A tribute by Jessie NelsonThe essential listening list for Giant Step featured on their website reads like a Who’s Who of the neo-soul house movement, which this record label and marketing company has a major hold on. Artists such as Donnie, Groove Collective, Carl Hancock Rux, Nuyorican Soul and Zap Mama are just some of the artists that consistently push the boundaries of music today.
The adjectives owner Maurice Bernstein uses to describe a Giant Step artist never sounded more correct. “Innovative, quality, leadership, staying power.” It’s those terms that have allowed them to reach their 15th anniversary. Currently, the roster includes Ben Watt, Dwele, the Mizell Brothers, Sinead O’Connor and Suffrajett, all artists with undeniable musicianship.
Giant Step began with a small group of people organizing a weekly New York club night by the same name. Bernstein explains “everything sort of grew organically out of each other. It started 15 years ago with a weekly club called Giant Step and we mixed jazz and hip hop and dance music together. For want of a better word, people started calling it acid jazz. [We just wanted to play] music we liked, and were influenced by what was happening in England and New York. As the club became successful, the musicians involved formed into a band called Groove Collective. I was in a position where I could help these artists, and said “Why don’t I become your manager?” In 1993, I signed all four of my artists to major record labels, Warner Brothers and Geffen. As a manager, I was learning as I was going along. It wasn’t much of a fun job and I had absolutely no leverage within the record companies. I also realized that we were able to do a better job then they were at marketing these artists who were left of center and different from the traditional stuff. I found I became frustrated by the fact that we could do things a bit better.”
In 1995, Giant Step began to be recognized as a marketing company as well as a record label, bringing them a higher level of recognition within the industry. “I got approached by producer Tommy Lapuma who was working with the Impulse (jazz) label. He was looking to set up a street sort of jazz imprint label. [He] identified Giant Step as the brand to do that with. I brought the Groove Collective with me and Nuyorican Soul. After a few years of doing that and being frustrated that the marketing wasn’t that good, I was asked by Sony to market a new artist of theirs, Macy Gray. Giant Step marketing was born, and we became a marketing company before we realized it.”
The motto of Giant Step has always been quality control and in turn, that’s allowed them to keep eclectic interesting artists with them. “What we pride ourselves in is the fact that you might not be aware of artist, but if our brand is attached there’s quality.”
This past October, the 15th anniversary events were as diverse as the roster Bernstein keeps. BBC wonder Giles Peterson and electro dj Miss Kittin were spinning, soul sister Nikka Costa and funk generators Jamiroquai performed live sets along with Ben Watt and at the end, there was the Giant Step 15th Anniversary reunion with the original Giant Step crew and musicians capping off the week and saluting the work of the organization.