From Junk Bonds to Jazz: Pi Recordings' Yulun Wang
Yulun Wang thinks of himself as a guy who can solve complex problems. He did it frequently during his nearly two-decade career in investment banking. After working as a quantitative analyst at Security Pacific National Bank, he shifted to municipal bond re-financings at Dillon, Reed & Co. But once the Internet bubble burst, Wang—who was, by 2002, doing junk bonds and derivatives at UBS (UBS)—decided it was time for a change. “I had no interest in working in investment banking any longer,” he says. “Toward the end, the bureaucracy and internal politics wore me down, and the work I was doing began feeling increasingly meaningless.”
Wang, now 47 years old, felt a calling to produce jazz records—and not just any jazz records. He hoped to release the kind of obscure and noncommercial avant-garde albums that were briefly in vogue in the 1970s, like the ones by the Art Ensemble of Chicago, whose members painted their faces and donned African masks when they performed. So Wang, who had fallen in love with jazz as a high school student, started producing albums for Pi Recordings, a small New York-based label that has surprised the music world by reinvigorating the careers of such jazz greats as saxophonists Henry Threadgill and Steve Coleman, while launching young artists like pianist Vijay Iver and saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa.
As a result, Wang and Seth Rosner, the 40-year-old label’s founder—who works in the daytime as a managing director for his family’s real estate company—have themselves become stars. Last year, participants in the DownBeat critics poll named Pi Recordings the No. 4 jazz label and its co-owners the third-most-important producers in jazz. “It’s a really good label now, an imprimatur,” says New York Times jazz and pop writer Ben Ratliff. He compares Pi Recordings to jazz imprints such as Savoy, Blue Note, and Verve, which showcased artists like Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, and John Coltrane.