Meet a NYFA Artist: Von Babasin
NYFA speaks with Fiscally Sponsored Filmmaker, Von Babasin.
NYFA: Hi Von, can you tell us what are you working on and/or what’s coming up for you?
VB: Currently, I’m producing a west coast jazz documentary called ‘Harry Babasin’s Jazz In Hollywood’. I am the son of prominent jazz bassist/producer, Harry Babasin, whose innovations have changed the face of jazz and continue to do so. The film will present an overview of the early west coast jazz scene, leading up to the end of WWII, when so many musicians came to Hollywood to work in the film and recording industries. The focus turns to Harry’s life, the son of an Armenian immigrant, Yervant Harutune Babasinian, a teacher and graduate of Anatolia College, who escaped the Armenian genocide in 1915. Harry was born in Dallas, schooled at North Texas State Teacher’s College, which led to touring with big bands. A veteran of such bands as The Benny Goodman Orchestra and Woody Herman’s ‘Second Herd’, my father eventually settled in Hollywood and was instrumental in defining the Hollywood jazz scene of the 40’s and 50’s, when jazz was at its peak, and the film will focus on his specific musical contributions. He was the consummate defender of the west coast jazz movement and was the definitive ‘musician’s musician’, commanding the respect and admiration of those who heard him and those he played and recorded with. After this film is complete, I intend to continue producing documentaries highlighting the lives of significant west coast jazzers.
NYFA: How did this project come about?
VB: My father passed away in 1988 and ever since I have tried to get the history books rewritten to include Harry Babasin and the entire west coast jazz community. We own an archive of more than 500 hours of largely unreleased jazz master tapes spanning four decades of ‘Jazz In Hollywood’ and and I have spent the better part of a decade trying raise the money to build a west coast jazz museum centered around this archive. A few years ago, The Daily News, a local Los Angeles newspaper, did a nice feature on my journey to build the museum, that also had an online version. A friend of mine, JoAnne Brockway, who I had networked with for a number of years on the internet, saw the article and contacted me. “Von,” she said, “I knew you always talked about the museum but I didn’t realize how amazing it was until I saw the picture of your dad with Charlie Parker.” She proceeded to tell me she worked for the New York Foundation for the Arts and then asked how they might help. I mentioned that I had always wanted to do a documentary film about my dad and that it would help to bring a public consciousness to the existence of the archives. She said this was just the type of project they would support. So, I sent in a 20 page proposal for the film, had a wonderful conversation with Mary Six Rupert, and less than two weeks later, I had a signed contract for NYFA’s fiscal sponsorship.
NYFA: What kinds of resources are you most in need of right now as an artist?
VB: All I need are the finances to do the film. That’s exactly what NYFA recognized when they gave me their fiscal sponsorship. I have all my father’s career in a scrapbook – pictures and recordings with Charlie Parker, Chet Baker, Benny Goodman, Shorty Rogers, Buddy Rich – film clips from a movie that has my father playing with Louis Armstrong, Tommy Dorsey, Charlie Barnet, Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Mel Powell, and Louis Bellson, all in the same band – starring in an ABC-TV show called ‘Stars of Jazz’, hosted by Bobby Troup in 1958 – a recording at Bopland: The Legendary Elks Club Concert, on Central Avenue, backing a famous Wardell Gray/Dexter Gordon duel – he’s documented as being the “brainchild of the Bossa Nova”, a decade before Getz and Jobim made it an international craze, when he formed the Laurindo Almeida Quartet in 1952. I will add interviews with the remaining musicians from those days, jazz historians, and disc jockeys. Coupled with album art, liner notes, magazines, reviews of their releases, advertisements, endorsements, awards, nominations, locations—there is an untapped resource of west coast jazz history waiting to get its voice.
NYFA: Who/what is your biggest influence or inspiration right now?
VB: As you can probably imagine, my father has always been the biggest influence in my life. I am also a bassist and composer, 20+ year member of the Musician’s Union Local #47, the same local Harry was a lifetime member of. In my film background, I am greatly influenced by my grandfather, Russell Schoengarth, who was a respected A.C.E. film editor for Universal Studios for more than 40 years. Hearing his stories of film editing nightmares, directorial shortfalls, and continuity discrepancies taught my a lot about the post production aspects of film production. Then, my own history in special effects, working under such directors as Joel Schumacher, John Carpenter, and Luis Valdez, gave me insights to actual on set production that inspired me to work in both artistic mediums. Film and music go hand in hand anyway so it’s very natural for me to work in both industries.
NYFA: Tell us your most memorable art experience growing up.
VB: My father had a drummer/business partner, Roy Harte, who had the business savvy to open one of the hippest drum shops in Hollywood for three decades, Drum City. Also, on the property, was a recording studio that changed hands many times through the years. They had an office in the main building that I used to hang out at regularly as a kid. There were rooms upstairs where people like Shelly Manne and Leroy Vinnegar would give lessons on their respective instruments. I would get to sit in the control room of the recording studio and see what went on from the engineers to the performers. I can’t tell you how inspirational it was for me growing up, watching some of the greatest musicians in life, play and simply interact with each other – it shaped me and allowed me to prepare for what I’m doing right now, at this very moment in time. I’m able to carry on an artistic legacy of instrumental virtuosity that the entire world sorely needs.
NYFA: What is an indulgence for you?
VB: Spending time with my family in some beautiful place. I don’t get to do it often enough and time is so fleeting…
NYFA: How do you balance your work and your life?
VB: I don’t – my life is utter chaos. While my main focus is trying to raise the budget to produce this film, writing countless grant proposals and making endless phone calls, I am also composing new music, learning new music, keeping my chops up on my bass, performing, producing, running my two websites, promoting throughout cyberspace, answering inquiries, researching for additional pieces of my father’s story, and writing the script. Pepper in working as an apartment manager in Studio City, doing my best to be a good husband and father, and trying to make each day better than the last, I can’t decide if I’m on the brink or on the verge…
NYFA: What has Fiscal Sponsorship allowed you to do?
VB: NYFA’s fiscal sponsorship has allowed me to strengthen my core beliefs – that inner resolve that tells me I’m on the right path to fulfilling my destiny. Knowing that I have one of the most prestigious arts organizations in the world behind me emboldens me to speak to anyone on any level. There is no door I’m afraid to knock on – no person I cannot talk to. This is the ultimate validation for my father’s contributions to jazz and my life’s work. My heartfelt and sincere thanks to NYFA for believing in me and recognizing my passionate determination to see this through.