A Chat with Sharp Nine's Marc Edelman

C. Andrew Hovan By

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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.

AAJ: Is Sharp Nine a full time affair for you or do you have a day job as well?

ME: Perhaps I should have a day job as well, but for now I'm doing this full time. It also gives me an opportunity to be able to get the kids off to school in the morning, take them here and there after school, etc., since my wife has a REAL job and is off early in the morning. Anyone who likes my CD's really ought to thank her, as Sharp Nine would not be possible without her support, encouragement and income.

AAJ: Sharp Nine tends to be a good launching pad for some of the talented, but neglected players on the New York scene. How do you go about choosing the artists you'll record?

ME: I rely on the musical judgment of musicians' whose opinions I respect, then decide if the other, non-musical factors add up as well. When I started, I really didn't consider the non-musical factors, but as I've learned the business, I've realized that those considerations have to come into play in order to make a real go of it.

I do like to see people get what they deserve, so I take a lot of pride and pleasure in getting behind artists whose playing really deserves to be heard.

AAJ: How do you approach the job of being "producer"?

ME: Almost all of what I think I bring to a session is done before the date. As much as possible, I want the date to have a musical point. Why is this record being made? There are so many CD's being issued today, and it is so difficult for a small label to get above the ground noise created by the avalanche of material that is being issued, that I try to have a good answer to the question "what is important or interesting about this date?" before I decide to make it.

From there, depending on the experience level of the artist, I try to make sure that there is a proper mix of tunes - tempos, keys, forms - to keep things interesting. I consult with the leader to come up with interesting combinations of sidemen, keeping in mind musical kinship, but also name recognition and budget considerations. I try to make sure that the date is adequately rehearsed so that there will be less pressure and more fun on the actual date.

In the studio itself, I don't get too actively involved. I don't feel it's appropriate for me to be telling these superb musicians what and what not to do, especially if the basic outline of the date has been agreed to in advance and everything is properly rehearsed. If my opinion is solicited, or if I feel I really must step in, I'll speak up. But for the most part, I try to keep the vibe up, make sure the food and libations are happening, and sign the checks!

AAJ: Sound quality seems to be a priority for Sharp Nine and most of the sessions tend to be done at Systems Two, Avatar, and Rudy Van Gelder's. How do you go about choosing the best engineer for each project?

ME: Cost is always an issue. I used Avatar (at the time, it was called the Power Station) on my first session (with Brian Lynch). The sound was great, but I realized that the engineering budget, including the outside engineer and the mastering house, was just too expensive for me, despite the fact that we did the date direct to two-track.

I love Rudy for his work with small groups, especially piano trios, so that's where I go for those dates. No one does the drums like Rudy, and his piano sound is really his signature. I just love the sound he got on my recent Tardo Hammer trio date. It was done two track, so no mixing, but it was right on the money.

Systems Two does not have Rudy's cache, but they are wonderful people to work with and will do anything you ask them to try. So, for a date that has some wrinkles in it, (lot's of musicians coming and going, dates with a vocalist) I like to go out to Systems Two. The Marciano's (Joe, Mike and Nancy) are tops with me, except that they put cookies and candies out all over the place, and self-control is not my strong suit.

And, as I've gotten more experience with this, I've come to realize just how important good mastering is, and I believe I've found the right guy for that as well, Elliot Federman at SAJE Mastering. It's quite amazing what good mastering can add to the finished product.

AAJ: What recording(s) from your catalog so far are you most proud of?

ME: David Hazeltine- The Classic Trio (because it is), Brian Lynch- Spheres of Influence (the budget almost killed me, and I almost killed Brian, but he played and wrote his ass off) and Dena DeRose- Another World (I can't tell you how good I think Dena is, and how much potential she has.)

AAJ: What special projects do you now have in the works and when will we see the next batch of releases?

ME: The past five months have been a very busy period for Sharp Nine. I've released 5 CD's, which is generally more than a year's production. So right now, I'm working hard to sell these new releases, working to improve foreign distribution and planning releases for after the first of the year. I'm so pleased with the new ones we've recently released that I want to come back to these same artists again: Tardo Hammer (maybe a Tardo Plays Tadd date), the great Joe Locke/Hazeltine quartet (Mutual Admiration Society) that I should have mentioned above, and Dena DeRose. Plus, I want to make another one with Brian Lynch, but we're still kind of agonizing over concept and personnel.

AAJ: Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers that hasn't been asked about?

ME: I think I've said enough. Probably more than enough. I'd be happy to hear any thoughts that the readers might have, though, so please feel free to visit the Sharp Nine website.


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