Alumni Profile: Meghan Stabile '06
The late rapper Guru of Gang Starr loved jazz music—and told his fans all about it—but not everyone's caught up to the strength of the connection between the two genres. Certainly Meghan Stabile '06 didn't start off as a jazz fan. No, she sang like Whitney and played guitar like Kurt. As a teenager, she had a management contract and opened for acts like Jah Digga and M.O.P. But she became disillusioned with the mainstream entertainment business and its demand for the next Jennifer Lopez. So she came to Berklee, got a bartending job at Wally's Jazz Cafe, started studying music business—and discovered a whole other world of music: a young, cool, and notably underrecognized crowd of students playing jazz with a hip-hop flair. She turned her attention to cultivating and promoting that scene, and produced her first concert, which united jazz and hip-hop, in her last semester. She called it Revive da Live.
After interning at Def Jam Recordings in New York, she worked at management companies and booking agencies to gain experience, while working towards her goal of becoming an independent event producer and advocate for musicians. Now 28, Stabile is there full-time. This fall she's traveling to Japan and putting on a Roy Ayers tribute in France, and starting a blog called the Revivalist with the music magazine Okayplayer. She might not be the next Warner Brothers—or she might—but Stabile's taking her innovative projects around the world and into your ears. The following is a condensed and edited account of our conversation.
In your experience, what ideas do jazz fans have about hip-hop? What about the other way around?
The younger jazz audience knows about hip-hop. We grew up in that generation. The older audience or the purist—they don't understand why it's important at all. They don't know anything except what's being shown by the mainstream media. Hip-hop heads, when you say "jazz" to them some think elevator music. Either boring or too confusing or a lot of racket.
It's an extreme for both audiences. You can't just dump jazz on top of a hip-hop audience and expect them all to get it. The way to do that is the way we've been doing it—to give them a little bit of both. We feature jazz musicians that have grown up in hip-hop and been influenced by hip-hop so they approach jazz with a completely different attitude.
How do your shows work?
For the show Hip-Hop 1953, the band performed jazz standards and transitioned them into the hip-hop songs that derived from those standards. We were showing the jazz audience how much jazz has influenced hip-hop. Digable Planets' "Time and Space," [samples] Sonny Rollins's "Mambo Bounce." For Hip-Hop 1942, Dizzy Gillespie's version of "A Night in Tunisia"—we had a stellar, all-star group of musicians perform the original and then they flipped it into Gang Starr's "Words I Manifest." People definitely do walk away with more of an insight. We consider our shows informative and educational.
How did you hit on your formula?
It started while I was going to Berklee. I was just around tons of musicians who were also my friends who were doing this. It wasn't the same music I was seeing anywhere else . . . unless you were kind of in this bubble at Berklee. That kind of got my wheels turning. I thought, "There's a huge discrepancy with what I'm seeing every day and what other people aren't seeing at all."
I put them all together with a show—five or six bands in one night. It was great. I remember talking to [faculty member] Jeff Dorenfeld about it. He said, "If you can get over 150 people to come consistently, keep doing what you're doing. Otherwise, rethink." I've gotten more than 150 at every show that I've done.
Who else from Berklee has been involved with Revive?
When I first came up with the idea for Revive Da Live, there were two people I called first: trumpeter Igmar Thomas and emcee, DJ, and producer Brian "Raydar" Ellis, who now teaches the hip-hop curriculum at Berklee. Brian and Igmar have been there since day one. They were in the first show and will be in the last show. Lee Turley came on board around the same time and has played a major part in our show concepts and business development. When I moved to New York a lovely lady by the name of Jessica Wolfe approached me. She was on the team for a good year and was a great asset for management, booking, and business. She went on to work for a major agency and start her own group, which is doing very well. Lilan Kane was on the team as well and ended up moving to California and continuing her career as a singer. Then there are a lot of people who didn't come from Berklee.
I still work with a number of musicians who were friends from Berklee—Esperanza Spalding, Christian Scott, Yuki Hirano, DJ Ginyard, and Nikki Glaspie, to name a few.
What was it like when you got to New York City?
I remember moving to New York and being very depressed because I was interning at Def Jam, I can't find a job, I'm running out of money, I'm living with friends, trying to figure out how to get a show started when I don't know anybody. I remember spending a lot of time on the computer and then just showing up at jam sessions, showing up at concerts, introducing myself, talking as much as I can about Revive da Live and figuring out who I had to know.
Finally you did meet someone who had the venue hookup.
I gave him the spiel—he brought me to a meeting with him at Crash Mansion. It's more of a rock venue. They have two floors. I ended up speaking with the main person there and he decided he would give me the back room. They gave me a $1,500 bar guarantee—if I didn't I had to pay the difference—and I charged what I wanted at the door. And I had to pay out all the bands. I lost a lot of money in the first couple of years!
We got about 200 people there. It was a decent show. And Robert Glasper came to that show. Through working with him I got into knowing a lot of people and musicians. We're now at the point where we can do shows at any venue in New York. That's the easy part now!
As a manager, you set musicians up with jobs as hip-hop sidemen.
Every hip-hop artist wants a live band now. Basically I've learned it is all from who you know and who knows you. Bilal—he was going on tour and we did a show with him, a fundraiser. I put together a band for him. He was just floored by the caliber of these musicians. He picked a couple of them to go on tour with him. Now he knows to call me and I'll send him the right people.
But in regards to live-band hip-hop, it's gotten to a point where everybody's doing it. So now I need to think of new ways to be appealing and not be like everyone else. If you do something the way everyone else is doing it, you'll just get lost in the shuffle. Our concepts still set us apart.
It's been four years since I moved to New York and now I'm able to live off what I love doing. It really does take up your life, though. From the time I wake up to the time I go to sleep and even on the weekends I'm doing Revive da Live.
Robert Glasper Experiment performs and gives a clinic at Berklee at the end of September.