It's a story often heard before: musically, these are the best and worst of times. Only this time, in 2010, it seems different. Even as the pool of fresh talent expands, jazz continues to witness a dearth of venues along with the slump in CD sales. Uncounted numbers of talented musicians, young and otherwise, are reduced to playing in venuesif they can find onefor the door and pocket change. Simultaneously, they are recording, producing and hawking their own CDs; often using them like calling cards, to swap with other musicians or to drop off at nursing homes and civic centers with increasingly faint hopes they'll be listened to.
The festival scene is certainly alive throughout the world, with jazz often welcomed as a "safe" alternative to hazardous, messy rock-fests or stuporous exhibitions of high culture. But like the aspiring young author who can't get published without an agent and who can't get an agent without being a published author, the festivals tend to be incestuous, closed circuits, unwilling to risk money on untested talent or, especially, on performers of insufficient renown to guarantee significant ticket sales and gate activity in advance.
In retrospect, the 1990s can be seen as representing a cheering resurgence of interest in mainstream jazz, with major labels like Sony (Columbia), Universal (Verve) and EMI (Blue Note) investing hundreds of thousands in seminal reissues as well as producing a continual stream of albums by deserving new artists, all of it culminating in Ken Burns' remarkable PBS series on the history of jazz. But who could foresee what was just around the corner for the music? With the new millennium came not only a faltering economy but a sea change in consumers' listening habits, along with disappearing profits in the music business and seemingly irreparable damage to the art itself. Chapter Index
Resonance Founder, George Klabin
- Resonance Founder, George Klabin
- A Commitment to Music and Magic
- Representative Releases
Clearly these are tough times calling for unusual leadership. A courageous soul has recently stepped forward in the person of George Klabin, the President of the Rising Jazz Stars Foundation
and pro-active head of the new, Los Angeles-based jazz label, Resonance Records, billed on its website as "A Non-Profit Jazz Label with a Mission." Given the present abundance of small, independent recording studios and the "democratization" of music production (by now, doesn't everyone have Garage Band or their favorite DAW on their laptop along with a decent Shure microphone or two?), readers unfamiliar with Resonance Records and its visionary leader may be inclined to dismiss the news of the fledgling label as of little import to the music in general or to themselves personally.
That could be a big mistake. Klabin's credits go back to the 1960s and 1970s, when he was partial owner of one of the best-equipped studios in New York City and partly or fully responsible for recordingoften supervising and engineeringsessions by artists such as singer James Brown
(five albums altogether), trumpeter Thad Jones
' and drummer Mel Lewis
' Big Band, pianists Bill Evans
' and Keith Jarrett
's trios, saxophonists Albert Ayler
, Charles Lloyd
, Dexter Gordon
and Sonny Stitt
, and a number of releases for Strata East, trumpeter Charles Tolliver
's jazz collective organization's label, which recorded one of the inarguable masterworks of the 1970s, saxophonist Clifford Jordan
's Glass Bead Games
(Harvest Song, 2006).
Resonance Records President George Klabin
With Resonance Records, the idealistic yet savvy Klabin is once again committed to recording and producing the artists he believes inunder optimal conditions and using state-of-the-art equipment, while paying attention to critical details ranging from full-scale orchestrations, rehearsal time sufficient to assure a polished result, programs and repertory with the prospective listener as much as the creative artist in mind, even album notes written by recognized authorities in the field. But with the perspicacious, decisive Klabin nothing is as perfunctory as anything suggested by the preceding. From the words he shared here as well as the interview
on his website, two primary goals for his present dream child, Resonance Records, emerge: aesthetically, to "capture brilliant and passionate, magical moments that rise above the average jazz heard on most CDs" and, on a more personal level, to be that missing agent for those deserving artists who simply had not received that serendipitous break, leading to proper publication and promotion of their best work.
Rather than a mere technological wizard serving the practical needs of already established names in the field, Klabin is a far more hands-on musical arbiter than most producers, not to mention recording engineers, and is fully involved in the selection of artists and their supporting personnel as well as program material. Besides being open to undiscovered talent, he knows what music he wants to recordfrom styles and idioms to specific composers and songs. Most importantly, at least for the artists chosen to appear on a Resonance release, Klabin is continually keeping his ears open for exceptional talent (the "cream of the crop," he has said), outstanding but largely unrecognized or underrated artists whom he believes in strongly enough to invest his considerable resources in recording and producing.
The resources at his disposal comprise not merely cutting-edge recording equipment (which Klabin's early experiences, beginning with two-track recording in the 1960s, enable him to employ toward the end of the warm sound and natural presence associated with the best analog and "live" recordings), but a well- maintained seven-foot Fazioli grand piano along with optimal studio conditions that make the "commodity" of time a secondary consideration to the music itself. In addition, Klabin is keenly aware of the potential of high definition video and to that end is acquiring the equipment for professionally produced DVDs while already making available, at least with select CDs, supplementary and complementary DVDs as part of the handsome packaging distinguishing a Resonance release.
If the bonus to followers of the music is not yet apparent, it will be upon entering the label's website
. Not only does Resonance provide generous samples of recorded tracks, but it goes the extra mile, ensuring the ready availability of photos and videos of the performers as well as offering free downloads of entire tracks from the foundation's 19 (and counting) albums. If it's not yet clear what distinguishes this indie label from the rest of the pack, the curious need to direct their attention back to the brains and heart of the operation, Klabin himself, whose fascinating and eventful story, though well-covered on the Resonance site, deserves some additional highlighting.
Resonance Records recording artist Claudio Roditi
In brief, Klabin's take on recent jazz history, and even his choice of role models, is at variance from many of the accounts that have passed for "received wisdom" since the 1980s. He views the 1970s, a decade when he was extremely active in the field of jazz recording, not as an electronic musical wasteland favoring fusion over more traditional or mainstream jazz, but as one of the most dynamic and productive times for the music. Following from this point of view is special praise set aside for producer Creed Taylor
and his once maligned (by many mainstream followers) CTI records, which for Klabin represented a practically exemplary, golden period for the music rather than the sell-out to flagrant commercialism portrayed by others.
In 1981 Klabin would sell out his interest in his biggest and busiest music studioon New York's 46th street and in a space formerly occupied by Capitol Records before Klabin, along with violinist Harry Lookofsky, took up residence in 1973. Though he would remain away from the "business" of jazz for over 20 years, he now looks back on the early years preceding his sabbatical with justifiable satisfaction. It was a vibrant time when he was producing "the very first multi-track digital recordings in the world" while hosting labels such as ENJA, ECM and A&M as well as making his studio available for regular visits from Japanese engineers who had come to NYC to record their favorite American artists. But ironically the digital technology that had at first helped distinguish his recordings became a liability with the sudden proliferation of small private production studios and the drastic undercutting of the rates required to run a first-class operation. Moreover, Klabin saw the rise of "smooth jazz" as a threat both to mainstream and to the discovery and documentation of new, potentially seminal jazz voices such as thoseJarrett, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard
, pianist Herbie Hancock
, vibraphonist Gary Burton
he had once produced and recorded prior to their acquiring international renown.
But the lessons he had learned were invaluable, staying with him until he would move to the L. A. area and in 2005 start the Rising Jazz Stars Foundation, and along with it Resonance Records. With the latter, Klabin is convinced that his years of engineering in the 1960s and 1970s will serve him well: "I know how to get the best out of a jazz musician," he insists. "First by careful song selection...choosing songs that have enough chordal and harmonic interest so that the musicians can create interesting solos." In making those choices, he reveals some suspicion of originals, especially if the primary reason for recording them is publishing revenues or the placation of the artist's ego. If the visitor to the website observes that a number of Resonance releases do in fact have programs with no small number of originals, this material no doubt first met with Klabin's approval as songs that would be as much in the public's as the composer's or performing artist's interest. A Commitment to Music and Magic
Not that Klabin is looking for the low and broad common denominator, such as artistic compromises in the form of highly accessible riffs or repetitious, reductive "hooks" for the sake of greater audience share. As he acknowledges, "Ultimately, this company is a reflection of my own tastes." And he's reasonably confident that, given his experience and access to limitless successful recordings from the past, his tastes happen to coincide with those of a large base of jazz listeners who have become indifferent to much of the new music they've been hearing of latenot the memorable melodies and engaging harmonies characteristic of the best material from the American Songbook and not the lyrical and passionate statements by artists who have as much consideration for their audience as for their own musicianship and technical progress. Perhaps the Creed Taylor influence is especially noteworthy in Klabin's statement that "many musicians, as talented as they are, have little to no sense of the wider audience for this music. They get completely caught up in playing for other musiciansfor their 'buddies.'" Klabin adds, "That's not the kind of jazz we can afford, especially at this time. It's not only a disservice to the potential audience for this music, but in the long run it hurts the aspiring, young musicians themselves."
Resonance Records recording artist Cathy Rocco
Besides repertory, equipment and the importance of a producer's experience and guidance, respect is another theme running through much of Klabin's discourse. First, there's the respect the artist must have for the producer's decisions as well as that which the producer has for the musician, by virtue of choosing to take on an artist he can "believe in"a musician whose "passion and brilliance....will move and excite listeners." Second, is the respect for the music. What counts is not the monetary cost of studio time but the quality of the musicabove all, those shining, magical moments that distinguish a mundane from an exceptional recording. The "good jazz producer," Klabin suggests, is the one who recognizes such moments for what they are. He uses his considerable listening experience (over 40 years in Klabin's case) to know when a recording is "it." That ability to evaluate the best performances of an artist, Klabin maintains, is one of the producer's primary challengesalong with balancing encouragement with objective criticism, and sensing the moment to move on when something isn't working and when to return it.
Asked what distinguishes the "Klabin sound" from that of another professional recording, the veteran producer expressed distaste for on-location, or "live," recordings, especially those that introduce crowd chatter and room ambiance at the expense of the music itself. He made it clear that he prefers closely-miked recordings, performed and captured as flawlessly as humanly possible, and that, even with his many duties as head of the Rising Stars Foundation and Resonance, he would remain closely involved in the details of the recording processas producer and engineerto ensure releases that meet the label's, and his, high standards. But above all it comes back to capturing those "magic moments," and incorporating them into recordings of consistency and distinction. Documenting the artist's legacy through recordings representing the highest level of the musician's ability remains the primary objective at Resonance Records, always secondary to any profit motive.
The tangible rewards, Klabin is convinced, will come of themselves if, even apart from the scintillating new talent on the label, the name "Resonance Records" is eventually seen by listenersfrom newbies to aficionados and, most importantly, festival organizersas a guarantee of the best music and highest production values. Simply appearing on a Resonance recording will amount to an imprimatur, preparing the listener to expect the kinds of unique programs, projects of scale and exceptional performances thatwith today's cost-cutting priorities and widespread streaming of short, profitable internet filesare in increasingly short supply. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Klabin has an embarrassment of riches to work withmusicians who, obscure or not, comprise a killer cast of players.