What's New on the Rialto
John Yap of JAY Records
By Alan Gomberg
John Yap is the founder and owner of the JAY/TER recording label. Although he is based in London, John was recently in New York supervising the recording of two productions of the York Theatre Company: The Musical of Musicals, an evening of five one-act musicals that is currently in previews, and Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's Lucky Stiff, which was presented in October as part of the company's Musicals in Mufti series with a stellar cast including Malcolm Gets, Janet Metz, and Mary Testa. John graciously agreed to talk with me during his visit.
Alan Gomberg: There's a wide variety of releases on JAY, from The Rocky Horror Show and Grease to operetta and even some opera. Does this reflect your personal taste?
John Yap: Everything that's recorded and released on JAY reflects my taste. If it's something I don't like, I won't record it, even if it may promise to sell well. Having said that, I'm very fond of Grease, but I'm more fond of West Side Story. So there are degrees.
In an ideal world, I would love to record all the obscure shows that never made it, but then I probably would not be heard of soon after. Having Oliver! and Godspell in our catalogue helps to support the likes of Nick and Nora.
AG: There are a few reissues coming up on JAY, including some things that have never been officially released in the United States, such as the complete original London cast Pacific Overtures.
JY: The highlights version of Pacific Overtures was, of course, released over here on BMG. What's very exciting about the forthcoming domestic release of the complete, two-CD version is that it's been remastered. Also, I've gone back and looked at alternative takes, some of which, with the greater experience I now have, I've deemed to be better takes than the originals. To those who intimately know the original release it will sound quite different.
JY: I didn't see the production, but Steve and Lynn are friends of mine through our recordings of Once on This Island and A Man of No Importance. And we had hoped to do the London cast of Ragtime, which would have been the first complete recording of it, but that project fell apart, not through anybody's fault.
AG: I would imagine partially because it closed fairly quickly.
JY: Yes, that's right. I have no doubt that at some point I will do a complete recording of Ragtime using a full symphony orchestra.
Anyway, I've always liked the score of Lucky Stiff, so I wanted to do it for that reason. Also, this recording will be the first true cast album of Lucky Stiff, because the other one was a studio cast with some people who had done the roles and some who hadn't. It's a very good album, but if we're talking about a cast album of a production, this will be the first. I've grabbed this opportunity to add another Flaherty and Ahrens score to our catalogue so that eventually we may have all their shows.
AG: This brings us to the York, where you seem to have an ongoing relationship. You've recorded several York productions, and you're recording two right now.
JY: What I like about the York is that they seem to be the only organization in town that actively pursues new writers. Of course, in the Mufti series they revisit older, rare works, but they are also very actively showcasing and producing new writings. And I think it's very important to have a platform for new writers other than the three or four who have managed to project themselves to a certain level. One way to support the York and the new writings is to preserve those shows in cast album form.
And not just new writers. For example, the York did Jones and Schmidt's Roadside, and we recorded it. There's absolutely no way that I would not want to record a new Jones and Schmidt score. I'm thrilled to have preserved that for posterity, as I did earlier with I Remember Mama, Richard Rodgers' last score. Rodgers was a giant in American contemporary art. It's a score that should have recorded by an American company, but I'm thrilled to have been the one who preserved his final score.
AG: And perhaps it was better that the original production wasn't recorded and that you did it with Sally Ann Howes in the lead, because Liv Ullman was not such a strong singer.
JY: You know, we wanted Liv Ullman. We asked her and she agreed to do it. But then conflicts of scheduling kicked in, she was filming in Sweden, so we had to go with someone else, and in the end it was less of an original cast recording. But I'm also thrilled that we got Sally Ann Howes, a wonderful performer who did a sterling job on the recording.
AG: Speaking of lesser-known shows of the past, has there been any talk of JAY recording some of the other Musicals in Mufti productions?
JY: I think the chances are fairly slim that we'll be recording any of the complete scores. Maybe a kind of fund-raising disc of highlights from Muftis past, preserving certain performances of songs from specific shows. The Mufti series would pose an interesting situation for us in that most of the shows were originally big Broadway shows, but they are presented intimately in the Mufti series. For example, Rex, which they did recently. If I were to record a new, complete version of Rex, I'd want to use the full orchestrations. Whereas with Lucky Stiff, the original version was basically one piano. It was a small-scale, and it's published in that form. In fact, I offered Steve and Lynn the opportunity to record it with the orchestration that is also available, which is about five pieces. But they opted to retain the essence of the Mufti production. Apparently, it was wonderful, so they wanted it to be done with just the piano, as it was performed in the Mufti.
AG: And The Musical of the Musicals. How did this project come about for you?
JY: I'd heard demos of it. I was attracted to the idea of it when it was first mentioned to me, which was maybe sometime was last year. I just loved the idea.
AG: Recently, your primary focus seems to have shifted from the Masterworks series to new shows and solo albums.
JY: I know that it's very frustrating for everyone who is waiting for the Masterworks recordings that have been announced, and for me as well, because I have invested a lot of time, energy, and money on these projects. They are major projects, complete recordings with big casts and stars and a symphony orchestra, but the present climate in the music business really isn't conducive to us releasing more of these complete recordings onto the marketplace. They will all be released eventually. But if I were to release the complete version of, say, Fiddler on the Roof, we would probably sell a couple of thousand units and that would be it.
When we released the earlier recordings in the Masterworks series, there were HMVs and Towers all across the country, and we at least were comfortable knowing that we were going to ship out so many thousand units. But now when we put out something new, we are talking about shipping just hundreds. The market is going to change. It's going to shift toward the cybermarket, the Internet. When people are in the habit of buying music through the net - either as downloads or as direct sales - when that happens, there will be some kind of yardstick by which we can gauge when and how to put these out.
With solo albums by artists who are currently on Broadway or who are doing a lot of concerts here or around the country, the artists sell the albums when they're performing, so at least there is a further source of sales beyond the shops. The shops will take them, too, but additional venues, at the theatres and concert halls, those help. That's why we are focusing more on those sorts of albums. And compilations. The compilations cost a little bit of money to make because we generally record four to six new songs, so when you see a JAY compilation it's not all existing tracks. I always make sure to put in some new recordings, some interesting tracks done by interesting artists to just give it a bit of spice.
AG: When you produce the solo CDs, how do you choose the songs?
JY: Obviously, I tend to work with artists who are also friends. Let's take Matt Bogart's first CD, for example. We started by looking at all the roles he's done on Broadway and in the major cities across the country, and then we looked at shows and scores that he's performed in concert form or early in his career, and we put the major songs from those on the list. And then I said, "What would you really love to sing?" And we put those on the list. And that's how one of those albums begins to take shape.
I know it's been observed that some songs have appeared on albums by more than one of our artists. But when you give a choice to the singer, and they all want to sing "Soliloquy," what can you do? There's only one "Soliloquy," so if they want to sing it, I'm not the one to stop them.
I think I've probably recorded every Chris in Miss Saigon who's graced the boards in London and on Broadway. They all want to preserve their performances, including the very first one, Simon Bowman, who created the role in London. His solo album is coming out on our label soon, and he revisits "Why God Why?" He wanted to revisit it because he feels that he has a new slant on it 10 or 15 years after first doing it. All these guys wanted to preserve their performance of that song.
AG: I think that's good. A lot of people who may have seen Sean McDermott or someone else play the role would like to have a record of the performer they saw.
JY: Matt has two songs from Aida on his CD. When he was playing in Aida on Broadway, the Virgin a block from the theatre was selling his album like hotcakes. We're working with Matt now on his second album, which will probably contain a lot of great songs that are not familiar to the general public. I think that's the right way to go. Because of the two Aida tracks, we sold that CD to a lot of people who otherwise would not have bought it. It's a great album, and the people who bought and loved the first one are more likely to buy the second one in spite of the fact that it will contain more songs they're not familiar with.
AG: Are there any other solo albums on the way?
JY: Right now we're finishing Ron Raines's second album. And we just put out a Sally Ann Triplett solo album because she's now starring in London in Anything Goes. But I think the next album is Simon Bowman.
AG: Dare I ask what you think of the current state of musical theatre?
JY: The main change is that what's commercial is so overtly commercial. Broadway has always been about commerce, about putting on a show to make money. But putting on a show has now become so expensive. The likes of a David Merrick could put on a show that he loved because it wasn't that expensive. Producers back then could gamble more. It's testimony to the current state when you consider that one of the greatest contemporary musical theatre writers cannot get his new work onto Broadway. And two of the most successful contemporary writers, who are currently represented on Broadway with two of their old shows, can't get their new show on.
AG: And even though nonprofit theatres are interested in doing some of these shows, it's very expensive.
JY: Yes. I mean, I've just seen The Boy From Oz. While it's not the greatest book musical ever written, it's a big hit. I enjoyed it very much for what it is. I think Hugh Jackman gave a wonderful, sensational performance, and the audience loved it. But I'm a little afraid that the audiences who are cheering every night at The Boy From Oz may not cross the road to see Wonderful Town, which got rave notices. And that's the reality of what Broadway is about now.
JAY's Musical of Musicals recording is expected in early March 2004, and Lucky Stiff by June. Also, a studio cast recording of Anything Goes (with Louise Gold, Gregg Edelman, Matt Zimmerman, Katrina Murphy, Paul Manuel, and Tara Hugo) from the Musical Theater Hour series, including additional tracks, is to be released this February. Sally Ann Triplett: Anything Goes is now in stores. For more information about JAY Records, visit wwww.jayrecords.com
Search What's New on the Rialto