AVR #03 – (Hosted by Jake Stellarwell) feat JAZ (John Zahl)

For Episode 3, I’ve invited the one and only JAZ, Episcopalian Minister and odd-ball synth pop edit maestro.

John offers a unique perspective on underground club culture & dance music, plus, he’s a sharp selector. Over the years he’s built a strong reputation for delivering superb edits and tantalizing mixes, his offering for AVR is no different.

Jake: I learned the JAZ name from a series of exquisite, oddball-synth disco-not-disco-ish edits via the Claremont sub-label, Sixty Five. Prior to that, I can’t say I know much more regarding your beginnings. What was your entry point to DJing and underground dance music?

@JazMillion: Though I was always into music and had a radio show in college, I didn’t start collecting records until 2003. I was living in Oxford at the time, and when I could, I would head to London to go to Plastic People. I also went to hear Mancuso and Gerry Rooney and DJ Alex and some other greats. I also got connected to some serious heads online, thanks in large part to the now long-gone DJHistory forum (RIP). There was this thread about making a little edit label that emerged, and a bunch of us each submitted a track and then voted on our favorite four. They all unanimously chose my wrongspeeder edit of Sylvia Love’s “ExtraTerrestrial Lover” as top pick in the group (see: Beard Science EP1). That set me off on making tons of edits. Around the time that EP came out, I had moved to Pittsburgh, where I spent most days digging at Jerry’s during daylight and ripping and making edits all night. Then I would mix them all together laboriously, and that’s how most of my first mixes were born. It was about that time that Paul “Mudd” Murphy got in touch, and all those 65 edits came out. I was basically a mix-maker and editor before I started playing out for dancers, which I think freed me to go down my own odd-ball rabbit hole. I’m still down there somewhere most of the time.

You’ve blessed the Internet with a steady stream of well-received mixes over the years. Thanks for that. I’ve noticed how well you interact with the listeners, and how you happily provide track IDs. What’s your take on the ongoing track ID debate? And, what about your thoughts on reissues?

@JazMillion: I remember hearing Hunee say that his records are what he paints with. I like that idea, and think of mixes as my musical paintings, and most of them still hold up to my ears. Re: IDs, yeah, I believe in sharing IDs of tracks. I don’t post track-lists usually, but am always happy to tell someone the name of a track that they’ve taken the time to ask about. It’s a positive approach and I like the way music can bring people together, not just on the floor, but even online. The alternative posture of trying to keep them all a secret is not appealing to me. Sadly, I’ve seen many extremely like-minded collectors fall out over those kinds of disputes. I have this theory that the more amazing tracks I identify for people, the more new tracks I will discover (Matt 13:12). So far that’s proven to be the case. On re-issues, I don’t get why cheap and easy-to-come-by records ever get reissued. But when an expensive record I’ve been wanting for years gets a re-issue, …I buy quick and without qualms. 😛 haha!… and move on to the next elusive piece of wax.

As an Episcopal Minister, your daytime career could be thought of as incongruent with what you do creatively. That is, you don’t lead the lifestyle of most creatives in the ‘undergound’ music community, especially so in the underground ‘dance music’ community. I know you have an interesting take on this, can you give an overview of your thoughts on dance music and spirituality/religious belief, and on how what you do in the world of religion can carry over to your approach to DJing and record digging?

@JazMillion: Have you got all day? Basically, I don’t buy into the secular/religious dichotomy that some (lame) Christians seem to be hung up on. When I see love portrayed in a movie or TV show, I don’t wonder whether or not the writer is a believer or whatever. When I sense the presence of love, I know God is near, and so I find the Holy Spirit to be at work all over the place. And that’s especially true on a dance floor; when people are trying to shake off the shackles of a tough week/life, to connect with something bigger than them. In some ways, my life looks totally different than the dance music world, but in other ways, it’s pretty normal. I still go to clubs to hear my favorite DJs play. I still get records in the mail multiple times a week. I still watch too much Netflix. Also, ministry is actually a really creative enterprise (tell your friends!). I’m constantly crafting sermons, to counsel people in moments of difficulty, and to bring comfort and inspiration to people on a daily basis. That’s more of an art than a formula. Most bartenders would, in fact, probably be really good at my job. If I were not a creative person, I would be a terrible priest. But I’m glad the Episcopal Church boasts a ‘broad tent’. I would not last five minutes in an overly rigid denomination. Neither would Jesus, btw.

Previously, you were based in South Carolina for many years. How was the music scene in SC? We’re you DJing there, and what was that like, if so?

@JazMillion: So when I moved back to Charleston in 2007, there was no dance music scene at all. Just Dave Matthew’s and Blue Grass type off shoot (#gagmewithaspoon). But that was great. It was so different than being into hip music in Brooklyn, for example. It was me on my own tip, in my own world for years. Then I met Tay “Party Dad” McNabb, who remains one of the most inspired and best DJ’s I’ve ever come across anywhere. He was hungry, and the two of us set out to change the music scene in Charleston singlehandedly. We started a monthly party about 10 years ago called Off/Beat. The premise was that we would play music that had never been played in SC. At first, we were basically heralded as the two most disappointing DJs in the city. We didn’t take requests and wouldn’t play anything recognizable. 5-6 years later, we had developed a following. By then, people were coming out to hear our selections, and to leave planet Charleston for a few hours. The dancing on some nights and the vibes were insane. Then we started bringing in guests from far afield, and people would go nuts for them, people like Sanky (Eccentric Edits), Dirty Dave & Daddy Differently (Things of Life, Dublab), Kurt Jackson (Rotating Souls), Ryan Todd (Universal Cave), Drew Heffron (Let’s Play House) … By the end of the decade, there were basically cool musical selections to be found in multiple venues almost every night, and our night had run its course (‘Our work here is done.’). But they were many of the best nights I’ve ever had.

Now you’re living in New York, recent move I think. What’s the move to NY been like, and has it been helpful creatively? Are you playing there yet?

John: Yeah, we moved back up North 6 months ago. I landed a dream job at an amazing church (founded by John Jay) in Bedford, NY, about an hour outside of the City. It feels really remote, like being in the middle of the woods, which is a big change, but I like not being immersed in a scene. It helps me to keep honing my own musical aesthetic. I’ve been working a ton at the church. Funnily enough, apart from Halloween on The Lot w/ Christine Renee, my most recent gig was in Detroit with Automaticamore (another amazing DJ), but I’m hoping to break the seal on NYC this spring. PinchyDon and I will be at Black Flamingo on June 7. In an ideal world, I’ll be playing out one or two times a month going forward. The hardest part is that I just can’t play Saturdays. But if you need a Thursday night guy or a Monday night DJ, I’m your man. There’s a mini European tour brewing for the Fall (H.A.N.D. Berlin, Amsterdam, Geneva, and possibly one or two other spots), and hopefully a trip to Chicago soon too.

Your last release was on Passport to Paradise, with a nice edit from the Sutra label on it. Anything upcoming you care to share with us? Edits, mixes, gigs, etc. I know something’s cookin’.

John: A bunch of my edits are about to finally get pressed up on a few limited runs. Two of my best edits are coming out on American Standard soon. PinchyDon (of Pinchy & Friends) is about to put out four of mine too. Two more are coming out on Legalize Lambada, I think. Also a release with Razor-n-Tape is brewing. There’s been a big double LP prospect looming with Rotating Souls for a while, but that seems to be stalled out. Most exciting of all is the possibility of a comp for Danny McLewin (1/2 of Psychemagik/SkyRager) on Leng or SpaceTalk. But, yeah, a lot of edits are about to see the light of day. I like having my edits on wax for playing out.

You mentioned the mix you’ve provided being an unreleased, Part 2 of sorts, to a previously released mix. Which mix is it you’d say is Part 1? And, can you tell us a bit about that mix and the mix you’ve kindly shared with us?

@JazMillion: It took me a few months to get my lab all set up after the move to NY. During that time, I got a log jam of great records. So when I made this mix for the guys at 5918mins in Germany (https://soundcloud.com/5918mins/jaz-is-done-hibernating), it was four hours long (too long for most listeners). I ended up cutting out an hour towards the beginning, which is what I’ve given to you, after souping it up with a few more special tracks that came into my world after the fact. Like a lot of my mixes, it’s pretty slow, very synthy and drum-machine heavy, with lots of foreign language vocals from all over, a dose of humor, and quite funky at its core. I don’t think this gets up past 100bpm, but I defy you not to shake your foot and bop your head after it gets going. Every track is a slam-dunk in my opinion, and don’t miss the second to last track about the Lobster, which took me years to land the 12” of. Hope you enjoy, and thanks so much for letting me share about the music I love so dearly.