Posi-Tone Records is an extraordinary anomaly in these times, an independent, thriving jazz label that continues to find new and established musicians and works continually to improve each aspect of production to release a final product of superior quality. As the market has changed the company has sought and accepted new ways to do business that skillfully blend technology and artistry. And, as Free notes, "we work with musicians and try to make improvements to our process by keeping an eye on current and future developments."
Marc Free is a lifelong musician from the Los Angeles area, but his passion for jazz and its history as an art formthat included amassing a huge collection of records and bookseventually compelled him to choose "becoming less of a player and more of a record producer" once he realized that his "whole musical journey up to that point was simply preparation for becoming a better producer." He certainly had help along the way. Mentored as a teenager by multi-instrumentalist Victor Feldman
, he was later fortunate to spend "invaluable time with the patriarchs of the LA jazz scene," pianist/composer Horace Tapscott
and drummer Billy Higgins
In 1994, Free enlisted the assistance of audio engineer and fellow musician Jamie Brunson to help him build a studio and start producing recordings for the Posi-Tone label. Initially, the label was kind of a side project to his own musical activitiesplaying, promoting shows, etc.and the label released just a few titles each year. The early releases were focused on documenting the jazz scene in Los Angeles, including titles by Donald Dean, Joe Gaeta and Edwing, before culminating in the making of the Sam Rivers
, recorded live by Free and Brunson at LA's Jazz Bakery in 2003. Free states: "I had been a fan and friend of Sam's for many years and I thought 'How many 80th birthdays does he get to have?' And his band was just amazing with Sam, Doug Mathews and Anthony Cole all playing a host of instruments."
In 2004, what Free describes as the "second phase" of the label's history began with the arrival of a new partner, audio engineer Nick O'Toole. Together the two men developed a new business plan for a 21st century jazz label with a kind of visionary operations model that implements a fusion of sound business principles and artistic relevance. Says Free, "In developing our business model, we analyzed the operations of the other jazz labels whose work we admired. Among other conclusions, we decided that it was important to avoid pigeonholing the label artistically into any one specific genre of jazz. We also acknowledged that we would need to go farther afield to find our artists. So now we travel out to New York three or four times a year to scout talent and do the sessions necessary to produce the wider variety of recordings we are interested in releasing."
Trombonist Steve Davis
is about to record his second outing for the label. "I had met Marc Free when I was with Jackie McLean's sextet in 1995. We didn't get to work together till many years later but in working with him I've found a label that is truly in it for the music first of all. Marc and his partners trust the artists but at the same time have definite ideas about what makes the music and how it's presented most appealingly to the consumer. ...They strike me as quite personally invested in their projects and will work harder."
Posi-Tone presents a concise philosophy of its approach to the art of recording in their online mission statement and is always looking for ways to improve their product and business model while seeking to implement even further what Free calls a "vertical integration" of the company. In 2008, they decided to bring aboard businessman Barry Shapiro, whose assistance has been crucial in dealing with the challenges presented by the label's expansion of production while in the midst of dealing with the current economic realities of the marketplace, in what the partners feel is the third and newest phase in Posi-Tone's progress.
The label's primary focus is still the artist. Pianist Jeremy Manasia
met Free and O'Toole through Ryan Kisor
(who was playing on Posi-Tone's recording by pianist Spike Wilner
) and the label became interested in a project that Manasia was about to do. It became After Dark
, a 2009 radio favorite that features singer Jane Monheit
on one track. Manasia is quite overwhelmed by the label. "I think what those guys are doing is amazing. They are really in it for the love of the music and their catalogue is growing month by month. It's remarkable!"