Mehgan Stabile, Founder & CEO of Revive Music Group

Interview, 20 June 2017

When Meghan Stabile left her music business studies in Boston, Massachusetts to move to New York City in the fall of 2006, it was with the ambition to make jazz relevant to the youth again.

To have a pivotal art form in decline matter to a generation that grew up on MTV and hip-hop made sense, but was no easy undertaking for a five-foot-tall music student in her early twenties trying her luck in the toughest entertainment hub in the world.

Today, a decade onwards, Meghan Stabile has come a long way as the founder and CEO of Revive Music Group. In the beginning a platform for some of New York’s most talented jazz musicians who needed a platform and a manager like Stabile, who would fight relentlessly and unconditionally to create a fair environment for artists on the rise.

After paying her dues during the first few years and building a reputation as a hard working, well-connected rainmaker with the ability to attract the right crowds to her shows, Stabile quickly earned the respect of the industry and had at the same time created a movement. On top of that she managed to land a job as a producer and curator with Blue Note Records, aside from her work with Revive. Proving that the top tier of the industry found her trustworthy.

Born in Texas, she grew up in New Hampshire in the northeast before attending Berklee College of Music in Boston. It was here were she found a knack for the music business and started hanging out at various jazz clubs around the city, putting on her own shows and building the network of players that would come to be the foundation for Revive Music.

We managed to get a hold of the dynamo to hear her own story on how she rose to the top of the New York music scene, her views on the industry and what role jazz has played in American history.

What is Revive Music Group?

– When describing Revive, I’ve learned that it’s important to identify myself as a musician whose creative expression shows itself through live concert curation and creative programming. Revive is a collective pursuit to educate audiences about modern jazz culture, the legacy of jazz and all of the great musicians whom have defined our first great American art form. And to refer to the culture, you must include the identity of the culture. Jazz is Black American Music and Black American Music encompasses every single genre of music in American culture. You can’t talk about Jazz and not reference the culture. If we are to teach children about Mozart and Beethoven then we must also teach them about Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.
– There would be no Eric Clapton or John Mayer without Howlin’ Wolfe, there would be no Kendrick Lamar without John Coltrane, there would be no DJ Premier without Dizzy Gillespie or Pete Rock without Roy Ayers. And if someone has to ask why, or have a hard time understanding those correlations, then I would say, Revive is the best resource for you.
In an equal effort, we’re also committed to educating audiences about the culture of hip-hop and the art form that it is, and that it has been lost and clouded by pop culture and mainstream perversion. Our mission has always been to build awareness of authentic art and underappreciated legacies.

So how does one go about bridging the gap between contemporary music and the underappreciated legacies that preceded it?

– For over 10 years we have been dedicated to preserving the legacy of jazz according to a progressive philosophy. This progressive philosophy is that which marries the evolution of this art form from familiar standards to emerging styles. Our philosophy would not exist without the music existing first and the music would not exist without the artists and their creative expression. I’ve always viewed our existence as a duality with the creators of the music itself. Our job would cease to exist without the quality of content in which we promote.
– Whether it is concerts, editorial or my role as an executive producer partner with Blue Note Records, it all comes from the same place – we are a team of musicians and our mission is to empower today’s modern jazz culture to thrive and exist beyond the traditional footprint. Jazz is a century old genre of music but who knows what the next century will sound like. Is it “jazz” anymore? Like Duke Ellington said: “There are two kinds of music, good music and the other kind”. I don’t care what you call it, as long as it’s good.
– When it comes to the blending of the two genres, no one woke up one day and said, “Hey, let’s start mixing hip-hop and jazz”, like it was some manufactured trend or cry to be relevant. If you grew up in the 90’s in the prime of hip-hop culture, then it was in your DNA already. But the second you mention hip-hop and jazz to a jazz purist, they go mad! As if hip-hop was pollution to clean air. On the other hand, hip-hop purists didn’t want to see two turntables and a mic replaced by live instruments. There was uproar on both sides.
Our job was to break the ice. Lure them in. When I first started promoting shows I had to learn how to promote specifically to the jazz heads and specifically to the hip-hop heads. I had to find ways to lure them in. If I called it a jazz show, then the hip-hop heads wouldn’t buy tickets. If I called it a hip-hop show, jazz heads wouldn’t buy tickets, so I had to create a new narrative early on. Once we got them in the room, once they heard the music – there was just no denying how fresh it was. A new audience for jazz and hip-hop was being born.

“We are a team of musicians and our mission is to empower today’s modern jazz culture to thrive and exist beyond the traditional footprint”

The founders of Revive: Igmar Thomas, Meghan Stabile & Brian “Raydar” Ellis

After leaving Boston and your studies at Berklee College of Music – how much of a plan was in place when you moved to New York City?

– It was very important to me to have a plan for my career set in place before I left school. I didn’t want to be one of those kids that lingered between graduation and finding a purpose. I do not believe in chance, happenstance or accidents. Even though we don’t work together anymore, I remember sitting down with a fellow student, Lee Turley, in between classes who would come to be one of the co-founders in Revive’s inception. We talked about so many things that actually ended up happening! We talked about working with Guru and Roy Hargrove, we talked about putting out a Blue Note album. What we wrote down – our vision, ideas and goals – all of it came to life over the ensuing 10 years. We manifested everything we’ve done up until this point. It was almost like riding a wave to be honest. I wish I could say I actually remember the past 10 years, but they flew by.

What were the first couple of years in New York like?

– Pretty insane. I had no money and moved in with friends in Brooklyn. I moved so quickly because I got an internship at Def Jam and needed to be present almost everyday. It was a huge learning experience. I bounced around between different departments, assisting video shoots, working in marketing and working in L.A. Reid’s office updating contacts. However, I didn’t last very long there, it was extremely boring. Once my internship was over, I moved over to Universal Attraction to learn about the booking business. The booking business is very aggressive. I learned a lot about routing tours, dealing with presenters and promoters and the day in the life of an agent. While interning at this agency I was able to learn how booking works and it just so happened that I got the opportunity to book the Robert Glasper Experiment with Mos Def in South Africa for the Cape Town Jazz Fest and a second show in Johannesburg. This was a surreal experience. I ended up booking the two dates and going with them. It’s real crazy how life works. While at the agency, I ended up becoming friends and acquainted with some of the most successful agents in the business that are still my friends and colleagues today. After that I went on to work with a management company. At the time this particular management company worked with some heavy names, Avril Lavigne, Maroon 5 and Pretty Ricky to name a few. It was a very interesting experience. I did all of these things so I could know who’s who and for “the who’s” to get to know me. I met a lot of people in the business and it would all prove to pay off later when expanding Revive.
– In my first three months in NYC, I planned the first Revive concert. Back in Boston, our shows were huge and I knew we needed to build the same type of events in NYC. I would make flyers and go around the city, hit all the jam sessions and promote. One of the best sessions in NYC at this point was a spot called Zinc Bar, this is where I met a ton of musicians whom I’m still friends with today and it’s where I met Robert Glasper (Grammy Award Winning pianist and bandleader). He ended up coming to the show and from there on I started working with him and put on many of the shows with his band, The Experiment. Before they were who they are now, they were the New York scene’s best kept secret. From then on I just kept putting on shows, curating special never-before-seen collaborations like Guru and Roy Hargrove, Roy Ayers and Pete Rock and many more. The synergy between jazz and hip-hop was fresh; it was an emergence of a new sound, a new breed of artists, a new time for a new message. We all know jazz and hip-hop is not a new thing, but it surely was a new sound.
– I always say most of my musical influences that shaped my ear came from this period. I studied the sound by presenting shows. My ear was drenched in this.

Revive poster by Roland Nicol of Sweden10 Design

How did you go about building the circle that now is the foundation that Revive rests on?

– This was a natural occurrence. In addition to what I said before in regards to building my network of colleagues I suppose I did the same thing when it came to the musicians. I was present. Out at shows all the time, at jam sessions, working with a ton of musicians to book shows etc. I even started managing a few. My first real client was Chris Dave. At the time he was touring with The Experiment, Mos Def, Erykah Badu and Maxwell to name a few. Through Chris I met Thundercat while we toured in Japan. This is when he first started singing. They performed “Mmmhmm” with Chris’ trio feat. Kebbie Williams. It was incredible. I obviously met a ton of people in the business and sharpened my management skills. I later went on to manage Sonnymoon (Anna Wise and Dane Orr), KING and a few others.
– But in the midst of working with all these musicians, many became my friends. I had built a lot of trust. People knew my motivation and intention – and it was always to stand up for them, protect them as much as I could and do what I could do to make sure the world knew who they were. This is when I started our site in partnership with Okayplayer. Blogs were becoming a thing and there were not many sites, if any at the time that were covering the emerging jazz scene. We were the first to interview Hiatus Kaiyote and a slew of other artists. We had a signature, from the artwork for our shows, to the photography to our editorial, to our live shows etc. The brand was fresh, and the brand reflected the music. The music made it easy for us to support it.

“I didn’t want to be one of those kids that lingered between graduation and finding a purpose. I do not believe in chance, happenstance or accidents”

Being a young woman moving to New York and getting thrown into its vibrant and merciless music scene, were you prepared for what you had to face and where did you find the resilience to cope with it?

– I always say I felt a calling to do this, though there was always something eating at me when it came to pop culture and watered down mainstream “art”. I know that seems harsh but that’s how I felt. What happened to good music? What happened to soul music? What happened to pure creativity and artistry in music? Berklee was super refreshing, to be amongst the greatest young musicians in the world with a fresh sound. Musicianship, artistry, soul, that’s what we needed. The musicians I surrounded myself with gave me that. Wally’s (respected Jazz Café in Boston’s South End) gave that to me. I had all the passion and energy I needed to be resilient and to persevere. In my last semester, I produced three huge Revive concerts. Come fall, I knew I had to make a move towards NYC. I felt it pulling at me. If Revive was to grow, I had to take over NYC. That’s how I felt and when I got to the city I hit the pavement running. I flew. Again, I always felt led. All I had to do was to take action, stay focused and remind myself why I do this. Soon enough, all the doors started opening. It took fight though. It wasn’t easy but I had all the energy I needed to push through the challenges and obstacles. You have to learn how to be resilient in NYC because the city is full of hustlers. If you don’t make moves and learn quickly, you’ll get trampled. Just like walking the NYC streets. You better walk fast, better keep up or folks will put you out of the way.

Where does your love of music come from?

– It’s interesting. I just started singing one day. I was 7 or 8 and I just started running around the house and the neighborhood singing. I’d knock neighbors doors and start singing to them. It’s hilarious to think about it now. I got my first guitar when I was 14 and never put it down. I always had a love for singing and playing guitar and often thought about performing with a live band. The problem was that where I grew up, there were no music programs for kids and nowhere for me to thrive and grow musically. Berklee was a blessing but of course, my focus shifted once I found out they had a music business program. Something prompted me to choose that as my major. I chose guitar as my primary instrument and voice as my second instrument. Eventually, I stopped playing and singing and focused on building my company. Now it’s come full circle, I regret that I put my own art on the back burner and I’m trying to change that now. There seemed to be no other choice at the time. I needed every single ounce of my energy to do what I knew needed to happen in order to build my brand. It was a sacrifice. I actually sacrificed a lot to build Revive.

Revive poster by Roland Nicol of Sweden10 Design

Blending jazz and hip-hop comes naturally for many young musicians but encounters some resistance among the purists on both sides of the aisle, how much have you had to meddle between the two over the years?

– People’s perspectives have changed so much. It’s not a trend – it’s a sign of our time. Most musicians of our time grew up in the height of the hip-hop culture. With jazz being in their core, in their soul, so was the influence of hip-hop. Of course you’re going to here a new and progressive and modernized approach from the young generation of jazz musicians. Honestly, my first ensemble at Berklee was the jazz/hip-hop orchestra. The ensemble took popular hip-hop songs and arranged the music for a small orchestra. I felt I was born into it. Also, the first band I fell in love with at Berklee combined jazz, hip-hop, west coast funk and soul. It was fresh! People need to understand how these influences manifested. The rise of The Roots and the rise of Neo Soul, everything that was developing in the early 2000s were influenced by the Soulquarians and The Roots. The Soulquarians and The Roots were obviously deeply influenced by jazz, funk, old soul, blues etc. It was fresh but deeply rooted in classic and timeless soul music. The 90’s had a ton of jazz/hip-hop influenced music happening, especially in New York. You also have to look at the history of sampling. Pete Rock was sampling a ton of jazz records; DJ Premier sampled Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia” for Gangstarr’s “Words I Manifest”. There are thousands of examples of DJ’s and producers sampling jazz and soul music since the late 80’s. Herbie Hancock did the reverse on his song “Rockit”; there are so many examples.

You’ve said in the past that your work has been a “labor of love”, what makes this job so important to you?

– Well, I started fresh out of college. Passion and determination fueled me so I took on a lot, probably too much. I was working as a waitress my first year in NYC. I remember stacking up my tips, saving and using the money to put on shows. There was this one show, a really tough one to promote and for all that I’d prepared for, not enough people came. I still had to pay the band so I used what I had saved and sometimes what I saved wasn’t enough so I’d use my rent. Some would say that was an amateur move, and yes, it was. My only excuse was that I was 24 years old and had no real experience promoting shows in NYC. All the mistakes I made brought me here, where I am right now and where Revive is. I took a lot of risks, dug into my own pocket, woke up early, worked 10 hours a day, produced and promoted shows at night, got back home at 4 am and did it all over again the next day.
– This has been my life for the past 10 years. I look back now and think how crazy I was, plowing through like that. I remember people would ask me all the time: “How can you do all of this? I see you everywhere, you’re literally everywhere.” I had the same question; only my answer was “By the grace of God”, and that is a very sensitive and important subject to me: God.
– I always felt like I was called upon to do this, there was no way I could have done all of what I’ve done without God. I felt compelled and called to serve in this particular way. When I was at Berklee and working the bar at Wally’s, I was exposed to our nations most treasured musical art form, it’s linage, its legacy, and its incarnations. Serving as the root of all genres, I experienced enlightenment, and I mean that. With this new awareness I began to consciously recognize the absence of appreciation and awareness on a mass level. I couldn’t believe or understand how misguided, misinformed, uneducated our society had become when it came to art and music culture. It feels like great soul music had a dormant period. Some say jazz died in 1959 and maybe it did but it has seeped back into the souls of our generation. I became angry but it was a healthy anger. I felt the same way about hip-hop culture. The same bias existed, you had hip-hop purists that could not and would not accept listening to or watching their favorite MC with a live band and you had your jazz purists where if you even mentioned the term hip-hop, you may as well get ready for one of the biggest arguments of your life. It was quite ridiculous. Jazz IS hip-hop and vice versa. And if people were more educated they’d understand and accept this. Things have changed so much now. The Roots, The Soulquarians, Robert Glasper, Thundercat, Kamasi Washington, KING and countless producers changed the game. The combination of the two genres evolved and it’s now becoming the sound of our time. I’m forever grateful that I was able to be a part of that.

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