Why is this interesting? - The Monday Media Diet with Justin Kalifowitz

On independent music, Singapore Airlines, and why you should eat in Jackson Heights

Justin Kalifowitz (JK) is a longtime friend of WITI. He is the founder and CEO of Downtown Music Holdings (Downtown), an integrated music company that owns, develops, and manages businesses with a vision for a more innovative and equitable global music ecosystem. Justin is also one of the most passionate urbanists we know, with a deep love for both long-haul travels to explore new cities, as well as his hometown New York City (as you will soon read). We’re pleased to have him on the page. -Colin (CJN)

Tell us about yourself.  I’m the Founder and CEO of Downtown Music Holdings, a global music company based in New York that has operations in 23 cities across six continents. Our platforms are utilized by over 1,000,000 recording artists, 300,000 songwriters, and 2,500 business and enterprise clients to best monetize, distribute and promote their creative works. I’m a big believer in the power of music to engage, inspire, and educate and that is rooted in everything we do across Downtown.

Describe your media diet. Mornings typically start with the FT which sits prominently on my iPhone’s home screen. I’ll quickly scan Music Business Worldwide and the quote at the top of Jason Hirschorn’s @MusicREDEF newsletter edited by the excellent Matty Karas. I’ll then turn to a passion of mine across the day reading about cities and especially, New York City. This could be a basic New York Post rant on the mayor, a deep dive by The City on affordable housing, a Fast Company story on an increasingly car-free Paris, Dezeen’s top 10 offices in Asia, a Riders Alliance report on #CuomosMTA, or any number of publications that take on my favorite subtopic: the intersection of NYC’s restaurant and real estate industries. If there’s a story about outdoor dining blowing out parking spots, I promise I’ve read it.

What’s the last great book you read?  One of our clients at Downtown is the great Leslie Bricusse, who wrote the music for Willy Wonka's “Pure Imagination!”, the Nina Simone classic “Feelin’ Good” and Bond themes like “Goldfinger” amongst hundreds of other songs that have won him an endless number of awards. Ahead of the pandemic, I visited with Leslie, now 89, and his wife Yvonne at their home in Beverly Hills where he handed me a copy of his autobiography and signed it “The story so far!” While I’ve had the good fortune of hearing many of Leslie’s stories over some fine meals and always excellent wine, I can now confirm they are just as compelling when sung off the page.

What are you reading now? I’ve been trying to finish Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential for nearly two decades. I’m almost there!

What’s your reading strategy when you pick up a print copy of your favorite publication? If my four-year-old is nearby, our reading strategy is simple: shred the publication for any pictures of planes or boats and exclaim, “Look!”. If I’m solo, my reading strategy has recently been thrown off by the fact that we just started publishing a semi-annual Downtown Journal with my good friend, Elliot Aronow. What this means is I’m now obsessing over paper stock, bindings, and art direction in a slightly different way.

Who should everyone be reading that they’re not: I’ve long held the belief that New York City is the world at its best. There are few people who offer a more consistently thoughtful opinion about how we can make it better than Errol Louis. While I don’t always agree with every word, his weekly column in The Daily News (as well as his NY1 show “Inside City Hall”) holds each of us accountable. For sharp takes, day to day, give him a follow on Twitter.

What is the best non-famous app you love on your phone? The Phone

Plane or train?  Several years ago I planned an around the world trip with my father.  The day after we took the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto we were having breakfast in the Okura when he turned to me and said, “You know, I meant to tell you, the whole night I couldn’t stop thinking about that train yesterday. How fast. How clean. Comfortable. The staff.  The service. The coffee. Just delicious. I mean, really, out of sight.”  About a week later, following a visit with my brother in Singapore we flew to London on Singapore Airlines. On the cab ride into town, he looks at me and says “They run that airline like a five-star hotel. Out of sight! Almost as good as that train in Japan.”  I tend to agree.

What is one place everyone should visit? New York City. Where, specifically, is always a different story. Today, I’m saying Jackson Heights, Queens at dinner time. It’s best known for being the fastest way a New Yorker can get to South Asia, but stroll a few blocks further east and you’ll find yourself traversing South America. The other week, when COVID was a bit more in check, Colin and I grabbed a table (outdoors-ish) at Chivito D’Oro, an Uruguayan spot. The steak, the atmosphere, the street musicians, the staff, the patrons… all out of sight… and at bargain-basement prices, no less. 

Tell us the story of a rabbit hole you fell deep into. My family tree is composed of two unique groups: Eastern Europeans who escaped the pogroms of the late 19th century and settled in the Bronx and Mizrahi Jews from Baghdad who fled persecution in the 1930s and came to New York by way of Jerusalem. With this background, I’ve always been fascinated by how New York has accepted, embraced, and supported refugees from its earliest days. When The Gotham Gazette posted this story on what might happen with refugees here in a Biden administration I went dozens of links deep and ultimately re-read a good chunk of The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit—a 10.0 book best read while eating pastry from Mansoura on Kings Highway. (JK) 

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Partner Post: WITI x Taika

We’re coffee obsessives at WITI and have tried a lot of hacks, like taking L-theanine with our morning brew to counter the jagged feeling of too many cups. Fortunately, Taika (read co-founder Michael’s MMD here) is a few steps ahead and ushering a new wave of innovation to the category. They make perfectly calibrated, delicious coffee blended with adaptogens to make you feel awake, aware, and inspired. Plus, they have deep coffee credentials; the co-founder, Kal Freese, is a two-time Finnish Barista Champion and Top 10 World Barista Champion. They are approaching their versions and iterations like technologists, which is also quite interesting, putting out versions of the coffee as they improve and experiment. We’re partial to the Macadamia Latte, but everything is delicious and recommended if you want a shot of crisp, focused energy. Buy a case for 15 percent off with the code FRIENDSOFWITI. (CJN)

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Justin (JK)

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