Perfect Sound Forever


Sheets of Sound: Interview with founder Leonardo Pavkovic
Part 1 by Dr. Gary Gomes
(February/March 2020)

Moonjune Records has released numerous albums since 2001. The music they record and release is intended to avoid pigeonholing, so they have an immense catalog of various types of music, including jazz, jazz-rock, music from around the world. The inspiration for the label was the need to record a project for ex-Soft Machine saxophonist Elton Dean.

The label has gained a solid reputation for putting out unique, high quality product, with excellent production values and stellar performances from a variety of musicians who would otherwise go unheard, although the label is also responsible for recordings of the late great guitarist Allan Holdsworth, legendary jazz rock band Soft Machine and the Stick Men, among many others.

I will let the man speak for himself; he has a lot to say.

PSF: What led you to found MoonJune Records?

LP: I don't know why things happen in life. Things are happening for an unknown reason because I think I'm a natural improviser in life because of the way I live my life, the way I survive, the way I had to grow. It was always that survival instinct that led me to improvise life. I am a very optimistic and positive person. I like the unpredictable, the unknown, like everything that everyone knows - I'm not saying it's boring, it probably isn't - but it doesn't appeal to me. It came out of nowhere, a coincidence, a set of circumstances. It's a very long story, it's impossible to describe in just a few lines.

I became friends with British saxophonist Elton Dean in the 1980's, and then when I moved to New York in the summer of 1990, I lost contact with him. In those days, I didn't speak English well and we only exchanged a few postcards. This was before the Internet and email, sometimes you could send a postcard. It was a different world years ago.

In 1999, that was the beginning of the Internet (well, it had been around for a few years), I was a member of a couple of Yahoo groups, one from the Italian group PFM and another from Canterbury Music - What's Rattlin', through which I met Aymeric Leroy, with whom I became good friends. Someone had posted that there was a festival in Germany and a project or band called Soft Ware was playing and the band members were Elton Dean, Hugh Hopper, John Marshall and Keith Tippett. In fact, I knew three of those people. I never met John Marshal before. I knew Hugh Hopper whom I met through the great late Giorgio Gomelsky, the legendary Georgian-Italian music impresario who after living in London for several decades, relocated to NYC in the 1980s. I was a partner in the Downtown NYC graphic company Studio T, and I was doing some graphic work for him for shows of the Yardbirds in NYC. I knew Keith Tippett because I met him at a couple of jazz festivals in the southern part of Italy, in a small town near where I lived. And then, of course, I knew Elton already. That was in October 1989 and one of Studio T's many clients was also the well-known ethnomusicologist and music producer Verna Gillis. Verna, who used to date Don Cherry in the 1970s, was a manager in those days of the legendary jazz trombonist Roswell Rudd, whom she later married. In those days I also discovered Cuneiform Records because of Soft Machine's archival live records and because of their dedication to British jazz of which I am a big fan. Cuneiform has also released several Elton Dean albums, and in 1999, I bought a copy of Elton Dean's Bladik album which featured Roswell Rudd. Verna used to come to my office very often at Studio T in Union Square, and I frequented her loft in the West Village. One day, around Christmas of 1999, she came to Studio T with Roswell to take his publicity photos (my partner in business and the founder of Studio T since 1974, was Brazilian born graphic designer and photographer Fernando Natalici) I asked if I could get in touch with him and Elton Dean and he gave me his phone number and email for Elton.

In those days in England, they had an email system where you could receive short text messages on your cell phone and Elton didn't have a computer but he had this device. I sent the message at Christmas and then went with my wife and son on vacation to Florida around New Year's and when I came back on January 1st and turned on my computer. The first email I saw was from Elton Dean, who wrote: " Hey buddy, what's going on? How long!" Then I called him the next day and we talked for maybe an hour about Soft Ware (Elton Dean, Hugh Hopper, John Marshall, and Keith Tippett), and then I told him I was involved as a partner in a new jazz label, Jazz Magnet. Immediately he told me: 'Look, I have a project for your label, maybe you can help me.' Elton was always a little pushy, as I've learned, but in a good way. He was a free jazz musician in London, he was more broke than financially well off, and he also has an addiction to alcohol and drugs. As a big fan, I began to sympathize with his situation and since we had good chemistry, I wanted to help him. I think it was the first time in my life that the reality of my musical heroes of the 1960's and 1972 hit me hard. Before that, I had was idealistic that all the musicians I have admired live well and have a decent life. How naive I was!

PSF: Of course.

LP: And then I told him about Studio T Graphics and about the new label Jazz Magnet Records, and a lot of my clients who were in the music business. As soon as I mentioned the record label, Elton exclaimed, 'you can help me then!' Jazz Magnet Records was a label co-owned by Fernando Natalici, the renowned jazz publicist Jim Eigo and I was a minor partner. Jim Eigo said he could not only help with Elton's album, but he also could help with the Soft Ware. I asked Elton to give me direct phone contacts for Hugh, Keith, and Marshall, and I started calling everyone, starting with Hugh Hopper, and the first thing I asked him, if he remembered me. He said, 'Yes, of course,' and I was so happy that such a legend and a hero of mine remembers me from a few parties at Giorgio Gomelsky's loft in NYC, when I also befriended Daevid Allen. 'Hugh, are you interested in continuing with this project? Elton also told me we can call it Soft Machine, perhaps?' Hugh answered, 'If other chaps are interested, I am interested as well, but I am not sure we can call it Soft Machine because neither Robert Wyatt or Karl Jenkins would love the idea.' Hugh was concerned not to spoil his friendship with Robert Wyatt, and he viscerally hated Karl Jenkins, who allegedly had the right to carry the name together with John Etheridge and John Marshall.

Then I called Keith Tippett. He remembered me from the Festival Europa Jazz Festival Noci in 1990, in a small town in Southern Italy near where I lived in the '90's. But he said, 'Look, I'm only interested in doing occasional gigs. I am not interested in being in any band. They are all my friends, I'm happy to do it from time to time, but having a band, that's not really my thing.' And I had also called John Marshall, and he gave me a similar answer like Keith, and he was highly skeptical of doing anything named Soft Machine, but if 'other chaps' were open for pursuing Soft Ware, he wouldn't mind doing it. Later I have discovered that Soft Machine always meant bad vibe, bad moods, bad business, bad relationship between band members, bad record deal, bad touring income, despite their stellar music, no matter which line-up we are talking about and which period or style of progressive music, from the early psychedelia to the mid to late Seventies jazz-fusion.

Then I called back Elton and he suggested that he talk to John Marshall and he and Hugh really wanted this to happen, since they had a history of Soft bands such as Soft Heap, Soft Head, Soft Ware, Soft Whatever, and later Soft Mountain. Elton and Hugh knew about the resurrection of '60's and '70's jazz-rock and progressive rock bands, various reunions, and they thought there was a chance for another career, but they never had any right opportunity to pursue any sort of Soft Machine 'reunion.'

Since Keith Tippett really wasn't interested in being in a band, Elton suggested Alex Maguire, an extraordinary pianist and keyboardist who often recorded and performed live with Elton, who was pushing for his friend but knowing that he was not the household name, and to excite the market we needed another big name. In those days, I didn't know Alex personally, except I've heard him on some albums.

PSF: But Alex Maguire is very good.

LP: Of course, but the first thing that comes to your mind when you are thinking of Soft Machine is to have another keyboard player and Mike Ratledge stopped playing keyboards in 1977 and I know Mike and that's not his thing now, so we were looking for a keyboard player. But we ended up with a guitar player, and not just any guitar player, but the mighty Allan Holdsworth.

PSF: This is how MoonJune Records started? 2000 was a very important year for me because I discovered a couple of prog rock festivals in the US and there was a certain type of prog that had developed; Neo-Prog like Pendragon or IQ, or progressive metal like Dream Theater, wasn't really my thing (but I saw once Dream Theater, and enjoyed them live much more than on their albums). My interest in those days developed more toward jazz, and I was in New York where I could see a lot of jazz, all kind of jazz, from avant-garde to fusion, seeing shows all around the city: Village Vanguard, Fat Tuesday, The Knitting Factory, Smalls, Sweet Basil, Birdland, and others. And I was frequenting all sorts of shows in NYC, and somehow, except for dinosaurs of prog such as Yes and Jethro Tull, the resurrected King Crimson, and a few others, I thought progressive rock was over.

Then one day, and still cannot remember how, someone from Italy contacted me asking me if I could help the band Finisterre, and their manager who was also their record label producer was telling me about some prog rock festivals around the USA of which I've never heard of--probably because they were so niche and had no publicity outside of their world. I guess maybe because I was involved in a jazz label in NYC, and someone was mentioning my name on some (defunct) Yahoo newsgroups. The manager sent me a bunch of CDs and I actually liked the band a lot, then he was telling me, I guess sometimes in the Spring of 2000, that he was coming to the US to attend NEARfest which was in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Encouraged by the idea of prog rock festivals happening in the USA, I tried to buy the ticket, but they were sold out. And I didn't think about it anymore, until one day. I believe it was in the end of May of that year, he told me that because of the illness of his mother, he wasn't able to travel anymore, and asked me 'why don't you use my ticket? I know you're trying to go.' So, I took my wife and my 19 month old son, and booked my hotel for 3 nights not far from Bethlehem, where the festival was held. Reading the program, I found that I knew only two bands, Happy The Man and Il Balletto Di Bronzo, and I knew who Mike Portnoy of the new band Transatlantic was. I didn't know anyone in that world, and I had no idea what to expect. At the festival, I met Steve Feigenbaum from Cuneiform and introduced myself, just as a fan. I bought several titles from his wonderful label and I knew about him a bit.

The first band didn't impress me; but the second band blew my mind. I was hearing influences from Return to Forever, Banco, Bruford, Gong, Gentle Giant, fusion meets complex progressive rock. I have discovered D.F.A.! Their performance was so brilliant, their music was well crafted and the sound was excellent, and they were so tight. Despite enjoying most of the festival, nothing else on that festival didn't even came close to them in my opinion and for my taste. So many cliches, of which the modern prog from those days was full off. I am not a traditionalist at all, but I like innovation and as a huge fan of prog rock between the late 1960's and the late 1970's. I rarely was impressed by any new band, but Finisterre, and then especially D.F.A were my cup of tea.

Being from Italy, and they were Italians from Verona, after the show, at the autograph signing session, I introduced myself, saying I lived in NYC and they said that after the festival, they would be coming to New York for about 3 or 4 days. We immediately had a good chemistry and when they came to visit Manhattan, I took them around the city, and they even came to my office. They were very happy with their performance. After their return to Italy, we kept in touch via e-mail.

Then I got a phone call from Elton, who offered me a live recording of his duo with English guitarist Mark Hewins and asked if I could help. And I tried to help him, but I didn't generate any interest among many labels I knew. It was a kind of ambient jazz, free and improvised, but no one was interested. And I was considering having it on the Jazz Magnet label, but things didn't go very well with our potential investors.

Then I gloriously said to myself: 'I'll start the label!' The first release was Dean & Hewins and I arranged it with D.F.A. to launch their NEARFest live performance. In the meantime, I received a copy of the CD of Finisterre's limited edition album, ProgDay 1997, which the festival only released in a limited edition of 500 copies, omitting at least 30-35 minutes of the entire show, in order to fit it on the CD. I liked that performance a lot. From the ProgDay Festival people, I received the recording of the whole show, and I decided to include an extra song, a PFM cover, called "Altaloma."

And I had my three releases on my own label, named MoonJune Records: Dean & Hewins Bar Torque, Finisterre StoryBook and D.F.A. Work In Progress Live. And that's how I started. I didn't have real distribution yet, but in those days, there were a lot of mail order companies in the US and abroad specializing in progressive music, and I had decent initial sales, and I started promoting those releases like crazy. In a very short time, I was able to build up an impressive list of media contacts, utilizing my already significant contacts in the jazz press and searching the Internet for all outlets that might review those CDs. Shipping in those days was very affordable and I invested a significant amount of time and money to spread the word about the new label and, in the case of D.F.A., I generated more than 250 reviews in more than 25 countries in many languages. I have generated reviews of progressive music in many outlets that do not necessarily specialize in that genre. That's how my current media/press list of over 6,000 contacts started to grow and unfortunately, I've been so busy the last few years that I haven't been able to update my list. Unfortunately, many magazines and websites no longer exist, at least a few dozen of those contacts have died, of which I know some have retired, but I remain in touch with many media contacts from those early days in 2001/2002.

In the meantime, I decided that MoonJune shouldn't be part of Jazz Magnet Media, that I should own and distribute it myself. I registered domain in 1997. The internet wasn't like it is today and people were creating websites about their favorite topics, so I decided to create a website for my favorite band, Soft Machine. But of course, I didn't do anything! When I started the label, I wanted to call it Noa Noa Music. I had a large collection of books about the South Pacific, and I had a lot of interest in Polynesian and Melanesian culture, especially Polynesian. Paul Gaugin had written a short scrapbook on a small island in the Pacific, called Noa Noa, a memoir of his life in paradise, and since I'm a big fan of Paul Gaugin, I wanted to call the label Noa Noa Music! A friend of mine suggested that was not a brilliant name, maybe to have a company called in that way, and after I had mentioned 'MoonJune,' he immediately said, yes, that's the one! (R.I.P. Terry Donnelly).

I also thought, Soft Machine is a known band, and those who know the band, they would know where 'MoonJune' comes from (Side C of the double Soft Machine album Third, released in 1970, and composed by Robert Wyatt, one of my favorite musicians). And I already had a domain, and my email was noanoamusic @ which I stopped using a few years ago, and people always were asking me where 'noanoamusic' comes from. Also, I have a very strong accent and that can distort certain words, but if you say MoonJune, that can be understood in many different languages. It is very easy and musical. And in June 2001, with three releases in, I decided to go to NEARFest again and rented a space for my merch table. It was a huge success and I made so many new contacts and became friends with so many wonderful people.

I can say that one of the reasons I started the label was to help Elton Dean, who really didn't have any money, and I really wanted to help him. We were in touch often during the first half of 2000, and one day he told me that he was going to be in New York for the first time since 1971, when Soft Machine was opening for Miles Davis at the Beacon Theatre, and that he would play in Joe Gallivan's project in June of 2000. Joe Gallivan, who played drums and synth, had also Evan Parker on sax, besides Elton, Brazilian upright bass player Marcio Mattos and Hawaiian dancers and singers. Before his arrival, I suggested to Elton to extend his stay, and that I could host him in my East Village apartment. He stayed with me for 4 days and then he went upstate NY to visit our mutual friends Roswell Rudd and Verna Gillis.

Elton was in very poor physical and economic condition. He abused drugs and alcohol and had a career as a jazz saxophonist in decline. He thought and hoped that some kind of Soft Machine reunion would bring him back to a safer place. He had a dream; I had a dream. And I told him, 'let's make it possible!'

And later that year, I found out about other festivals, like the one in California called Prog Fest. I went to that festival in September in Los Angeles, and there's another one in North Carolina called ProgDay, which I attended in October.

There is a very great correlation between these festivals that is very important. My trip to LA to attend the ProgFest was special. The program was much more exciting than NEARFest. I saw some bands I didn't think I would ever see live, like Banco from Italy, Mona Lisa from France and Supersister from Holland, and I discovered a new band of which I became an instant fan, Kenso from Japan. And I met a lot of new people. It was simply magic to be in company of people I always highly respected, like Francesco Di Giacomo and Vittorio Nocenzi of Banco, or Robert Stips from Supersister. It was a marvelous experience.

Because I was buying a lot of reissues of old albums from the 1960's and 1970's on CD's, occasionally I was also buying from the Italian mail-order company Vinyl Magic, which then changed the name to BTF. I would buy from time to time, maybe three times a year, between 10 and 15 CDs that were sent to me. My contact person, knowing somehow about my interest in tropical countries and South-East Asia, mentioned that he had a new CD in stock by an Indonesian band called Discus that he thought I might like, influenced by Mahavishnu Orchestra, Yes and Indonesian traditional music, which was released on the Italian label Mellow Records. Once I received the CD, I enjoyed it so much and my curious self found two email addresses in the album booklet and I wrote to both contacts, one was of the band's leader and guitarist, Iwan Hasan, and the second one was of one of the producers of the album who also has released the album in Indonesia on his label, Chico Hindarto. And I found new online friends in Indonesia, a country I always wanted to visit!

Some months later, after the initial correspondence between me and Iwan Hasan, the Indonesian guitarist wrote me that he was invited to two small festivals, one was in the San Francisco Bay area, an event organized by Peter Thelen, editor of the Expose Magazine (whose wife is Indonesian), and the second one was the festival in North Carolina, the ProgDay. Iwan asked me if I could help him with a gig in NYC. He tried through his cousin at the Indonesian Consulate in NYC, but with not so much luck. They had government subsidies, and they just wanted to play in NYC, no matter what the money was, they just wanted the exposure, and to play and visit NYC. I was able to arrange a show in the small room of the Knitting Factory, and they were happy. Officially, that was the first show I ever booked, and I even had to sign a simple agreement with the venue! That was the "official" beginning of MoonJune Music, and since then I have directly or indirectly booked over 3,000 shows across five continents in over 60 countries.

I was in the mood to travel to see more festivals and events around the USA, and then I flew to North Carolina for my third progressive rock festival, ProgDay! The first day was very sunny and warm, but a hurricane was approaching the region and the next day, the temperature dropped almost 50 degrees and it was very cold! The Discus guys arrived and I greeted them, but they were visibly suffering from the cold. But the performance, despite the cold, on an outdoor stage, was stellar. The next day I was already back in New York and I met them again at the Knitting Factory, and saw another spectacular show from that 10-piece band, this time in much better settings, the inside venue! Some of them stayed in New York for another 5 or 6 days and visited my Studio T Graphics office in Union Square. I had a very good conversation with one of them and discovered that he also loves the ECM label (my favorite record company in the world) and that we share very similar musical tastes, and we exchanged talks about John Taylor, Eberhard Weber, Terje Rypdal, Bobo Stenson, Jan Garbarek, John Surman and many more. His name was Riza Arshad, he was Discus' sound engineer and he told me that he was the pianist and keyboardist, and he gave me the band's latest album, explaining that it did not reflect who he is and that it was the record company's idea. In fact, when I heard the album, I didn't like it at all.

Me and Riza Arshad have continued to correspond and in 2003, when I visited Indonesia for the first time, he was the very first person I met. A few years later, I started releasing simakDialog's albums, one of the absolute gems of MoonJune Records, and one of my favorite bands in any genres in this century. What an amazing, brilliant musician, what a concept and the band's guitarist Tohpati became one of my favorite new guitarists. Unfortunately, Riza Arshad died suddenly of a heart attack in 2017.

See Part II of the Moonjune interview

Also see the Moonjune website

Leonardo with Mike Ratledge of Soft Machine

Check out the rest of PERFECT SOUND FOREVER