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Record Label Profiles

Darby Christensen: At the Jazz Summit

By Published: January 27, 2004
AAJ: Many labels seem to be based around New York and the music scene there, but Summit seems to have relationships with a lot of artists in other places. Is that a conscious choice, to find artists that have something other than the New York slant?

DC: I don't think it's a conscious choice. I think we've kind of become that probably because of our location in Phoenix. For some reason a big chunk of our artists, at least for the last couple of years, have been from the [Washington] D.C. area. I don't have an explanation except that maybe there's more quality submitting from that area. There are little regional pockets [around the country] where there's all this quality stuff going on, and a lot people don't know about that.

AAJ: Tell me about the label's association with Rafael Mendez and the Mendez Brass Institute.

DC: Once again, that formed out of Summit Brass. The previous owner of the label, David Hickman, was a classical trumpet player and a big Mendez fan. Summit Brass spawned this Mendez Institute, which was geared toward educating students in workshops with members of Summit Brass. And during that time [Summit put out] the re-release of some really old Mendez classics. And it's our biggest seller. Amazing. And these things are not of high [sound] quality but it's stuff you can't find anywhere. So from that we did a tribute recording, which was narrated by Doc Severinson and had a lot of trumpet players playing tribute to Mendez. Those two recordings were a few years back. And just recently we licensed all the Decca recordings—which had not been re-released on CD until we licensed them and released them.

AAJ: You have a pretty extensive website. How has the Internet affected the label?

DC: In theory it's had a huge impact because people in other countries have become familiar more so with our stuff. And we do our fair share of retail business [through the website]. In our prices we don't try to undercut the retail aspect of it, but we have everything available. It's more of an informational source, but to this point it's been I think a huge influence. And in the next year or two I think it's really going to become even more.

AAJ: In what way?

DC: We're in the process of redoing a few things on the site—the whole shopping cart thing, which we're a little behind on—and bringing the site up to speed. We've also stumbled upon a couple of opportunities that will bring Summit out into the awareness a little more through direct mailing pieces that we're latching onto another company with, which really should bring a big awareness to the label and the website.

AAJ: As Summit progresses is your interest more toward finding undiscovered players or in bringing in more players who are well known?

DC: I guess somewhat of a combination. I wish we could release all these unknown acts and sell enough to justify continuing to do it—we just did an unknown jazz trio out of Boston called the Sai Ghose Trio that is just kickin.' It's just kickin' stuff. And we want absolutely to continue to do those types of recordings, but the honesty there is that it's not going to sell that many, unfortunately—as opposed to the David Friesen thing with Michael Brecker and John Scofield, which is going to sell quite a few copies. So, really, a combination. We obviously want to expose these unknown artists that are just great players. I mean that's part of what we are.

AAJ: What sort of marketing do you do?

DC: We advertise on a limited basis. A lot of it is cost prohibitive for us because it's a smaller label. We've had a presence in Jazz Times and that kind of thing. We work things to radio a lot—and whether that has a big influence on sales or not is a big debate. As a matter of fact the new thing with Mike Vax and Clark Terry, Creepin' with Clark , is number twenty-four on the Gavin Jazz Charts this week, so jazz radio is definitely important to us—even though, to be honest with you, many times it may not have an influence on sales. And that's something we have to capitalize on more now, as the Internet becomes a major factor.

AAJ: If radio doesn't seem to affect things, how do you determine what does impact sales?

DC: Let me backtrack by saying that radio certainly can have a lot of power—it's just timing. It's timing and record availability and there's a lot of factors there. Airplay certainly won't hinder the recording. Radio can be a good thing and that's why we use it. But as far as gauging factors, we have a reasonably good idea of what numbers these things should do when they go out and if they don't hit those numbers while we're still promoting it heavily then we know something's not working. It's such an elusive thing, marketing. One break, one feature on NPR can change everything.

AAJ: How do you get a break like that, a feature on NPR or something like that?

DC: I don't have an answer for that. We send review copies of all of our stuff. No disc gets shortchanged. Everything goes out to reviewers, maybe to the point of almost too much, but I feel it very important that reviewers, radio people see what we're doing. It's a building block process. And eventually they're going to catch on to what we're doing. So we send many review copies out. Obviously there are a few highlighted titles that maybe we focus a little bit more on, and send a few more out, but nothing really gets shortchanged.

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