There are few stories in the local arts as unusual as that of Michael Fagien, M.D.
The Boca Raton radiologist lives in two worlds, one of medicine, and one of the jazz music he’s loved since his youth in Hollywood, where he moved with his family in 1969 from New Jersey.
As a medical student at the University of Florida in 1983, he founded Jazziz magazine, for which he pioneered the free-CD insert since imitated by many other publications since then. That magazine became a stepping stone for consulting work to music giants such as Time Warner, all while he was a practicing radiologist.
He expanded the Jazziz brand to a short-lived bistro at the Hard Rock gambling complex in Hollywood, then revived the idea of selling the brand’s lifestyle through Jazziz Nightlife, a music club and upscale restaurant that opened in Mizner Park in May. The music-and-medicine crossover is part of his management team as well: His second wife, Zakiya, also a physician, is publisher of Jazziz (and mother of the two youngest of Fagien’s five children), and his twin brother, Boca Raton plastic surgeon Dr. Steven Fagien, has joined the team as president of Jazziz Entertainment.
Palm Beach ArtsPaper sat down with Fagien in May, just after the grand-opening engagement by actress Molly Ringwald, who has embarked on a singing career (her father is jazz pianist Bob Ringwald). Fagien, 56, an energetic, voluble man, was eager to show off Jazziz Nightlife, which occupies part of the building that once housed the National Cartoon Museum in Mizner Park.
After a walking tour of the club, during which he explained the club’s sound system, Fagien sat down at one of the tables near the stage and began the conversation by talking about food.
Fagien: Our executive chef, Justin Flit, is truly one of the hottest chefs in America. We are going to work to make him into a celebrity chef because we believe he can reach that status. His sous chef is absolutely spectacular, even their assistant chef is just 5-star.
And then we have, in addition to those three chefs, we have our pastry chef. Everything is made here. When you get your burger — I’d like you to try one if you’re in the mood — our burgers here not only is it Kobe sirloin, but it’s made daily into patties, fresh. And the bun that you get it on was just made. As a connoisseur of food I can tell you that people can tell the difference when they take their first bite. There are a couple of really great burger places in town; we all circulated and checked them out. And my chefs said, “Don’t worry about it. We’ll do a better burger than that.”
In addition to the freshness and quality of the meat, which is flown in everyday, I think where other people fail is the bun. There’s a great burger place in town; I love their burger, but their bun falls short of expectations. There are three things that make a great burger: the quality of the meat, the bun and the secret sauce …
Once again, the reason that the burger’s good is not because we want to be a great burger place at all … What’s really important in this model, which wasn’t done before, is we want this restaurant to be, self-servingly, to be the best restaurant in town. And to do that, you need great chefs, great talent, and great ingredients. And you’ve got to be willing to spend on the food.
PBAP: You had a restaurant down at the Jazziz Bistro you ran for a while. Good chocolate martinis, as I remember.
Fagien: The whole melding here [at Jazziz Nightlife] is about fine dining and entertainment and how do you make those two cultures blend. There’s a great restaurant here [in Mizner Park], and they have entertainment, but it’s a guy in the corner with an electronic keyboard and a woman with a mic. And I call it kind of bar mitzvah music. It’s not even bar mitzvah music. And I look at it and I understand: They’re focusing on the restaurant.
And then you have these phenomenal live music venues, but you would never eat there. What you typically do is go eat first. When I go to some of these great clubs around the world, I go eat first, and then I go see the show. Now we’re creating an environment where people come and they say, “Well, you know, we need a great steak, or halibut or whatever, and I’m gonna watch a great show.” What we found is while some people think those two experiences are mutually exclusive, we found them to be synergistic if they’re done right.
The server has to be as interactive as the customer wants him to be. And if they say “Just bring my food and leave me alone,” they have to be receptive to that. “I’m here to see Molly Ringwald. Don’t bother me. Just bring me my stuff and go away.” And they have to take the temperatures of the customer to do that.
PBAP: You mentioned the Blue Note, which reminds me that the tradition of jazz clubs is that they are not eating places. Some of those clubs, are even hard to sit in comfortably. But that’s the tradition. Are you trying to get away from that culture?
Fagien: When I launched Jazziz magazine 30 years ago, there were other jazz magazines. The reason why those magazines have a relatively small market is because the aficionado that reads those publications is a very small market. So what tends to happen is that those magazines are not really magazines, like you know magazines. They are more like fanzines. What happens is the people who read those magazines are so excited that they are covering the music that they love, they don’t really care how it looks, reads, the paper quality. They’re like: “I can’t believe they’re covering Johnny Hodges!”
We look at it as: If I’m going to reach a much bigger market, it has to look and feel like a real magazine, whether it’s a fashion magazine or whatever kind of magazine it is. If it’s an entertainment magazine, it has to be about entertainment. So the look, the feel, the writing, the photography, the art, the whole design has to be uniquely a different beast. So you create it to reach that market who would ordinarily not subscribe to a jazz magazine. And that’s how we built Jazziz.
Of course, we had a little bit extra secret sauce. We created a model where we package the magazine with a CD. There’s a CD that’s packaged inside. Therefore, we had another attribute to Jazziz, where people say “You know, I love the CDs that they put in there, and then I get to read about the artist.” And it’s a coffee table item. It’s by design that it’s not Jazz Times or Downbeat. It’s not that they’re not great magazines. It’s just that we’re not doing that.
… I don’t know if you are a Pat Metheny fan, but I’m a huge Pat Metheny fan. What I love about Pat Metheny, and I’ve talked to Pat about this, is when he does the Pat Metheny Group concerts, which are much more accessible, watch the audience. Most of the people there are not Pat Metheny fans. They were told to come see this amazing artist, and it’s jaw-dropping. They get that experience, and that’s what I like to do, whether it’s with the magazine or whether it’s with Jazziz Nightlife.
So specifically to answer your question, by design we are not a jazz club because I believe that audience is very small. But when they’re here, we may occasionally feed them jazz. And then they are going to say, “You know that guy, Jesse Jones Jr., I didn’t expect much, but man that guy overdelivered.” You know we had [Miami-based saxophonist] Jesse Jones, perfect example. He’s a wonderful seasoned veteran, local legend, comes on stage, people don’t know what to expect, and they are grooving to it, they are clapping and dancing, they see him walk around the stage doing the one-note thing, around the venue, wireless, and they’re like, “This is entertainment.” And that’s what I’m going for.
It has to have an appeal, kind of like the magazine looking like a real magazine, it has to have the appeal of an upscale fine dining establishment, because people may not be coming here for that. What happens to the customer who comes in and says: “Wow, you guys have music. I’m here with my wife, I want to get a nice meal, I don’t really want to interact with the music.” We have private dining rooms. They can go into our lounge in the back, they can go into our champagne and caviar bar, they can go into our Ella Room, they can go into our private dining room. They might say, “I’m not in the mood tonight. I just want a great meal,” or they might say “I want to sit right on the stage; I love David Sanborn.” That’s the difference between us and a jazz club.
PBAP: Doing that two-headed beast thing, is that something you think is a really good model for today’s kind of customer? Is that the kind of thing people are expecting? In the old days, it would be one thing or the other.
Fagien: I think that maybe an analogy would be social media. The old jazz club model is you get in your seat and you watch the show. There’s not a whole lot of excitement other than an exciting performance that may be taking place on stage to an aficionado crowd that’s absorbing it, and that’s all they’re getting. They’re not eating, they may have one drink and sip on that for an hour.
But we’re saying it’s a social experience. Bring your friends, sit eight people in here, wine and dine, have a great time and get a show at the same time. You know the social media component to what we do, it’s not only timely in this era but it even extends to the food. When you and I used to go to restaurants years ago, we’d get the entrée and a dessert and a drink, and that would be mine. Now it’s: Get five appetizers and let’s pass them around. It’s social; this atmosphere intentionally creates a social environment.
… I love when people leave here — it started to happen at the Hard Rock, were starting to see it now … where people leave and say: “We just kind of came because we were at Mizner and that was one of the best things we’ve ever seen”; “I’ve never heard music like that.” “Your sound system is so amazing.” “I love it here; we’re coming back.” Then I’ve done my job.
Do the cultures meld well together? They do, if you instill a culture that fosters that interaction between the food and music and the social aspects of what we’re doing. It’s intentional here. You want to come and have a party with your friends, you kind of want to get the music, you want to hear it, but you don’t want to be in there, we have 250 seats outside.
All these windows — you haven’t been here at night, but all these windows open. You can literally be sitting outside and hearing the music and be having a great conversation. It could be family with kids outside while that’s going on. But when you’re in this live room underneath the mother ship, it’s all about the show.
PBAP: The things that you didn’t like about jazz clubs, the things you wanted to bring to entertainment, was that part of your vision from the beginning when you started the magazine? Or were you just saying, “I’m a jazz head and I want to do something”?
Fagien: I was a jazz head, but I always wasn’t a jazz head. When I was in high school I was a progressive rock guy: Yes, Genesis, PFM, Gentle Giant. I was a huge prog rock head. It’s not like I burned out on prog rock, but I was looking for something that was a little more — I don’t want to say “artistic” — but I was looking for something else. That’s when I got turned on to Return to Forever and bands like that. And that was the bridge.
I was a music freak, plain and simple. I knew all the artists, I knew all the members of the band, I knew what other bands they played in, and I knew the liner notes. It was my thing, it was my hobby. And what I used to do, I used to make mixtapes for friends. So you’d come over and I’d say “Have you ever heard of Flash? Do you remember that song ‘Small Beginnings’?” And I’d sing it for them. And I’d say, “Well, I’ve got a whole bunch of music like that that people never heard of.” I’d put it together on a mixtape, I’d give it to you and you’d take it home. I’d hear from you a week later and you say “That tape you made me, I listen to it all the time. That is so great; can I get some more?’’
Because of being a music freak, I used to write for newspapers, magazines, because I love writing about music that I love. So I didn’t do it for the money, I did it because I love writing about music. I wasn’t even a good writer. I basically wrote from a fan’s perspective and my editors back then cleaned me up. But I got published. I got that journalist jones and it stuck with me. I said, “Well, wouldn’t it be cool to launch a magazine?”
Then I heard about the birth of this technology called the CD and I said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if, instead of those floppy Eva-tone bind-ins, we were somehow able to bind a CD into a magazine? Let’s do it, let’s launch a jazz magazine.” Sony came to me because I was a journalist, and I would cover Sony artists — back then, Columbia. And they said, “If you’re going to launch this magazine” — and we had a media kit like every magazine launch — “can we figure out how to put a CD in it?” Actually they said, “Can you use your new magazine to promote this new technology called the CD?” That’s how it went down.
So we went to the drawing board with Sony. It took us about 6 months, and we finally defaulted by saying the only way it’s going to work is a 5-inch disc in a cardboard sleeve, shrink-wrapped and then poly[ethylene]-bagged into the magazine. Now, we had no idea what we were doing. In fact, probably one of my biggest business blunders is that I didn’t patent it, because that became that became the de facto standard for gaming, computer, other music magazines, AOL software…
Fortunately, the upside is it became the model for Jazziz magazine. Sony said in the beginning: This technology is really for audiophiles, and it’s really just going to be for the jazz and classical market. No one realized in 1982, 1983, that this was going to become the format. No one had that vision. They also didn’t realize it would become the beginning of the end of the music business.
We launched Jazziz magazine; it was a poly-bagged magazine and CD, and it became how we grew our circ[ulation], because what would happen was: You’re a music fan, but typically for magazines, I might lose you through attrition, because you get January, February and March, you didn’t read any of them and then you get a bill. You say, I haven’t read the last three issues. Our secret sauce is, I put that CD in my car, I take that CD to work, I’m going to renew. That became the way we retained customers and continue to build a customer database.
So again, it was designed not necessarily for the jazz aficionado because in addition to the CD, we did our own photo shoots. You look at these covers here [points to the giant magazine cover blowups on the club walls]: that’s an Annie Leibovitz photo. We have all these classic photographers, from William Claxton to Bill Gottlieb to Bob Willoughby. And then we’d shoot our own … I remember one of the first covers we got a lot of mileage on was this fashion shoot we did with this unknown artist at the time named Diana Krall. And we put her on the cover and made her look sexy. It was literally, bam, she was off to the races. The cover appeared on CBS, it appeared all over the country on articles because we made her look sexy.
We took the guys and made them look sexy. We took [trumpeter] Chris Botti and all artists that were emerging contemporary artists at the time and did photo shoots with them. Back to what I was saying, the other magazines didn’t, and we said, “How do we make this mass marketable so people that aren’t really jazz aficionados say, ‘That’s kind of cool’?”
PBAP: Let me ask you about Diana Krall. She always seems uncomfortable with the sexy side of her image. She seems more interested more in playing. Was she uncomfortable with the glam marketing?
Fagien: The answer is there’s probably some truth to that. I was fortunate enough to be invited to her recital before she was signed to her first major record company by Tommy LiPuma, who’s been her producer on all her records. And I sat there with Tommy at the Five Spot. That’s where she did her recital. I saw this wonderful-looking, -sounding, skillful piano player, wonderful identifiable voice on stage and I was witnessing a future jazz star. And it was clear to me, sitting in that room the first time hearing her, and I remember turning to Tommy and I was like, “Yes.”
And so putting her in that sexier role, that image of her, whether it is or not her, it’s clear that that is the way to market her. It’s sad that we’re in a music business that, not to my liking, but I remember sitting in meetings, because I was at Universal, I was at Warner, and you listen to a singer and you’re sitting around a room and all the guys are sitting around, “Hey, she really sounds good. What does she look like?” You hear that and you’re like “That’s pretty sexist.”
The reality is on the marketing side that becomes important. We’ve done all tricks with photography to make people who aren’t the most beautiful people in the world become beautiful people. That’s surmountable, but at the end of the day that sexy image that Diana Krall portrays has been at least in part, part of her success.
PBAP: The rap about Jazziz is that it’s not “real jazz,” it’s “smooth jazz.” So what’s your definition of jazz?
Fagien: The name of the magazine, Jazziz, is about changing the definition. We do have that stigma where people think we’re smooth [jazz]. And that clearly came from our launch in 1983, when smooth jazz was it, and it was so hot even [pianist] Chick Corea was doing smooth jazz. It was all about that new jazz, that not-your-father’s-jazz that was so popular. As a magazine, not as a fanzine, you cover what’s hot, because that was the jazz of that era, so we covered it.
Now as the magazine grew up, smooth jazz became passé, we don’t cover it that much anymore, if at all. So over the years in addition to having Ella [Fitzgerald], Miles [Davis], [John] Coltrane and Charlie Parker and Dave Brubeck and Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan covers, which are clearly the classics, we’ve also put some some of the most bizarre, avant-garde artists that you can imagine: John Zorn, David S. Ware, Matthew Shipp. We actually have had on our covers, more out, avant-garde artists than our competitors. We’ve had more traditional retro covers than our competitors. But it’s always surprised me that because we launched with a smooth jazz sort-of stigma, that’s kind of hung with us.
I have this criticism of the jazz police. I always say “Jazz people help keep jazz small.” And I know why they do it: If you like this certain type of music that only appeals to a small audience, you love being able to say, “Check this out; you probably haven’t heard it,” or you go to check that artist out in a small club in New York and there’s this club, this sort of camaraderie that I call the jazz police, that feels like its theirs. We say: Nonsense.
We have an opportunity not to beat people over the head and say you should love jazz, but to introduce it to them in a different way, possibly in a little bit more commercial way … I use the analogy with wine. People don’t start out buying great bottles of wine. They try wine, they get a taste for it. And no one says “I used to drink wine,” unless for some medical reasons they don’t. They usually say, “Now I’m drinking finer wines.” So someone may come in to see Spyro Gyra, and then see Ariel Pocock and say, “I loved her.” They would have never come just for Ariel Pocock.
So I believe we can cultivate an audience without beating them over the head like we have done with festivals throughout the last 30 years …. There’s no doubt there’s a commercialism to it, to get people in the door to get people to subscribe. But we hope to cultivate an audience that feels like their lives have been enriched because of the way we’ve presented things.
PBAP: So jazz isn’t dying if you broaden the definition.
Fagien: There was a pretty good Newsday poll that asked people what music they’d like to learn more about, and the number-one genre was jazz. So we know that as our audience gets a little bit older, and our customer here is a little bit older, they are hungry to learn, experience, discover and we provide that for them. And I think what happens, again if you don’t beat them over the head, but present it in such an elegant way — “I just came here for dinner, but that band, I want to get their CD, I want to check them out online” — then we know we’ve done our job.
PBAP: How did Molly Ringwald do?
Fagien: She did great. Again, on the marketing side the reason I wanted her to be the grand opening is you don’t have to like jazz to like Molly Ringwald. In fact, I would say that 98 percent of the people that bought tickets had no idea she could sing, they wanted to see her. She got sick the first day. I had to call in a prescription, find a CVS open 24 hours, she was sick, I was her physician.
Brought her to the hotel, gave her all the throat lozenges, the love and care and a get-well card: “Hope you feel better, we love you, thanks for coming.” And she said, “For as long as I’ve been in this business, nobody has ever done this.” And I said, “I want you on tomorrow at seven.” [Laughs]
She was onstage with tea. She sucked the hot tea that Lily and the chefs made for her, she looked really cute and she was great. Her second night was actually better than the first.
… She ended with the [Simple Minds] song Don’t You Forget About Me. Th show was great, but ending with that was perfect: Don’t forget about me, which could be her mantra, and she did it beautifully. She just nailed it. She off stage and got a standing ovation, people were roaring, this was just great.
PBAP: Are you able to fit in full-time radiology?
Fagien: Truth is, I don’t sleep much, which is why I look like I do. I always have bags under my eyes because I haven’t had enough sleep, I catch catnaps from time to time. The radiology side of my life, or even the medical side of my life launched simultaneously to my music career, and it just happened, and it happened because of Dr. Robert Cade, the inventor of Gatorade.
I got into med school [at the University of Florida] the year I launched Jazziz magazine. And even Dr. Cade — I called him Dr. Cade until the day he died, and he called me Mikey until the day he died. He used to say “Mikey, what do you want to be when you grow up? Do you want to be in the music industry or do you want to be a physician?” I said, “You know, Dr. Cade, I want to do both.” And then he looked at me, and said “Then you will do both.” He was so supportive of me. There’s a saying: “If you want to get something done give it to the busy guy.” I am the busiest guy I know, there’s no doubt about it. I’m not necessarily proud of it, because it makes me a little bit manic, and I should slow down.
… The medical stuff I do, I carve out quiet time for that, because fortunately I picked a medical specialty, radiology, where I can literally be in a dark room by myself reading scans on a pretty sophisticated work station. And I have a room in my house where I close the door, there is no music stuff going on, it is pure radiology.
It’s become a little bit of a yin-yang. [My musical life] can be really stressful with all the moving parts, and [with radiology] it’s almost like grabbing that cup of coffee and reading the newspaper: I close the door, turn my work station on, and it’s just me and my transcriptions. And I’m just dictating cases, because there is this one area of radiology where I’m fairly expert in, called positron emission tomography, or PET scans, and I just sit there and I read the scans to the best of my ability and generate reports.
Now, it’s all about a visual thing, not too dissimilar to the magazine, where I have these computer monitors, three of them with big color images and with the technology, I’m able to flip through them and dictate. Then I get reports back, and then I edit my reports like I’m editing a piece, and making the reports read well. Because as a radiologist, the thing that I’ve learned is that I am 100 percent judged by the quality of my report, and I learned that early on.
… How do I keep up with that? It’s usually in the middle of the night on my work station. I’ll put out articles, I’ll read them. No interruptions, the kids are sleeping, my wife is sleeping. No Jazziz calls, I am completely isolated from the world, it’s like being in a storm room in a basement. There’s absolutely no noise, no distraction, and I read. I can read anywhere from three to 20 cases, then I go to sleep.
PBAP: Is it helpful to be in two completely different worlds?
Fagien: I’ve always had to be careful, because there is a subset of people who think it’s the coolest thing in the world that I’m able to do both, and they love it and we become friends. And then there are those, whether it’s envy or just the simple fact that they believe you can’t possibly do both well, they become my critics. And I look at it as, I’m not there to please my critics. I’m there to do the best job I can in both worlds, because I’m in both worlds because I choose to be.
PBAP: When you originally did the Bistro thing down in Hollywood, I seem to remember you were going to put this concept in a bunch of places around the country. But you weren’t able to do that.
Fagien: I made a mistake in Jazziz Bistro. The concept was mine, but it didn’t wind up matriculating to being mine. I was one guy of several. It became Jazziz Bistro because it was more about being a restaurant at the Hard Rock. The stage was smaller, near the end, we booked acts every six months, there was a de-emphasis on bringing in world-class talent. We would just bring talent in on Friday and Saturday night. The food was good, but it wasn’t world-class like this.
Had that model with those partners been successful, from an ability for the partners to see eye to eye, and had it not been on Seminole land, which was a problem, then we might have done more. The idea was to do that one and see if we could replicate that one.
But what I really wanted to do, my dream was to do [Jazziz Nightlife], which I couldn’t get buy-in from my partners on. The concept of having a champagne-and-caviar bar, a cigar bar, to have a live room and private rooms and outdoor dining, and bringing in music every night, and tying in the magazine. They didn’t want the magazine to have anything to do with it. But the integration of all those elements was critically important … This was about the integration of the Jazziz brand and building a customer database of people who love what we do.
PBAP: So you could walk this concept to other places.
Fagien: Oh, we’re absolutely going to do that. We already have our second location.
PBAP: And you’re not going to tell me where.
Fagien: I’ll tell you generally: Vegas. This concept only works in certain markets. It works in Boca because we have a wealthy clientele who are looking for things to do — entertain me, show me that you’re as good as you say you are, impress me and I will bring back my friends because I have the time and money to do so. Let me down, and I will let the whole world know that this place isn’t so great. So we need to deliver every night.
The beautiful thing about having entertainment nightly is to some of the older folks that live in Boca Raton, Wednesday night is a Friday night. They say there is nothing to do on a Wednesday. Now there’s something to do. They come here, they love the bar, they love the music, they love the way they’re treated. We have customers here that come four and five times a week. When does anyone come to a restaurant four or five times a week? You have to make it feel like their home, like it’s their clubhouse. We want people to feel like this place is theirs, and that’s no easy feat.
There’s no doubt about it, it works in certain markets, certain demographics. The reason we believe that Vegas is a good place, is that while it’s not as residential as Boca, people go to Vegas to do things at night and they are going to spend money. They’re there for one purpose, to go out at night and eat good, drink good, and have a great time. And if you have that every night, then you may have a winning formula.
Same thing with New York City. The problem with New York City is we’re laden with competition. We have a site picked out in New York, but New York’s a tough place, unions, everything else you have to deal with in New York, and there is a lot of competition. A lot of people say when they come here that this is something they’d expect in New York, and it’s right here in Mizner Park. When they say that, we take that as a compliment.
But I don’t know of any place in New York, because I know all the live music-restaurant venues, that does this. We might lead ourselves to believe that we would have a competitive edge if we came to New York, but we are also realistic enough to know that New York is a really tough market.
Now, the folks who own a big jazz company called Concord Music Group — I don’t know if you know this, it’s owned by [TV producer] Norman Lear — I met with Norman and with Hal Gaba, who has since died, two, wonderful smart guys, and the guy who runs the company for them, a guy named Glen Barros. We met in New York, and they loved this concept, they want to do something with us. And they said, “Well, how many of these do you think you’re going to do?”
And I said, “I don’t know; a dozen.” They said: “We think you could do 50 of these around the country.” I said, “Maybe we’ll take it to 12, and you could take it to 50.” [Laughs]
Jazziz Nightlife is at 201 Plaza Real, Mizner Park, Boca Raton. Hours are 4 p.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday, and Sunday; 4 p.m. to2 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Call 561-300-0730; visit www.jazznightlife.com.