and community support. He also established an educational outreach component. The band now has a monthly gig at the city's 2,056-seat Bass Performance Hall.

"I wanted to start an institution, something that could last 50 years," Rose said, adding that the non-profit model was something he picked up from Wynton Marsalis. "Wynton put all those things into focus, and talked to important people who musicians wouldn't normally think to talk to. Working with Wynton and Lincoln Center has helped me to be a leader."

Rose had performed and recorded as a leader before. He cut two records in the late '90s heading up Payton's working band, and earlier this year he released On The Verge (Criss Cross). In directing the projects, Rose developed a hands-off leadership style that facilitated the albums' sense of swinging spontaneity. The strategy bore fruit on the latest release, especially in the group's take on Jimmy Heath's "Gingerbread Boy," on which the rhythm section seems to change tempos at will.

Rose also recently released an album of New Orleans jazz with the N.O. Vaders, the official moniker for the group of New Orleans natives he gathered for the session. The disc, Untouchable, also serves as the debut release for his homespun House of Swing Records, which he sees as a vehicle for greater artistic and financial control over his work. He hopes to use the label to release an album with the FWJO in the near future.

By forging ahead with his label and big band in Fort Worth, Rose is straddling his past and future musical personae. Though he was by no means stagnant in New Orleans, Rose admits that the jolt of losing his home during Katrina motivated him to chart a new course.

"If there's anything in life that I've ever wanted to do, I'm doing it now," he said.

Rose insists that New Orleans will always be home, but he's excited about sprinkling some Crescent City seasoning on Fort Worth's music scene, not to mention gleaning what he can from his surroundings.

"I want to be part of the culture," he said. "Maybe even part of the cowboys. Roy Haynes wore a hat. And boots. We'll see if my wife likes it."