Alum Profile - Ryan Paternite '93
Bagels, Berklee, and the Birdland Sessions
In just over seven years after graduating from Berklee, Ryan Paternite '93 has gone from working in a New York bagel shop to producing a prestigious 25-disc jazz series called the Koch Jazz Birdland Sessions. It is a joint venture between the famed club Birdland and Koch Entertainment that Paternite helped to put together. The series got off to a running start September 27 when jazz critics at the New York Times, Downbeat, Billboard, and elsewhere embraced the first three releases. It was Paternite's choice to launch the series with the music of three up-and-coming Berklee alumni (Jill Seifers '91, Garrison Fewell '77, and Magali Souriau '94) for the first round.
In a phone conversation from his Brooklyn condo, Paternite explained the path that led him from producing bagels to producing CDs. He moved to New York the summer after he graduated with a degree in jazz composition, but didn't have a clue about what he would do there. While awaiting an opportunity, he started earning his bread, so to speak, at a bagel shop and doing some writing and copy work on the side.
Within a short time, his former roommate at Berklee, Michael Wong '92, called with a tip on a job opening at the Blue Note jazz club for a booking assistant. Even though he didn't know the business, the Blue Note management hired him. They soon came to value Paternite's musical tastes and opinions about what would or wouldn't work in the club, and he was made international booking director with the responsibility for booking acts into all of the Blue Note club franchises around the world.
By the summer of 1996, the owners of another legendary New York jazz club, Birdland, wooed Paternite away to work for them. At Birdland, Paternite's duties range from booking to marketing and media relations work to operating the club's soundboard. "Birdland gave me a chance to really call on my musical experiences and to interact with the artists a little more. It is a much more fulfilling job."
Feeling that the physical characteristics of the venue were an advantage for recording, Birdland's head engineer David Ruffo undertook the building of a 24-track studio facility wired directly to the stage. "Birdland is one of the few clubs where the audience hears what is happening on the stage more than what is coming through the P.A. system," said Paternite. "It is a spacious room with high ceilings and natural reverb. We capitalize on that sound in the recordings."
The timing and the sound were right, and jazz labels started taking note of the club's new capability. "We recorded [guitarist] Jimmy Bruno's two-volume Live at Birdland CDs for Concord Records," he said, "and Tito Puente's Birdland Dance Mania 1999 and Birdland Dance Mania 2000. One of those won a Grammy. We started doing a number of major label projects as well as archival recordings for various artists. RCA Records heard about what we were doing. One of their producers had had success with live albums for the Verve label recorded at the club Smalls. They wanted to do something that was a snapshot of what Birdland is today and made two CDs. That was when we realized that we could put together our own series of recordings and spotlight people who have played at the club but are flying below the radar of the major labels."
The first CDs Paternite produced for the series feature vocalist Jill Seifers, guitarist Garrison Fewell, and jazz composer/bandleader Magali Souriau. All are fellow alumni whom Paternite had met at Berklee and later booked at both the Blue Note and Birdland. "I knew that it would be worth the effort to work with them," he said, "not only because of what they are doing musically but because each has a following and potential in the business."
After the first three discs were completed, Paternite started shopping them to labels as a Birdland series. He got several offers but ultimately signed a pressing, marketing, and distribution contract with Koch Entertainment for 25 releases. That label is the content division of Koch International, the largest independent music distributor in the world.
Paternite's wife, Amy (Boxenhorn) Paternite '90, worked on the launch of the series, too. It was her public relations firm Two Five Media that helped to elicit an enthusiastic reception from Billboard, Time Out New York, CNN's "Showbiz Today," Downbeat, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and other media outlets. The couple met at Berklee in 1990. Amy was enrolled at the State University of New York at Buffalo (SUNY Buffalo) and had gotten approval to write two semesters at Berklee into her curriculum. The couple married a few years later and now have a one-year-old daughter named Carly.
Future albums for the Birdland series include one by Danish guitarist Pierre Dørge and the New Jungle Orchestra and one from Herb Pomeroy's quartet.
In addition to his work at Birdland and raising a family, Paternite is pursuing his Ph.D. in composition at New York University. He is also working with Herb Pomeroy, preparing a textbook for Pomeroy's famed line writing course for publication. "Herb was the most profound teacher I had at Berklee or elsewhere," said Paternite. "He got me into studying Duke Ellington's music. I think my dissertation will be about the nuts and bolts of Duke's music.
"Studying music is still my passion. I love the minutiae and the mechanics of composition, but standing on a bandstand conducting my own music is not what I am interested in now. Long-term, I see myself teaching at a university. I really enjoy working with young people who are just starting to study music. I could tell the students that there are a lot of places to go and things to work at that you would be happy doingeven if you think that all you want to do is play the saxophone. I endorse studying music. Parents should understand that their kids don't need something else to fall back on. The majority of the people making a living in music are not doing it as players. There is so much to be done behind the scenes that can be fulfilling for a creative musical person."