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A nice write up about Posi-Tone Records….

Reviewing the guys behind the glass and a label. Posi-Tone under the looking glass!

Recently I reviewed an artist that is a producer. Now I want to review some producers that are also record executives with Posi-Tone Records one of the finest straight ahead and swinging labels with an exciting stable of talent! Marc Free of course is the producer and Nick O’Toole is the engineer and together they create consistent high quality straight ahead jazz tailored to the artist while always keeping the listener in mind In short…if you dig the Rudy Van Gelder sound these guys are off the hook!

Tell us something about the history and origin of Posi-Tone?

M.f.  – “Posi-Tone was founded in Los Angeles in 1994 by producer Marc Free and engineer Jamie Brunson as a vehicle to make records by artists of all genres that they felt needed to be heard.  In 2004 after releasing a live recording of the Sam Rivers trio, Posi-Tone changed gears by bringing in Nick O’Toole as the in-house engineer and started focusing on recording New York City area jazz artists. Through the last few years, Posi-Tone has expanded it’s production with steady growth and released a wide variety of small ensemble instrumental jazz groups. Posi-Tone now boasts a catalog of over 90 titles by some of the best musicians in the world.”

I think knowing the real “mission statement” of the label can help the record buying public once they get a handle on taste…With that in mind, How would you describe the label and it’s intent to the casual listener?

M.F. – “We are actively focused on building a large catalog of recordings that will succeed in demonstrating to the worldwide marketplace the company’s high standards of artistic aesthetic and audiophile quality music products. Our mission is to gradually create and present a consistent label identity/brand with the stated intent of building an audience of new listeners and accumulating a sufficient niche market of discriminating music lovers who recognize, prefer and rely upon us as their choice for purchasing new premium quality music products. Posi-Tone’s records are intended to simply deliver the finest artistic expressions of modern, mainstream, and straight-ahead jazz, and is focused on directing it’s audience towards the sound and message of the music, and not just the populist or commercial aspects of its presentation.”

Is there a litmus test so to speak for the type of talent you look to record and with the economy still flat lining,
does that put you in the same position as every other business of trying to work smarter not harder and  have sales remained steady?

M.F. – “Here at Posi-Tone we are serious jazz geeks first and smart businessmen second. We sincerely believe our intended target audience is comprised of a bunch of people very much like ourselves in age and tastes, so we keep our primary A&R focus on making the kinds of jazz records that we know that we would want to buy and listen to. If a potential new artist’s music doesn’t bring on some serious jazz geeking around the office then we are definitely going to take a pass on doing a project. All that being said, the record also has to make good business sense too in terms of projected budgets and revenues. We aren’t in a position to provide artists with patronage, and we depend on our record sales to continue production, so we certainly can’t afford to overspend or lose money on too many projects and actually hope to stay in business. This of course makes the calculus of finding artists and planning projects that are a good fit for Posi-Tone much more difficult.”

 Ive read several articles where there is a debate over the quality of say a downloaded file or mp3 and that of a CD. Most people saying the CD is vastly superior. What do you think and is the death of the compact disc on the horizon or is it still several years out?

Nick O’Toole – “The sound quality of Cd’s, compared to MP3s is superior, but the audience is speaking pretty loudly that they like the convenience of the MP3 and that the sound difference is not noticeable to them.  It’s the economics of the MP3 that is changing how record labels must think to stay alive in today’s world.  Though sales are declining pretty quickly, we believe the CD still plays an important roll in the music business.  People still enjoy holding a product in there hands, and the press and radio still demand it.  The CD is also the best way for a jazz artist to give adorning fans at gigs a way to continue to enjoy the music and support the artist. We have tried other means, like download cards or stick drives, and they haven’t worked. We don’t see the CD dying anytime soon, as it is arguably the sonic pinnacle of commercial music, but it will probably play the role of satisfying the audiophiles, like vinyl does now.”

I want to thank Nick and Marc Free who guide a label that is more of a collaborative or perhaps jazz collective by design with a specific mission statement. As a critic, Posi-Tone may be one of three of the very best in straight ahead jazz that as I like to say “Swings hard or goes home.” Based an amazing stable of talent, a sincere commitment to the consumer and a genuine enthusiasm in doing the job the right way each and every time Posi-Tone is a label that is literally money when it comes to dropping a new release. Great sound quality and some of the hottest up and coming talent in the business. This one is easy:

On a personal note just wrapped up October with up and coming drummer Jordan Young, a Posi-Tone artist as our spotlight artist of the month. Be sure and check out Ed Cherry’s “It’s All Good” because…well, it is!

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Podcast: Marc Free and Nick O’Toole of Posi-Tone Records

Podcast: Marc Free and Nick O’Toole of Posi-Tone Records

Posted on March 29, 2011 by anthonycekay

Today, Anthony Cekay is joined by Marc Free and Nick O’Toole of Posi-Tone Records. They discuss how Posi-Tone came into being; how they select their roster and and create a story with the albums they produce; and the state of the recording industry. You can listen here:



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Here’s a new All About Jazz feature article about Posi-Tone Records!!!

When Posi-Tone Records founder Marc Free was growing up, he looked forward to each new record purchase, cherishing the cover artwork, devouring the liner notes and most of all, feasting on the music. He came to love the music and albums issued by iconic labels such as Blue Note and Impulse!, knowing that even if he hadn’t heard of the artist, it was likely to be a quality recording by a great musician.

And when Free launched Posi-Tone in 1994, he made those remembrances his business plan.

“I hadn’t intended it; it wasn’t my dream,” says Free of the company’s founding. “It was kind of an outgrowth of other things.”

Technically, he started his record-producing career when he built a studio in his mother’s house, ala Rudy Van Gelder, the Blue Note engineering master whose work set the standard for sound and quality in the 1950s. Free had even hoped to make a documentary on Van Gelder at one point, conducting interviews and gathering research, but the project ultimately fell apart.

“He didn’t think a documentary was the right way to tell the story and he never gave me the permission to do it,” says Free.

A jazz guitarist, Free used his studio space to record friends and other musicians whose music he enjoyed. A chance to record multi-instrumentalist Sam Rivers performing at Los Angeles’ Jazz Bakery in 2002 led to a decision to turn the underground label into a “real business.”

“We try to make records we want to listen to,” he says.

At a time many labels struggle to find a niche, Posi-Tone has emerged with a solid lineup of well-crafted recordings, packaged in distinctive cardboard sleeves. Rather than focus on a particular genre of music, Posi-Tone’s stable of artists are picked by Free and partner/engineer Nick O’Toole.

“What we decided to do was go out to New York three or four times per year to scout for talent,” Free says. “That’s where the musicians who are more serious about making a career in jazz are.”

When a potential Posi-Tone artist is found, Free says the label will record them in a New York studio, such as Acoustic Recording Brooklyn or System 2 studios, also in Brooklyn. The masters are then taken to Los Angeles for post-production work.

This method has connected the label to a diverse collection of musicians, including saxophonist Sarah Manning, trombonist Alan Ferber and trumpeter Jim Rotondi. Free notes he doesn’t sign artists to long-term deals, and allows them to retain all of the publishing rights to their music.

“I can’t tell you how many people in the recording business told me I was crazy,” he says. “[One record company executive] said, ‘your roster of artists and publishing rights is what you build your business on.’ And I said, ‘No, my label’s reputation is what I’m building my business on.'”

Which, Free says, strikes at the biggest hurdle facing new artists and new labels in today’s marketplace: reissues. A quick look at the upcoming releases page on AAJ shows a deluge of reissued jazz recordings every month, with new CDs which repackage and reissue works by everyone from bandleader Artie Shaw to saxophonist Zoot Sims. This means a young artist doesn’t only have to compete with other musicians of today, but those from the last 80 years as well.

“I have a hard time competing with John Coltrane when he’s got 60 years of marketing behind him,” Free says.

The problem, as Free sees it, is the copyright act of 1978, which extended the time before the rights to musical compositions pass into public domain from 28 to 75 years. This meant the recording companies who owned the rights to music and recordings made in the 1950s and 1960s can continue to produce and sell the music for years. Hence the belief that building the back catalogue is the key to a label’s survival.

“All of us are struggling with these issues all the time,” says Free.

Another issue confronting labels concerns digital distribution: Free is sticking to emphasizing direct sales of physical CDs because he says the economics just don’t work with downloads. He says the average online customer won’t download a full CD, reducing the revenue to the label (and artist) to a fraction of what CDs net. Consequently, he says he would need to sell to 14 online customers to realize what he can earn for one CD sale.

“The music isn’t in any danger, but the record labels making recordings may well be,” Free says. He’s marketing the company’s releases through Amazon, the label’s website and with distributors outside the United States. “We’re seeing tremendous response to our efforts.”

Summing his philosophy up, Free says: “The answer is to make more and better records.

“We’re good for jazz, we’re good for business and we make good records.”

Selected Posi-Tone releases

Doug Webb




Hooking up with bassist Stanley Clarke and keyboard player Larry Goldings for a set of sweetly swinging chestnuts has saxophonist Webb playing in fine form. Although a session veteran, this is Webb’s first release as a headliner and it gives him a chance to stand out. Webb plays with smooth tone and uses the full range of his tenor, which works well on ballads such as “I’ll Be Around” and “Fly Me to the Moon.”

Webb builds his solos skillfully and is matched by the quality of Clarke’s and Goldings’ turns. Clarke offers a deep acoustic bass sound throughout, getting some amazingly legato notes that fill the quartet’s sound.

Sarah Manning
Dandelion Clock

The demure face looking up from the cover of Dandelion Clock contrasts Manning’s often aggressive, experimental style, as she plays over a collection of original tunes and two covers, Michel Legrand‘s “The Windmills of Your Mind” and “The Peacocks” by Jimmy Rowles.

Her compositions offer enough harmonic room for Manning to craft exploring solos, often using long runs that seem to end in question marks. Never one to settle for an easy note choice when there’s a more interesting one available, her solos soar in such post-bop ballads as “Marbles” and “Habersham Street.”

Orrin Evans
Faith in Action

Evans has been growing into a major figure in jazz piano, thanks to releases as strong as his 2010 release in tribute to saxophonist Bobby Watson. Combining his own compositions and five by Watson, Evans plays smoothly through oblique runs and blues turns on solos, and lets his accompanists—which include bassist Luques Curtis and drummers Nasheet Waits, Rocky Bryant and Gene Jackson—provide a solid base for his work.

Watson’s “Appointment in Milano” features a pounding bottom underneath Evans’ swift runs, which alternate between sweet scales and modal triplets. The delightful “Beattitudes,” another Watson gem, combines an airy intro with a gentle melody. Musicians know it takes more to keep a ballad moving than a burning up-tempo number, and Evans shows his real chops on this one.

Brandon Wright
Boiling Point

Saxophonist Wright is clearly a student of the 1960s, and these eight tunes—including five original compositions—show he learned well. This is a disc fans of swinging, smoky jazz will favor. Wright never overplays and fits in pianist David Kikoski‘s playing marvelously. Case in point, the interplay on Jimmy Van Heusen’s “Here’s That Rainy Day.” With Kikoski comping sweetly, Wright gets just enough blues to keep his solo emotional without going saccharine. On the other side of the coin, the interplay between Wright, Kikoski and trumpeter Alex Sipiagin at the crescendo near the end of the samba-based “Castaway” is a real treat. All are playing hard but not over each other.

Jim Rotondi
1000 Rainbows

Rotondi’s smooth chops and smart tune selection make this a delicious outing. Playing alongside a capable four-piece band, including Joe Locke on vibes, Danny Grissett on piano, bassist Barak Mori and Bill Stewart on drums, Rotondi shines on his compositions “Bizzaro World,” “One for Felix” and “Not Like This,” a beautiful ballad duet with Locke.


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Here’s a nice article Donald Elfman wrote for AAJ profiling the label…

Posi-Tone Records

by Donald Elfman

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 form—that included amassing a huge collection of records and books—eventually 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 activities—playing, 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 CD Celebration, 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!”

To date, the label not only has a catalogue of fine, well-produced recordings but also a growing roster. This year has already seen several new releases including discs from guitarist Yotam Silberstein, saxophonist David Binney and keyboardist Sam Yahel. Before the year is out, we can expect projects from saxists Mike DiRubbo, Ralph Bowen, Sean Nowell, Sean Lyons and Dan Pratt, trumpeter Jim Rotondi, trombonist David Gibson, guitarist Avi Rothbard with saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, organist Jared Gold, drummer David Ashkenazy, the collaborative group Playdate and more!

Posi-Tone, with its innovative and future-oriented approach and its roster of creative players and composers, is a label that blends passion, business acumen and respect for artistry. Free echoes this attitude: “With so many talented musicians on the scene today, with so much new and creative music to make, we are excited about the future. …We believe it’s equally vital to help younger musicians grow and mature as it is to revitalize and document the careers of the established musicians if the art form is to grow and thrive.”