Among the most passionate people about music are those who work in the music industry: at labels, as press relation people, as concert promoters, as booking agents, as managers, as music critics, and so on. RREVERB proposes to its readers a series of interviews with passionate music artisans.
Today, we meet…
What’s your name, what’s your role in the company you are presently working at, and since when are you working there? Where are you from and where do you live now?
My name is Joel Giberovitch, I am the owner and artistic director at the Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill. I have been working at Upstairs since April 11th, 1995. We are celebrating our 20th anniversary with special programmation from November 12th to 22nd.
When have you started to work in the music business?
I started to work in the music industry when I entered the doors of Upstairs in 1995. I was 23 years old when I started.
How were the first years of the business?
For the first 7 years of working at Upstairs I was a waiter. I made my living through earning tips. It wasn’t until the age of 30, when I stopped waitering, that I realized that this is what I wanted to do with my life. I wasn’t sure if I could support a future family in doing it though. After our 10 year anniversary and the purchase of our Yamaha C3 piano, things started to fall into place.
Which are your favorite concerts among the many you’ve seen?
I have been lucky to see so many beautiful concerts here. There are so many favourites for many different reasons. One that deeply touched me was Tom Harrell. The tone of his trumpet is so beautiful and his music moved me.
Have you ever been a musician? Tell us about your career.
I do not play an instrument. When I first began, Upstairs was located in the Concordia ghetto and catered mostly to students. We had chess and backgammon sets as well as a pianist who would perform solo and sing. It wasn’t until a few years later that I went to New York and visited many Jazz Clubs there and got inspired. I was very impressed with the Village Vanguard, Sweet Basil’s, Bradley’s and Smalls. They were each Jazz clubs where the musicians were respected and took center stage. It is then that I came back to Montreal and wanted to create a club where the music was respected and not background music. My goal was to give Montreal a concert hall, in a jazz club setting.
A few years later, Juan Barros, who became our chef, joined our team and had the same passion for the food as I had for the music. He developed a menu which stood on its own. We wanted the food to be great and the music to be independently great as well. This is really when our full concept was born and we have been working for 20 years now on operating and growing it. We both love what we do and as we say, running a jazz club is not a job, it is a lifestyle.
ABOUT THE MUSIC BUSINESS
Do you live from it?
The Upstairs concept is multi layered and our revenues are spread out between tickets sales, food and alcohol sales. We are also open for lunch during weekdays. This allows us to be more balanced and diversified as a business.
Is it still possible to make a living with music today? What do you need to do to make ends meet?
We are fortunate that we are successful at what we do. I consider myself lucky, in that I love what I do. It took us many years before we broke even and now Upstairs is a healthy business. I think there is no secret to success. It takes a blend of hard work, passion, intelligent choices and the ability to learn from your mistakes and you’re on your way.
Who did you meet in your musical path that was key to your development / success?
Brian Hurley, a great Montreal bassist, was instrumental in showing me the possibility of booking international artists. Brian was instrumental in helping us book international artists, and have them perform with local musicians.
Jim West, the founder and owner of Justin time Records was also a key figure in my journey. He has been someone that throughout my career has been a great friend and advisor.
One of my closest friends was the great Jazz historian and friend to Jazz musicians Len Dobbin (picture on the left). Len had made Upstairs his home and was very important and influential in our artistic development as a Jazz club.
There are so many but André Menard, co-founder of The Montreal International Jazz Festival, has also been a great friend and supporter of the club. His decision to include us as a series during Jazz festival brought us credibility and exposure that we are grateful for.
What do you like about your current position?
We are constantly striving to be better and love what we do. We have been included in Downbeat’s list of top Jazz clubs around the world and are on musician’s lists of places to play. I like where we are!
Vinyl, cassette, CD or digital?
I love the feel of vinyl it in my hands and the sound of a record. I also love the graphics and pictures on an album.
ON ARTISTS AND MUSIC
What are your preferred music genres?
I love Jazz music and listen to classical music as well. I also enjoy old school Rock n’ Roll.
On a desert island you bring those 5 albums (no more!)
In no particular order:
Herbie Hancock Head Hunters,
Frank Sinatra In The Wee Small Hours,
Dire Straits Brothers in Arms,
Miles Davis Kind of Blue,
Ella and Louis.
Who is the friendliest artist/music celebrity you’ve met?
I would say artists in general are very friendly. The great thing about artists is that they want the chance to play and share their music. A close friend of mine is Ranee Lee. She is so generous with her music and such a pure and wonderful person.
Who would you like to meet? What would you tell/ask them?
I would have loved to meet Frank Sinatra. He is my favourite singer. I don’t know what I would ask him, but I sure would enjoy listening to his stories. I would have loved to meet Bob Marley and Amy Winehouse as well.
Thank you, Joel!
Check out Upstairs’ website for complete concert calendar… and menu!