When inspiration came, Eric Cathcart decided to “do the right thing.” So he filled out the required forms, wrote some checks, and eventually was awarded a trademark for “Jazzmatazz,” the name with which he had christened his traditional jazz band. The Silver Spring saxophone player was proud of his business sense; after all, he explains, “the idea of getting a trademark is to protect myself from getting a call from a band in Pittsburgh.”
But before Jazzmatazz had played more than a handful of weddings, Cathcart’s telephone rang. The caller was not from Pittsburgh. It was a New York lawyer representing Chrysalis Records rapper Guru. The hiphopper, late of Gang Starr, recently released an album, coincidentally titled Jazzmatazz, and is currently touring under the banner “Jazzmatazz Starring Guru.” Far from being in the catbird seat, though, trademark-holder Cathcart says he discovered that he was “in the way.”
The “pisser” says Cathcart, is that his Jazzmatazz had been rehearsing most of this year, hoping to establish what he figured would be a lucrative presence in D.C. So far, he says, the best offer he’s gotten from Guru’s attorney is reimbursement for the cost of his business cards. While Cathcart admits that his financial investment is not substantial, he counters that “you can’t put a price tag on good will, energy, time. What about principle? What about rights? Doesn’t that count?” Only technically, it seems. The other Jazzmatazz swept into Cathcart’s home turf last month to play the 9:30 Club, “papering the town” with trademark-infringing notices for its appearance.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” sighs Cathcart, sounding more depressed than amazed. After 23 years in the business, the musician’s view of the industry has “shattered.”
“You’d think that getting a trademark would protect you—but they’ll outspend you.”
Guru’s attorney was not available to comment by press time, but Cathcart says that negotiations have stalled, and unless he accepts the business-card offer, he believes he’s looking at $5,000 to $10,000 in legal fees—just to start the judicial ball rolling. In the meantime, he says he can’t continue performing as Jazzmatazz due to the “reverse confusion” Guru’s act has caused.
Cathcart offers gloomy advice to others who contemplate “doing the right thing”: “Why even bother, when people with money can come and take it away?”