On November 23, Dahlia Ambach Caplin was walking through her Brooklyn neighborhood, listening as a host of artists announced their nominations for the 2022 Grammy Awards. Over the course of an hour, as the Big Four title and genre categories were revealed, one the name keeps appearing over and over again: Jon Batiste, the Late Show with Stephen Colbert bandleader Ambach Caplin signed with Verve Label Group in 2018. In total, Batiste has scored 11 nominations, the most of any artist, including nominations for record and album of the year for disc. “Freedom” menu and We are albums, respectively.
“I did [multitasking] on a Zoom call, on a completely different subject, as all the albums and records of the year started to come out, and I said: ‘I can’t go on the phone right now!’ ” she said. “It’s proof of concept. He’s an incredible artist, and I’m so happy for him because he’s a hard worker and a real talent.”
The nominations are the latest confirmation for Ambach Caplin, who was born and raised in Antwerp, Belgium, where her uncle runs the concert promotion agency Make It Happen (which he sold to SFX in 2001. ). Moving to the United States in the 1990s, she worked for Verve for two decades. Her job was to identify and sign artists for the iconic jazz label – founded in 1956 to release her own records. Ella Fitzgerald, it also became the home of artists such as Holiday Billie, Nina Simone and The Velvet Underground – led to Grammy Award recognition for acts like Tank and the Bangas, Ledisi and Herbie Hancock. She runs the production The River: The Joni Letters, won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 2008. (Arooj Aftab, nominated for this year’s best new artist, was also distributed by Verve, although she was signed by the A&R director. Natalie Weber.)
Verve’s success comes as the jazz genre is growing in sales and streaming – up 11% in album sales year over year, according to MRC Data to date. It’s a boost in line with the growth of the industry as a whole. “Historically, Verve has always been about genuine, original talent,” she said. “So I think the philosophy is that we’re looking for artists with voices like no other and people with incredible craftsmanship.”
Congratulations on the Grammy nominations. What would it be like to work with Jon Batiste and watch him grow over the years?
He is an amazing human being and an amazing artist. And that was evident from the first day I met him, which was at his piano teacher’s house many years ago. He did his job. That was before Colbert. He’s performing and I’ll see him at Blue Note or Rockwood [Music Hall in New York]and he always has this incredible way to get the audience up and moving. I’ve never seen people dance to jazz, and he was able to convey that. It’s very rare to see that.
What impact can Grammy nominations have on an artist’s career?
Artists make music they make, and nobody makes music to win awards. But what it does is help bring business opportunity and legitimacy. Sometimes we feel the same effect. But artists just make their art, and we’re there to enhance it by supporting it and taking it around the world.
This is the second year in a row that Verve has been nominated for Best New Artist. What is your approach to A&R?
The criterion is that an artist must be amazing with their craft and be one and only. I worked with Ledisi when she was the best newcomer, and she is a unique vocalist in the R&B genre. Arooj is like no other. Tank by Tank and the Bangas is a great musician, a great singer, rapper, and lyricist. She’s a triple threat, and then she’s backed up by this incredible group of musicians. They all did a lot of their own to gain traction. I see the development of A&R as providing the necessary tools for artists to achieve their artistic vision while helping them to perfect it.
What are some keys to breaking new ground with an artist, especially one far beyond pop music?
The artists we choose to work with stand out and we take great care to ensure that our artists all have their own lanes at Verve. That allows them to focus on creativity while we promote the music to the audience. We don’t have a stricter framework for marketing than we do for A&R. Verve is like a family. We get very close to what our artists need. Jamie Krentz, who runs Verve, communicates with people on a daily basis.
Is your strategy to be more global now that streaming has made the world smaller?
I come from Belgium originally, so I tend to think quite globally. I started my career by touring around the world with Wayne Shorter, and then I became international, so it’s in my DNA. Our global approach to artist development is key. We are based in the United States, but we work with many countries. We’re in almost daily contact with our teams in France, Germany, you name it, because you never know where the artist will start to make a splash. Everything is smaller thanks to the internet. We no longer need to be somewhere to discover someone.
What is the state of the jazz market now?
Interesting. (Laughs.) It’s been better for years. There is such a new interest – there is a lot of young talent and an audience between London, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles. It’s great to go to festivals and watch people jump up and down Sons of Kemet or Kamasi Washington or Comet is coming. Talented team has grown; There were so many great artists to discover. And it’s no longer just going to a jazz club. You can see jazz music in many places. And that is proof that agents and bookers around the world are doing just that.
What would you assume is that wider acceptance?
I’d say one thing is that because it’s in the hands of all these newer talents, you’ve got people mixing different sounds. They grew up listening to hip-hop and R&B in the US and the Caribbean, and Afrobeats in the UK, and they delivered it with jazz. So people just relate to it more. That’s an important element that I’ve noticed from the musicians we’ve worked with.
What are some of the challenges and opportunities in the jazz world for Verve?
The opportunity is that there are many new life paths. There’s always been great jazz festivals, but now there’s a bigger mixing going on in many parts of the world where you can see an R&B artist and a jazz artist at the same time. festival. Jazz is still a challenging musical genre for some people, but I see more opportunities now than ever because people are more receptive to it. Playlists are also a growing opportunity for people to be exposed to jazz music that would otherwise not be exposed to it.
How has the vinyl revival affected the Verve?
Jazz doesn’t stream like pop music, so vinyl is essential to our revenue. We do a lot with Record Archive Days – our revenue team works closely with all the accounts on it. A major challenge we’ve all faced since COVID-19 is the supply chain. But we’re making it available earlier so we can meet those requests because it’s so important.
How has the rise of streaming changed your approach to work?
A lot of great talent today is being discovered by people looking around and doing deep dives. In terms of marketing, we are fully engaged at all levels and it is really important to work closely with all those accounts worldwide. It’s amazing for the catalog and for new artists, and it’s great to see cross-pollination happen and an artist from a place with more jazz music get into a different kind of list. It has opened up so many other avenues for audiences and for me personally – not just as a fan but as an A&R executive. So on both ends it’s a win.
https://www.billboard.com/pro/dahlia-ambach-caplin-verve-jon-batiste-grammy-jazz/ Verve’s Dahlia Ambach Caplin on Jon Batiste Grammy Noms & Jazz Market – Billboard