Friends, family members and long-time clients are paying tribute to music manager, booking agent and entrepreneur Jesse Aratow of Madison House Entertainment, who died Friday (Oct. 29) after a sudden, unexpected illness. Aratow, 48, was a partner and agent at Madison House in Boulder, Colorado, managed singer JJ Grey and represented the String Cheese Incident. He is survived by his wife Liza and his two young daughters Kalea and Lily.
Born in Oakland, California, Aratow attended Lick-Wilmerding High School in San Francisco and went on to Cornell University, from which he graduated in 1994. In 1999 he join Madison House Entertainment as a partner, helping grow the company’s roster of agents, artists and managers.
Aratow’s sudden passing shocked many who had worked with him since the 1990s. Billboard spoke and emailed with several of them in the wake of his death.
“How do you describe a relationship where you spent five days a week (plus a lot of weekends) with someone for over two decades?” says Nadia Prescher, Aratow’s longtime business partner and co-founder of Madison House. “We were rocks for each other. Absolute unwavering support and defense of the other. Who I am and how I am says a lot about Jesse Aratow and his impact on people. Jesse always gave love. The hole Jesse left is a chasm in our community and in my heart and soul. I know I’ll never be the same, but I know Jesse wouldn’t want that anyway. He’d want me to be even better than before. So I’m going to attempt that and I challenge everyone who loved him to do the same.”
Nearly “25 years ago Jesse and I started our first company in Telluride named Box Canyon Concerts. One of our first shows was with a local bluegrass band called The String Cheese Incident,” says friend and business partner Jeremy Stein, president at Madison House Presents. “We never looked back. It’s a rare scenario to constantly be inspired by a close friend for such a long time. Yet, it was always easy with Jesse. Jesse relentlessly grew his life through true connection, clear integrity, love, and caring for all who crossed his path. I will always be incredibly proud and honored to call myself his friend and brother.”
Kevin Morris of Red Light Management, an original partner in Madison House, tells Billboard, “you will never find a more genuine person in this business. There are no words that can describe the loss we are all feeling right now.” Mike Luba, a founding partner of Madison House and senior vp at AEG Presents, says, “there were five unique voices in Madison House and undoubtedly Jesse was always the voice of reason. My life will personally and professionally never be the same.”
Michael Travis of The String Cheese Incident says the group feels “profoundly saddened by the premature loss of our amazing brother Jesse. We have no words as the tears continue to flow as we sort through this shocking event.” Travis added that Aratow was “our first road manager and our steadfast teammate for 23 years.” String Cheese Incident’s Michael Kang adds that Aratow “was and will always be much more than our manager and booking agent. He was our fellow powder hound, connoisseur of fine food and libation, father extraordinaire, loving partner, adventure seeker and through thick and thin, he remained fiercely loyal and principled in all his affairs. He is family. We will miss him terribly and hope to honor his legacy and time in our presence.”
JJ Grey describes Aratow as an incredible manager but noted that their business relationship “pales in comparison to what knowing him has done for me as a human being. The truth of it is just knowing Jesse has made me a better man.” Grey’s agent and Aratow’s long-time friend Joshua Knight, now a vp at Wasserman Music, says Aratow was “like a brother to me in and out of work and will be sorely missed. He cared so much for his artists and his Madison House family and fought for them every day. But more than that, he was the best human, friend, father and husband. Everyone in our industry should take a note on how to prioritize your life from Jesse. Dedicate your time to your family and people you love first.”
Artist Keller Williams recalled the first time he met Aratow. “I believe it was the El Rey theater in Albuquerque New Mexico,” he says. “I was opening for String Cheese and he was the new tour manager for them. A warm smile and a handlebar mustache gave him that friendly bodyguard vibe. I think he quickly learned that it smells better working in an office. I miss him already.”
Don Strasburg, co-president of AEG Presents Rocky Mountains and PNW, tells Billboard, “Our community, our family and the music world is suffering. Jesse Aratow was a beacon of goodness. We are all stunned to write these tributes. He was too young, too good a father, husband, friend and lover of life. I will carry his love, commitment and wisdom forever.”
Pete Shapiro of Dayglo Presents describes Aratow as “a good friend to many, and a great champion for his artists. He was willing to fight his friends on behalf of his artists. He would know when to push, and he did it in a way where you actually wanted to agree with him. He was fair. He was honest. He was strong. The world needs more of him. I just wish I could book another show with him.”
FPC Live president Scott Leslie says Aratow was “the crazy combination of an agent who always got the most for his clients while also being an absolute joy to work with.” Michael Sanders with Opus One Productions says that “in 2005 Jesse Aratow was my first and only phone call when I pitched a new artist I was managing, Lotus. Ever since he started booking the band and guiding their career, Jesse has been my closest business ally and friend in the music industry.”
Alicia Karlin, vp of global touring and talent at AEG Presents and Aratow’s first assistant, tells Billboard that working with Aratow “was the greatest gift” because “we trained each other on being a team. He showed me that the best way to succeed in this business was to do it all and always supported me on my journey from touring and working at festivals to being an assistant, agent, manager and promoter. He taught me how to fight hard while acting with integrity and kindness.”
Agent Cassie Siegel from MINT Talent Group also got her start working for Aratow and was on his team for 12 years. “He was my mentor and my boss, but more than anything he was my friend,” she says. “He showed me that patience, kindness and thoughtfulness were the keys to success and that a big bear hug would always help. For 12 years Jesse was only a sliding glass door away from me, I will forever remember his cheesy dad jokes, I will miss our rose birthday lunches and no matter how much time passes, I promise always ‘to keep the dream alive.’”
Jon Hardage, partner at More Music Group, says Aratow “epitomized soul and kindness, two characteristics that can sometimes be missing in the music industry. Jesse was the kind of person who would pause whatever he was doing to listen to what was going on in my life and give thoughtful feedback.” Bobby Clay at C3 Presents notes that “there was no limit to Jesse’s generosity. He was abundantly generous with his time, guidance and most of all his wisdom. It’s hard to put together words that really describe what this loss means to the business.”
Friends can read through more comments on Aratow’s life and leave their own tributes here. Details on a memorial service and celebration of Aratow’s life will be added to this article when details become available.