Category Archives: Print Interviews

Jazz Improv Magazine article

jazzImprovMag Interview

JI: Can you talk about the evolution of the American Songbook Preservation Society. What is your vision for its future and how do you aim to achieve your very lofty goals?

RK: The American Songbook Preservation Society started as a result of my taking seminar courses from the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County, where I live, in explorations of how I could help Ron Kaplan get ahead in the business of music. My initial thinking was a result of an IAJE workshop by Bret Primack on how becoming a non-profit can help a musician receive funding to underwrite performances. Well, the deeper I got into the study of it with courses about the not-for-profit sector and the power potential of the favorable tax treatment for both the organization and the donor, (along with the limitless applications of this principal), I had an epiphany! I realized that it wasn’t about Ron Kaplan anymore. It was about the music! It is one thing to leave a body of work, but it’s another to leave a genuine legacy. Just think about the number of organizations and foundations that underwrite and support the arts in our country? Without them, much high culture and high art in our country would wither on the vine and fade away. I realized that all of our art is supported by patrons, philanthropists, foundations and individual donors for the most part. I also discovered that well over 80% of the funding for non-profits comes from individual donors. I completed the program of nearly 100 hours in various aspects NP management. I applied to the State to become a California Corporation and filed with the IRS for the 501 (c) (3) status and received approval just before completing the program. Since then, it’s essentially been a labor of love and personal investment of time and monies to build an organization from scratch. The mission is to preserve our cultural treasure known as the Great American Songbook. This can be done by presenting this music to the public at home and abroad as Ambassadors of Song. Our purpose is to build an Organization to stand the test of time and continue this body of work for the next 100 years and beyond for public benefit. Future Projects will include archiving and organizing historical documentation about the composers and lyricists, the personalities, and their works, as an educational resource for future generations for use in the classroom and the university. In addition, we will record and develop new material for presentation to the public as representative of this body of work. Finally, we will work on a permanent display using modern technology to bring the Great American Songbook and its inhabitants to life. I have received some relatively small grants to produce two concerts and the website and branding, and chased the money from individuals and corporations. I received a pledge of support early on from Wynton Marsalis, who stated that we were working toward the same end. Nat Hentoff, Phoebe Jacobs and Kurt Elling were also behind my mission. And so, as time has gone on, I have had to expand my thinking on funding. I recently sold my business and retired from my day job, so I can now focus the majority of my time and energy on this ambitious undertaking to build a National organization to stand the test of time. I am anxious to get the money thing out of the way so we can strictly focus on our mission. I am in a race against the clock by year-end 2007 to meet the IRS definition of a foundation, which gives money away, as opposed to a charitable organization which asks for money to support its mission. Both are treated favorably regarding tax deductibility, but a foundation is self-sustainable which my objective is. Meeting my goal of $1 million by year-end will meet this distinction. That is why it is so important to keep communicating to find those individuals who want to support this cause. It will also allow us to focus on building the educational resource component by development of an expanded website with downloadable materials for grade school through university education. My latest effort toward fund raising includes a recording made at Kuumbwa Jazz Center in January of a concert on behalf of American Songbook Preservation Society with a pitch for funding included in text about our mission and goals.

JI: How did you choose the songs for your new CD New York?
RK: Once I decided on a theme for the recording, I started to think of all the songs about New York that I knew. I looked through all of my songbooks and did extensive research at the public library. Some of the songs I wanted to record did not have sheet music I could find. I asked many of my friends if they had any of these charts in search of the missing scores, whom all came up empty. It was due to a search of the entire state of California library systems that the Los Angeles public library found some of the sheet music for me. New York is one of the few cities or places that had abundant titles written about it to make an entire recording. There were a number of songs I ferreted through to come up with the 12 I chose. This is really a quintessential New York recording. The only major song I felt I had to choose to leave out is one I previously recorded on my album entitled Dedicated which is perhaps the penultimate New York composition entitled Autumn In New York by Vladimir Dukelsky (Vernon Duke). Unlike Sinatra, I am opposed to the idea of re-recording material unless it is in a live performance. Walking the streets of New York inspired me to make this recording and in particular, to quote a Harry Warren and Al Dubin lyric from 42nd Street, “In the heart of little old New York there is a thoroughfare. It’s the part of little old New York that turns into Time Square. That crazy quilt that Wall Street Jack built. If you have a little time to spare, I’d like to take you there.” I believe we were able to accomplish with this recording.

JI: If you could magically get your wish in the next three years, what goal—action or event—would you both hope to accomplish, and what is the emotional core of that goal?

RK: That’s an easy one. It would be fully endowing the not-for-profit foundation,, to the tune of $25 million dollars. This would allow me to fully flush out the organization and accomplish all of its goals, and allow me to spend the balance of my lifetime fulfilling it’s mission, ensuring it’s success, expanding its purpose as times and technology change. This would allow me to build a foundation to stand the test of time and exist for 100 years or more beyond my time, while building in the capacity to pass it along to other capable hands. This would be my greatest individual accomplishment as a steward of the music, and perhaps my true legacy. It would certainly be the most emotionally fulfilling artistic and altruistic endeavor I could undertake. And may I add here that all it takes is for one individual to dedicate themselves to making a difference. It can and will change the world for better or worse. I believe this is my highest calling against all odds. It’s the one reason I was put on this earth.

Sentinel Article – ASPS Inaugural Concert 2005

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Saving the Songbook
Sentinel staff writer

On Wednesday, the great Tony Bennett turned 79, a number that doesn’t sit well with Ron Kaplan. Yes, Kaplan is a big Tony Bennett fan, but his anxiety goes beyond that. The Aptos jazz singer is worried about the cultural legacy that Bennett represents. He’s worried about the Great American Songbook.

As a result, Kaplan is embarking on a noble and ambitious project to preserve what he calls “our gift to the world, our cultural treasure.” He’s referring to American music popular in the years between 1920 and 1950 that came out of the Tin Pan Alley tradition, Broadway and the Hollywood musical and written by such towering figures as Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Cole Porter, Hoagy Carmichael and others.

The aging of Bennett, who Kaplan calls the most prominent ambassador of American song alive today, means that the “American Songbook,” as the body of work is often called, may be in cultural eclipse. Thus, Kaplan’s effort, the American Songbook Preservation Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to underwriting and presenting performances of the songs that Bennett himself has called “the classical music of our time.”

“People all over the world are familiar with this music and honor it as a true American legacy,” said Kaplan who performs tonight in a double bill with San Francisco singer Paula West at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center. “In our culture, however, we don’t seem to give it the same significance.”

The Songbook also includes such great songwriters as Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen, Mel Torme, Jerome Kern and great songwriting teams like Rodgers & Hart, Rodgers & Hammerstein and George & Ira Gershwin, encompassing hundreds of landmark songs from “My Funny Valentine” to “Over the Rainbow.”

Kaplan does not necessarily agree with those who believe that the emergence of young, sexy jazz singers like Diana Krall and Norah Jones means new life for the classic American Songbook. In Kaplan’s view, such artists haven’t developed their craft enough to explore the full range of the Songbook and, in fact, are involved in all sorts of musical cross-pollination that have lessened the impact of the Songbook on the American musical canon.

Citing a trend in which young jazz singers are turning to the work 1970s-era singer/songwriters like James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, Kaplan says that young artists too often don’t have the commitment or the attention span to carry on the legacy.

“Today, there’s young musicians coming out of places like the Berklee School of Music, and they can do all these extended chords and jazz riffs. But they don’t really know the music. My fear is that these older people who really know the music, who know how to play it and how to sing it, those people are dying out.”

What Kaplan hopes to do about that is to build an internationally recognized organization that brings jazz singers committed to the Songbook to younger audiences. Tonight’s show with Kaplan and Paula West is a kind of example of the thing Kaplan hopes to start nationwide. The ASPS will enlist a roster of jazz musicians and vocalists and underwrite their performances in high-profile venues and jazz festivals across the U.S.

Kaplan said that he would give artists absolute freedom to interpret the music as they see fit, but would insist on only performing music considered part of the Songbook canon, and the shows meet certain standards of presentation.

“I think we would go in the direction of gowns and tuxedos and elevating it, like Duke Ellington did, to a certain level of sophistication.”

Kaplan is an accomplished jazz singer in his own right, having just recorded his fifth album on his own label, Kapland Records – “Saloon” will be a simple voice-and-piano album.

But he’s also been an independent insurance agent in Aptos for years. That business experience, he said, leads him in a direction more as a executive of the new organization rather than a performer.

Kaplan’s plans come into clearer focus when it comes to his budget. He hopes to raise a whopping $25 million from individuals, corporate grants and foundations, which would give a yearly budget of about $1.25 million. He’s already gotten words of support from such prominent figures as jazz critic and writer Nat Hentoff and star trumpeter and jazz preservationist Wynton Marsalis.

In addition to constantly honing his instrument as a singer, Kaplan has also taken courses in nonprofit management, hoping to give the new organization a solid foundation. Now comes the hard part, shaking the trees.

“(Preserving the Songbook) is just such an American, patriotic thing to do, I really don’t see why anyone wouldn’t respond to it. I just have to go out now and hit the bricks. I have to make it happen.”

If You Go

WHAT: Ron Kaplan and Paula West, in a benefit concert for the American Songbook Preservation Society.

WHEN: 7 p.m., tonight.

WHERE: Kuumbwa Jazz Center, 320-2 Cedar St., Santa Cruz.

COST: $14 advance; $16 at the door (with 6 p.m. dinner $25).

DETAILS: 427-2227.

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