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Jazz Enters the Crypto Market: The Checkout Explores NFTs

Pianist Greg Spero (onscreen) and as an avatar (left) speaking with a fan after his live VR performance in NFT Oasis with its founder Will O'Brien (in red)
Patrick Booth Jr.
Pianist Greg Spero (onscreen) and as an avatar (right) speaking with a fan after his live VR performance in NFT Oasis with its founder Will O'Brien (in red)

Last month, the blockchain had a coming-out party in the arts world, as the greater public learned about NFTs (non-fungible tokens). The Checkout was all over it, cohosting a livestream (with JazzTimes) to celebrate the jazz world's first NFT drop with pianist Greg Spero, violinist Miguel Atwood-Ferguson and animator Olivia Hern.

On April 10, those artists and other forward-thinking industry leaders gathered online to celebrate the release of Maiden Voyage, a seven track jazz album and short animated film freshly minted on the Open Sea online marketplace, available to purchase only with Ethereum (ETH). (Yes, that's a hat tip to pianist and technologist Herbie Hancock.)

In addition to celebrating jazz in the crypto space, Spero may have also been the first jazz musician to perform a concert in virtual reality (VR). For three consecutive nights leading to the NFT drop, he performed in an immersive VR playground, NFT Oasis. Its designer, Greg Edwards, created a concert hall for the occasion.

Spero was the first artist to kick off the new platform, where music fans and art lovers from all over the world can gather inside a customized virtual performance space. Around 200 attendees showed up in personalized avatars to watch the pianist (in animated form) play what looks like an 8-bit piano. A video projection of Spero playing with a clunky VR headset was projected above his animated body onstage.

The VR environment was designed in AltSpace by Microsoft developers, who created the virtual reality edition of last year's Burning Man festival after it was canceled. (It's estimated that around 15,000 people showed up.)

Aside from these mind-melting experiences, NFT Oasis was built with a purpose: to offer a new venue for artists to perform in and showcase their newly minted NFTs. Its other primary function is as a virtual museum gallery. Over the past few weeks, a variety of NFT parties and performances have taken place there.

The founder of NFT Oasis is Will O'Brien, an entrepreneur and investor based in Silicon Valley. After earning degrees from Harvard (in computer science) and MIT (in the Sloan School of Management), he founded three companies, including BitGo, a leading bitcoin security company. Since leaving the financial space, he's turned his attention to the arts and gaming industry with NFT Oasis. Surprisingly and to our delight, he's also a piano player who studied under jazz multireedist John Mastroianni. In January, O'Brien released his first album, IĀNUAE, now streaming on Spotify.

For this podcast, O'Brien joins another co-founder of NFT Oasis, Patrick Booth Jr., to talk about their future plans, which include educating artists interested in NFT creation and venturing into the space. Artists can submit their NFT projects for review on their website.

At the end of the show, multireedist Oran Etkin and Ropeadope Records founder Louis Marks join a larger conversation about decentralized finance entering into the arts space. Are NFTs really that bad for the environment? Can everyday working musicians profit in the space?

Will O'Brien thinks musicians will eventually prosper in the blockchain: "I have been in the crypto space for a long time. I have seen the change of various industries. We move from monolithic structures, to gatekeeping structures, to democratization, to decentralization. And when technology keeps up with those changes, the new creator economy becomes abundant. So now, with tokenization, when you buy bitcoin, you are investing in the future you want to see and you are owning a piece of it. Now, with an NFT you can invest in the future you want to see, the future where the creators are in power. We have to fund the revolution to get to the renaissance."

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For more than 15 years, Simon Rentner has worked as a host, producer, broadcaster, web journalist, and music presenter in New York City. His career gives him the opportunity to cover a wide spectrum of topics including, history, culture, and, most importantly, his true passion of music from faraway places such as Europe, South America, and Africa.