When you Google "Reservoir Music", the top hit on the Google list is for the Japanese distributor's website. Mark Feldman, the Kingston, NY doctor who runs the label with his wife Kayla, isn't surprised.
"Japan really helps to keep the label alive," he says. "We have significant sales there, especially with our piano trio albums."
This year Reservoir Music is celebrating its 20th anniversary, quite a milestone for a small, independent jazz label, especially considering that such legendary jazz labels as Savoy, Prestige and Riverside had much shorter careers as independents. Feldman founded Reservoir when he parted company with Uptown Records, where he had been a producing partner since 1981. In the label's two decades, Feldman has released 91 albums, a little less than five a year.
"That's what I really like about Mark," says baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan, who has three CDs out on Reservoir. "He only puts out one record at a time and he devotes all of his attention and money for publicity to the one record. And by pushing the one, he does a good job of getting airplay and sales. So instead of feeling like I'm recording for some big factory, I know I'm with a small label that takes a lot of care with what it's trying to do."
"With other labels," comments Feldman, "if you start releasing three or more records at once most of them will get lost as attention is focused on the strongest one. And given my day job [as a physician], it's hard to put out more than one at a time anyway and I like to do it that way."
So how does a doctor from Kingston end up running a jazz label? For Feldman, the connection is simple.
"First of all," he says, "you are a fan. For instance, Hod O'Brien has always been a favorite of mine, ever since I first saw him in the late '50s playing piano with [tenor saxophonist] JR Monterose in Albany in a particularly memorable group featuring bassist Wilbur Ware and [drummer] Elvin Jones. So it was logical that I signed Hod when I could. And Hod is such a great musician that we got three CDs out of the two nights we recorded him live at Blues Alley in DC."
"Mark Feldman has heard more jazz over a longer period of time than most people," says pianist Pete Malinverni, who's recorded seven albums for Reservoir. "For that reason, he has a long and varied listening and producing history on which to base his opinions, his likes and dislikes. Because he does other things to make a living, his decisions vis a vis Reservoir are based solely on the music."
Malinverni also praised Feldman's integrity and his "good ears...he notices things I might otherwise miss, in the recordings, but he also gives me a great deal of artistic freedom, which I very much appreciate."
Trombonist John Fedchock, whose New York Big Band records for Reservoir, echoes Malinverni's words: "A big attraction of working with Reservoir for me is that Mark affords me the opportunity to freely pursue my own ideas. I believe that an entire CD, with all its collective tracks, is one musical statement and Reservoir's beliefs match mine. Knowing I won't have to alter my overall design to accommodate some non-musical issues gives me the freedom to allow my projects to unfold organically, based purely on my overall musical plan."
"Mark is really open when it comes to projects," Smulyan concurs. "When I wanted to do a piano-less trio album, he didn't blink, he was cool about that." Not only was it a baritone sax, bass and drums date, released as Hidden Treasures
, but all the tunes were contrafacts (jazz originals based on chord changes of pop standards). "Mark trusts the musicians he records," continued Smulyan, "so he generally stays in the background, leaving most of the decisions up to us."
"I have some input with the musicians at a session," says Feldman, "we talk about things but I sort of leave it up to them. I try to be as non- interventional as possible. Every once in a while I'll say I didn't like something in a take, but usually these guys know what they want and don't want. I might get more into it with sequencing and choosing takes but I've always taken that approach with musicians: just make sure they have the right engineer and studio."
Since 1998 that's generally been the highly esteemed recording engineer Jim Anderson and Avatar Studios in Manhattan (the former Power Station). Before that Feldman used mostly the legendary Rudy Van Gelder.
A quick scan of Reservoir's catalogue on its website will reveal that most artists have a number of albums on the label. Feldman's criterion for signing an artist goes back to what he said about being a fanhe signs artists he personally enjoys hearing.
"I have had a long association with people like [guitarist] Peter Leitch, [trumpeter] Valery Ponomarev and [pianists] Rob Schneiderman, Jon Mayer and Steve Kuhn. And having Gary Smulyan on the label is a natural continuum of recording great baritone players, as the late Nick Brignola was a Reservoir artist and Pepper Adams recorded for us too."
But pianists are Feldman's special favorites. Reservoir's New York Piano series has 26 titles out and they are his best-sellers in Japan.
"But for the Japanese market," he says, "they have to be piano trios, just piano, bass and drums. If you vary it with a horn or a voice, they don't sell so good in Japan."
Reservoir Music reviews at AAJ.