Charting a Course in Jazz History

By Dan Bilawsky

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Jazz, commerce, and the act of preservation aren’t exactly your garden variety trio mates, yet there’s an incredible symbiosis that exists between the three when joined under the banner of ejazzlines. Known primarily as the one-stop Internet shop for those looking to obtain jazz charts from myriad sources – mega-publishers, medium-sized operations, and fledgling outfits alike – this company has also established serious dominance and earned incredible respect as a publishing house with a unique focus.

Through its Jazz Lines Publications arm, ejazzlines has brought hundreds of classic works – previously unpublished and unavailable original arrangements associated with Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and other titans of the music – into the marketplace. In less than two decades of operation it’s become a brand with a sterling reputation and global reach, serving customers from more than 100 countries, and it all stems from a single brotherly bond – the one connecting founders Rob and Doug DuBoff.

In hindsight, it makes perfect sense that the DuBoff brothers would come to serve the music community together. Bred in a music-friendly environment in Livingston, New Jersey – “our mom was an Elvis girl watching him on Ed Sullivan and our dad listened to big band music,” Doug shares – both brothers took an interest in playing at a fairly young age. Doug gravitated toward the bass and became enamored with rock music, eventually moving to Seattle in 1989, after earning a degree in history at the University of Vermont, and taking root in the growing grunge scene that would sweep over the land a few short years later. “My band didn’t become Nirvana or Pearl Jam,” he plainly notes, “but there were maybe 50 or 60 groups that made up that scene, and I’ll always be proud of the fact that I was in one of them.” Rob, having received a guitar for his bar mitzvah, also took an interest in rock music at first. But after a friend gave him a cassette with a live Freddie Hubbard date on one side and Wynton Marsalis’ J Mood (Columbia, 1986) on the other, life would never be the same.
Rob would go on to study music at Skidmore College, where, thanks to an encouraging instructor, he became infatuated with the art of transcribing. The acquisition and mastery of said skill, honed over the course of his undergraduate studies in the late ‘80s on into the ‘90s, would eventually lead him right into the world of publishing.

“One of the things I realized is that in order to be a working musician, you have to know tunes – especially standards,” Rob shares. “So I started writing them out instead of buying fake books. I had compiled them in a notebook, which had hundreds of tunes in it. That notebook, sadly, was stolen, along with my gear, when my car was broken into. I recovered a couple of its sheets…and at that point I realized that I really needed to get my work fixed in a book so that couldn’t happen again.”

Not too long after that point, while studying with Jim Hall, Rob shared that tale with the legendary guitarist and spoke of his desire to get his work published. Hall, seeing the potential in his student’s lead sheets, connected Rob with his attorney, Noel Silverman, who ultimately brought him into the arms of publishing giant Hal Leonard in the mid ‘90s. 
There, Rob would go on to author a series of fake books borne of his initial work in that ill-fated notebook: “I eventually fleshed things out to almost 2,000 tunes, and they ended up publishing about 1,000 of my lead sheets in a series of books. Then I ended up working on other collections and transcribing solos for them – a Chet Baker book, an Eric Dolphy book, a Miles Davis book and others of that sort.”

Rob and Doug DuBoff

It was that early work in publishing that served as the impetus behind the launch of ejazzlines: After leaving the jazz realm in 1998 and completing a degree in historic preservation, Rob’s desire to market his books brought him to the idea for the business. “Now, in hindsight of course, the idea sounds ludicrous; to form a company where the whole basis is to sell one or two dozen books seems absurd,” he exclaims. “But that’s essentially what it was.” 

Rob proposed the concept to his brother in late 2000, inviting Doug to join him in the venture. And Doug, having become a thirty-something with a flexible mindset, was ready for a change. In the spring of 2001, they launched ejazzlines together.
Quickly realizing that you can’t run a business with twenty products, the brothers DuBoff expanded their outlook and began selling jazz publications, recordings and videos of a varied sort.

“In addition to selling arrangements,” Doug explains, “we sold actual jazz books – biographies, autobiographies, histories – Hal Leonard songbooks, Jamey Aebersold Play-A-Longs, VHS tapes and DVDs. Then, shortly after we started up, we decided that we would also do CDs.”

Carrying an enormous assortment of recordings, and focusing on out-of-print and hard-to-find albums from Europe and elsewhere, the company quickly found its niche.  Later, as the very nature of visual and audio consumption underwent a tidal shift with the rise of Internet sales and the decline of physical media, the company would evolve into the ultimate clearinghouse for jazz arrangements that it is today. “So basically, in the course of 12 years or so – from 2001 to 2013 – we evolved from a small and aspiring seller of books, DVDs and CDs to a powerhouse of jazz-focused arrangements with more different arrangements than anybody, anywhere,” Doug states.           
That evolutionary tale could have summarized the arrival and endpoint for this family business, but fate and the lure of history had other plans. “One day [in early 2007], something really strange happened,” Rob recalls. “Out of the blue, we received a phone call from the daughter of [vocalist] Helen O’Connell. She had all of her mom’s music, which included material that her stepfather, arranger Frank De Vol, had written, and she wanted to get rid of it.” Agreeing to take that music, the DuBoffs received box upon box of material. And rather than simply store its contents, they decided to start publishing it. Those trunks of music, and the realization that something should be done with those charts, would come to form the basis of Jazz Lines Publications.
Getting the ball rolling with the O’Connell archives, the DuBoffs quickly branched out. Rob’s desire to revisit a project that never fully materialized during his Hal Leonard days – the publication of the complete charts, including scores and parts, from Miles Davis’ landmark Birth of the Cool sessions – brought him back into contact with Jeff Sultanof, a former colleague who would become part of the ejazzlines family; the thirst to find and properly publish other known classics – more material from the Gil Evans treasure trove, the Charlie Parker with Strings arrangements – kept the company on the hunt; and a series of encounters based on word of mouth, either initiated by the DuBoffs or the various representatives of different famed jazz musicians, led to longstanding publication agreements.

“We had calls from people like Ed Berger, who was Benny Carter’s manager,” Rob explains. “He said, ‘I see what you guys are doing and it’s really impressive. How about publishing Benny’s music, since nobody’s really paying attention to that?’ And then that led to us setting up an agreement with the Mary Lou Williams Foundation because nobody was publishing her charts. So little by little we approached people and people came to us.”
Having forged strong relationships with the estates of Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Oliver Nelson, Duke Pearson, Gerry Mulligan, Art Pepper, and many others, the DuBoffs and Jazz Lines Publications can now essentially be seen as the guardians and overseers of some of the most significant music in American history.

It’s a role that they take extremely seriously – “one of our slogans is ‘dedicated to promoting and preserving jazz history,’” Doug points out – and they see to it that everybody is rightly compensated, even when the law doesn’t require them to do so. “A lot of these composers or arrangers were taken advantage of over the years,” notes Rob. “Tadd Dameron is the perfect example. We deal with his widow, Mia, in England, and she’s told us how Tadd had copyrights stolen from him. So we try to rectify that little by little and send her money. While we’re technically not obligated to send her a percentage, we feel we should.” 
Those high moral standards and a strict adherence to copyright law inform the company’s work, as does an exacting standard for engraving, editing and, eventually, marketing. The Jazz Lines team, which also includes Sultanof and Dylan Canterbury, works off original parts and scores to see to it that every detail – visual clarity, beat-by-beat note checks for accuracy, convenient and workable page turns, and proper descriptions and brass lead ranges on the website – is addressed. Those small yet crucial aspects of the process separate Jazz Lines from the pack, but so too does its focus on authenticity through its insistence on using true source material instead of resorting to the act of transcribing. Guesswork doesn’t figure into the equation, and that’s why this publishing house has become the go-to source for everybody looking for the ultimate musical truths in print, be it a high school band director or Wynton Marsalis at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Through their work in publishing and with a firm focus on serving the jazz community’s print music needs, the DuBoffs and their colleagues are quite literally charting a course in jazz history with ejazzlines. 

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