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.