A Chat with Sharp Nine's Marc Edelman
“ The reason I starting thinking about making jazz CD's is that at the time, nobody would record David [Hazeltine] ”
In the summer of 1995, jazz enthusiast Marc Edelman launched a venture, Sharp Nine Records, with a very simple premise. As expressed in the mission statement found on his very first release (Brian Lynch's Keep Your Circle Small), the label was formed to "record and promote modern jazz music- bebop and beyond." In addition, Sharp Nine would "provide an arena where new talent is introduced and established players find renewal." Some sixteen releases later, Sharp Nine is still fulfilling its mission and potential with a distinctive and diverse catalog that has provided a home base for such neglected musicians as pianist David Hazeltine and drummer Ray Appleton, while also putting on the map rising new artists such as pianist and vocalist Dena DeRose and the hard bop collective One For All. Giving other small label competition such as Criss Cross and Reservoir a run for their money, Sharp Nine has established an identity focused on quality music that, as their motto puts it, is "straight ahead and in the pocket." For further elaboration on the nuts and bolts of this operation, Edelman recently filled in the details during our electronic correspondence.
All About Jazz: How far back does your interest in jazz go?
Marc Edelman: I think I started listening seriously to jazz during my freshman year in college (Colgate, '78). I met a kid there from New York City who was a very serious fan. He had all these reel-to-reel tapes of WRVR broadcasts. He really turned me on to the music.
AAJ: Do you collect jazz records and discs?
ME: I used to. I started slowing down when my kids were born and almost completely stopped when I started the label. Every now and then I'll hear something on the radio that interests me, and I'll pick it up. However, my younger son, who is 11, is starting to play a lot of alto saxophone, so I've started buying some things for him to listen to in his room; Bird, Charles McPherson, Sonny Stitt, Hank Mobley, etc.
AAJ: Do you play an instrument yourself?
ME: I play a little piano (very little). I studied classical as a kid. In fact, my teacher, who lived around the corner from me in Trenton, NJ was John Coates. He played some jazz in his day. His son is somewhat better known, John Coates, Jr. I think he lives in the Delaware Water Gap area where Phil Woods and that whole community live. He was recording for the Omnisound label in the 70's. A couple of months ago, I happened to be listening to the radio (WBGO) and I thought I heard the announcer call his name. But it was a real straight-ahead piano trio thing and it was made in 1955. Turns out it was the same John Coates, Jr., all of 17 years old, with Wendall Marshall on bass and Elvin Jones was on the drums! On Savoy, I believe. It's a small world sometimes.
AAJ: How did you get involved in the record business and what was the impetus for starting Sharp Nine?
ME: I got involved in the record business due to a chance meeting with David Hazeltine. I think it was in the Fall of 1993. I was driving home from work (I was an insurance broker at the time) and on WBGO they announced that Ralph Lalama was playing in a club in New Jersey about 20 minutes from my house. My kids were younger and I hadn't seen live jazz in quite a while. I've always liked Ralph's playing, so I decided I was going to go. I remember my wife not being too happy about leaving her at home with the kids after a long week, but I went anyway. David Hazeltine, who had recently returned to New York after 10 years back home in Milwaukee, was on the gig. At that time, I had been thinking I either wanted to start taking piano lessons or saxophone lessons, depending on which kind of teacher I found first.
It was pure chance that I ran into him, as he was barely working at the time and I was not seeing much live music at the time, either. To make a long story somewhat shorter, I began taking lessons from Dave (who is not only a great player and composer, but an experienced and wonderful teacher as well) and we became friends. Dave lives with Brian Lynch and through both of them I began hanging out, meeting other musicians, seeing how they live, what the scene was like, etc.
The reason I starting thinking about making jazz CD's is that at the time, nobody would record David. That seems kind of crazy when you hear the kinds of recordings he's made for me, but it's true. Even that great judge of new talent, Gerry Teekens, wouldn't give Dave the time of day, despite Dave being specifically recommended to him by other musicians (and despite Dave's work for him as a sideman). In any event, that injustice is what started me exploring the possibility of actually starting a label. That was the impetus.
I guess that's a longer answer than you expected.
AAJ: How did you come up with the name for the label?
ME: Well, a sharp 9 chord is an altered dominant chord that is often used in modern jazz playing. I thought it sounded cool, had musical significance for the type of music I planned to record, and was slightly evocative (in terms of the type of name it was, the fact that it was two words and two syllables) of the Blue Note name. Of course, Alfred Lion's Blue Note is the gold standard as far as independent labels go, so I went with it.
Although, I was in Sweet Basil a couple of weeks ago and Cedar Walton, who was sitting at the bar, turned around and said to me, completely out of the blue, "Sharp Nine, that's an UNUSUAL name for a record company, isn't it?" Cedar has a very clever turn of mind and quite a sharp wit (as you can probably tell by the way he plays), but I'm still not exactly sure what he was getting at.