By Fiona Ross
Artist Representative and Producer Céline Peterson is a fierce and innovative guardian, advocate and ambassador in the Jazz industry. She brings with her, a brightness that is impossible to ignore – and nor should we. Her accolades are many. Event production, Social Media Management; she is a producer for the Kensington Market Jazz Festival, manages JUNO Award winning artists; she is the Executive Director of the Arts Games Council of Excellence and she is also a Youth4Music Ambassador. Celine hosts the weekly ‘No, I Do Not Play Piano’, program on Jazzcast.ca and moderated the centennial celebration of jazz legend Art Blakey at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Jazz Congress. She is the Artistic Producer of the annual Voices of Freedom concert and assisted in the creation of Nat Cole: A King's Centennial. Céline also helped to create the Canadian Black History Projects organization – and she is not even 30 years of age. She is also the daughter of the legend Oscar Peterson.
Talking to Céline was incredibly inspiring and we had so many areas to discuss that I couldn’t fit it into one article, so this is the first of a series of conversations with Céline.
Looking through her immense achievements to date, Céline is so highly driven and passionate and full of energy for supporting artists and their work. This was my starting point in our interview.
FR: You are so incredibly supportive and passionate about supporting people, whether that's Jazz artists or the community, it’s so inspiring! What is it that drives you? Where does that come from?
CP: That’s so kind of you to say, I think that I'm driven by experience and I know that because my experience in life has been different to so many people, that does give me a privilege. I think it's important for all of us, in whatever way that might be, to recognize our privilege. My privilege in this industry is certainly unique and so I know that I can use my experience and my voice to try and help others, whether that’s by speaking about something where I know there will not be the same consequences for me that there would be for an artist, that’s something I’m very aware of. So if there's a situation whether it's a record label issue or live production issue or even a radio station issue, anything where there is the potential for an artist to be treated unfairly - you know there can be backlash – I’m not going to book this artist or I’m not going to play this artist - but they don't have that backlash with me, I’m not releasing music. I do have to be very careful when it comes to those that I represent and work with who, of course, could have opportunities taken away from them because I’ve thrown my hat in the ring, however I know that I can be a voice for those who feel they can't have one or that their voice won’t count, or their voice won’t be heard.
Céline is an incredible champion for artists. She fiercely fights for their voices to be heard and respected. Benny Green said this of Céline: ‘With honest humility and courage, she speaks the truth of the immeasurable importance for our evolving society to realize that jazz is a precious art form for us to invest ourselves in and to treat with care, dignity and devotion’
CP: I feel very strongly about the way artists are viewed in terms of what they get paid and how pay is determined. This is another situation where some people say, what does she know? Look at her background, that's an unrealistic and we can’t expect to pay artist what Oscar Peterson – what they think - got paid etc. But in my mind, I'm saying no, that's not what it’s about at all. It’s about paying more than $150 for a four-hour show.
These are discussions we need to have and I’m in a place where I can have these discussions without being penalized for it. I love working in this industry but if we can’t make it better, I won’t want to do it. There are so many artists that are in that same position. When you look at the majority of artists in any art form, they do this because they couldn’t possibly do anything else! They were meant to do this; they were meant to play that instrument; they were meant to pick up that paint brush; they were meant to have their body move in such a way… that's what they were meant to do. So, if their industry goes away, they can’t feed themselves and they have to do something that doesn't bring their heart and soul that joy and it’s detrimental to their health - their mental and physical health. So, I love doing this but, I could be doing other things, but I know that I can make - well, I can try - to make change so that this is an industry that is livable for people. We have to do better; we absolutely have to do better. So, if I can use my privilege to try and have some important and difficult conversations so this is an industry that can thrive - especially now in the wake of COVID where things are going downhill very fast for anybody in the arts community - then that's what I'd like to do. I can wake up tomorrow morning and try a different career, but a pianist can’t. Their life will not be the same.
FR: There are so many barriers in our industry. As a woman and as a Black woman, in this mostly white male dominated Jazz industry, you must have faced many challenges and being the daughter of such a Jazz legend must have brought so much joy and incredible experiences but also an added layer of challenge of being seen and heard in your own right?
CP: I definitely have experience and challenges with a few different positions in the industry both from being a woman and also from being a younger woman. There are some situations where I will be shown a certain amount of respect to my face and of course it’s a whole other story as you say, behind the scenes. It's troubling. I also consider myself to be in place of privilege within the industry because of my unique upbringing. I think it's exactly what you said that there are some instances where I’ve gained some incredible experiences that I know are unique because of my situation and that is quite a positive thing and a helpful thing and it’s not even that it would be an advance in the industry but just the knowledge that I'm able to, hopefully, retain some things that I’ve seen or experienced or learned and then use it to the advantage of my artists or the projects that I’m working on and the people I'm working with. But on the flip side of that of course, is the many ways in which it can be more challenging, so an immediate dismissal because of my last name, all kind of assumptions because of my last name and so it's definitely a double headed monster, a two headed coin. It’s interesting and it depends on the scenario how I will be received, but I do think it is caused me to approach a lot of situations with my guard up which is unfortunate in some scenarios but you know I'm very hyper aware of why someone might want to work with me or why someone might want to speak to me or you know is there an ulterior motive behind their request. So, it’s a learning curve and I think it always will be.
FR: It must be quite a balancing act to respect and promote the incredible legacy of your father, but also to be respected yourself, as an individual, especially when you are in the same industry as your father.
CP: Absolutely! It’s something that can be very hard to navigate. One of the reasons for that is because in everything that I do I want to make sure that I'm being respectful of him, and something that is very reassuring for me, is that he wanted me to forge my own path. He never had any expectations for me to play music or be in the industry, you know? If I wanted to be a veterinarian or a lawyer or even a cashier, he was very supportive of whatever my ambitions were. But it’s the pressure that I can allow to be put on me from other people because of him and because of his legacy, it’s often quite strong and it can deter me from doing things and it can, you know, sometimes make it more difficult for me to participate in things or make decisions. But again, I like to think that I'm getting better at navigating and the biggest thing is to be able to say no and to not worry that you are going to upset people. To allow yourself to be respected, because sometimes people have nothing but the best intentions when they approach to ask for something and I'll try to recognize that so that I can respond accordingly. Other people can be just completely dismissive and rude and almost insulted if I say I don't want to do something because I'm not here necessarily to represent him and in all of my work. I tend to pick and choose what I do, whether that's an appearance or event or an interview or you know anything like that or even throwing my hat in the ring to support a certain project because especially with the way social media is these days people can take one little action and make it into something it's not so I do have to be very, very careful yeah.
FR: You spoke earlier about the challenges for artists. What discussions need to be had and how can we support?
CP: Well, I think there’s a couple of answers to this one, thinking about immediate change and the conversation that needs to keep happening right now is, we need to be encouraging people who are watching online performances to support those artists. Whether it’s a virtual cover charge or a tip or a gift or whatever you’d like to call it, that's what we need people to do. Artists are making streams free a lot of the time whether it's because they want to or whether they gotten backlash for having the audacity to charge. I try to break it down for people in terms of what you’re paying to watch a stream at home versus what you pay to watch the same concert out. You can tip $10 and you should not have to think twice about it, I mean really it’s not every time, there is not an expectation that you do it every time, but do it once, because it makes a huge difference. As opposed to if you were to go to that concert, it’s the gas, it’s the transportation and it’s the parking, the cover charge, it's the drinks and the food and it's the tip… $150 vs $10/$15 or even $5.
Those are the conversations I think right now that are almost the most important. I think there are just so many people who need that reminder, that great, you watched 45 minutes of this concert, now go and PayPal them $5. That is such an important conversation. I’m producing a festival right now here in Toronto and of course we’re going virtual, which I think, in a lot of ways is wonderful because the past 4 years this was a local festival and this is the first time we can open it up and allow anybody, everyone, all over the world to enjoy it. So, the festival is free however, we are encouraging tips. We’ve set up a store website so you can buy music directly from the Artists, there’s no streaming link, it's just purchasing a music. The PayPal links are right there as well so you can pay a cover or send a tip of whatever you’d like to do and after the festival, it’s the same story, you’ll be able to re watch their performance for a fee and 100% of all the money, of all those things goes to the artist, our festival does not take a cut. We just need to create these opportunities for the artist so that they can work and so that they can eat.
FR: So, it’s about helping to change the way people think about how they consume music? Their mindset?
CP: Absolutely and I think that, you know, it's about changing people's way of approaching it and I've had a lot of conversation especially on social media because I've been very vocal about my hatred - is a strong word, but it's the word I’ll use - my hatred of Spotify comes down to the platform. It's not that I hate streaming, it’s that I think that you can pick the best of the evils. We know streaming is convenient, so pick the best of all of the services and not the one that puts the least money in the artist pockets. People talk about Tidal. It’s a streaming service and a bigger percentage of money goes to the artist and it’s not really that much more, but it’s still more. So why are you not willing to pay like three more dollars a month or whatever that miniscule difference is, to make it so that the artist can make a few cents more? We’re dealing in cents; we’re not dealing in dollars when we talk about the ‘revenue’ or ‘royalties. We are dealing in pennies! So really, it is something that you almost have to slap people in the face because they don’t understand or they think it's not their responsibility or well, I’m just one person so how much of difference can this make well the answer is a big one, it makes a big difference.
You know I’ve had a lot of people say, why don’t you start something, the streaming service your talking about, well, you know, because I’m one person! I don't have the resources to do something like that right now, but I would love to and I'm always trying to keep my eye on what new things are becoming available because if someone did want to have conversation about that, then I’d be all for it for it. If someone came to light that was working on a more realistic streaming service that would benefit the artist instead of robbing them, then I would want to let people know, because it really is atrocious. It’s sick and again, I go back to, if you're going to do it, then do it, but pick the best of the worst - just not Spotify, just not Spotify. Appple music, Tidal, Deezer, whatever, not Spotify.
FR: Most of the publications I see, have streaming links included in any artist pages or articles. Do publications have a role to play here?
CP: I think if you are featuring music and your recommending music, especially if you are online, as its harder on print, then I always say link the Artists actual music stores and not their streaming links. A lot of artist now will have their tip links on their social media because they are streaming so often, so if you’re writing about an artist or recommending an artist, put the link right there. Just encouraging this new way of contributing. I think this is the number one thing that can happen right now and even as a publication, if any jazz music magazine, especially if they’re online editions, chose not to lift music from streaming services, that would make a difference. It can take a lot of time to get to realize that even something so small as that a world of different.
Inspired by Céline words, this edition has no streaming links to the artists.
More conversations with Celine in future editions where I discuss her role in the Voices for Freedom Concert and so much more.
About Fiona Ross