Mike Friedman (1976) Percussion

Ed. Note: Mike Friedman was a member of the New Trier West High School Jazz Ensemble for the three years, 1974, 1975, and 1976. During that time he became an acknowledged leader of his peers. He was named a Student Director for two years. His influence, as a student, to younger performers, has become a legacy. He was awarded The Louis Armstrong Award and the Benny Goodman trophies.

I started playing the drum set at age 10 and immediately joined a Cream cover band called The Psychedelic Imprint. We were the talk of our neighborhood garage band circuit, not as good as The Neon Barrier, which featured other future New Trier West Jazz Ensemble members, but hey, they weren’t in our neighborhood. At 11, I heard the NTW Jazz Ensemble play. I was blown away, intrigued, invigorated, an immediate jazz convert. And really nothing has ever been the same since then. Several years later, when I was actually playing in the jazz ensemble, I had to pinch myself. Subsequently I was appointed a Student Director of the jazz ensemble where I actually directed the Lab Jazz Ensemble, the ‘feeder’ group to the Recording Jazz Ensemble. Thank you to Roger Mills and to all the NTW Jazz and Lab Ensemble musicians I’ve known for the education, joy and inspiration. I feel extremely lucky to have been part of the NTW Jazz Ensemble program and what I learned has become a large part of my life.

I graduated from New Trier West High School in 1976 and continued my music education at the University of Illinois, where I earned a BM/Percussion in 1980. Upon graduation, I embarked on a career in music, spending the next 12 years in Chicago and New York City. I suppose my goal was to simply earn a living as a Drummer/Percussionist, taking on all challenges. But my real dream was to become a jazz artist.

During those years, I had the honor of playing with acclaimed musicians such as James Moody, Eddie Harris, Harold Ashby, Eddie Barefield, Doc Cheatham, Clark Terry, Joe Williams, Little Jimmy Scott, and Gunther Schuller’s Ellington Repertory Orchestra, among others, but I spent most of my time playing Broadway musicals – mostly on the road, but also on Broadway itself.
My road work – between six and ten months of each year – took me all over the world. The last show I did was a five-month tour of Japan with “The King and I” featuring Stacy Keach as the King. The year was 1991 and I only took the gig because I couldn’t see turning down a chance to tour Japan. But I knew I was ready for a change. I had had an incredible time playing music for a living, learned a ton and gained a lot of experience from it, but I had become disenchanted with what it took to earn a living. And the reality was the jazz gigs just weren’t there.

I became a social worker for a while, learned computer programming, designed databases for various law firms and did public relations work. After a couple years and a lot of soul searching, I realized that I could not live my life outside of music. I could not live without the chance to be creative in music. I went back to school, earned an MA in Arts Management and started a record company, Premonition Records, in August of 1993.

Premonition Records developed slowly but steadily as these were good years in the record business, even for small indie labels like mine. Premonition’s 1994 release “cafe blue,” from vocalist/pianist Patricia Barber gained the most notoriety. In 1998 we released Ms. Barber’s “modern cool” which earned a 5 Star review from Downbeat Magazine, topped the Billboard’s Jazz chart and put Premonition on the map.

In 1999, I signed a joint imprint, worldwide distribution deal with Blue Note Records/EMI (yes, just after Napster launched). This was the first such agreement in Blue Note’s storied history and created the joint imprint, Blue Note/Premonition. It also gave Premonition Records distribution through EMI as a standalone entity. That deal ended in 2004, which roughly coincided with the end of the record business,

I realized during this time that I loved running a record label. I loved fostering the creation of new music, mastering the process of selling an album and meeting the challenge of building careers for the artists. My label was and still is known for its dedication to artists, and for signing long term, multialbum commitments with them. Our releases were routinely well received by the music press and at radio stations in the US and around the world. With recording and production quality a priority, we also earned a reputation for the audiophile level sound of our releases.

All in all, I think we created a lot of great music with undeniably great audio quality. And we had some business success as well. This all culminated in February of 2013 when I won a Grammy Award as “Surround Producer” for Premonition’s re-release of “modern cool” in 5.1 Surround.

On the heels of the success of Premonition, in 2000 I partnered with New York trumpeter and good friend Dave Douglas, launching another indie jazz label called Greenleaf Music. Greenleaf was and still is dedicated to releasing Dave’s music along with artists curated and produced by Dave. I helped Dave get the label off the ground and then left in 2008 which is the year Premonition released its last new recording.

Since the demise of new releases on Premonition, I’ve had the opportunity to devote time to beginning the third act of my career. I got back into composing music (something I started at NTW) and am currently producing new material for a future release. I am also actively engaged in licensing deals. With the sales success Premonition enjoyed, the catalog continues to churn with most of the Premonition titles re-released multiple times in multiple formats. Recently, we had a program of Reel-to-Reel releases of the catalog – yes, we’re back to tape – which was really interesting and fun.

All in all, the New Trier West High School Jazz Program has been of lifelong importance to me.