Recession has benefits for Ellicott City record firm

January 09, 1992|By Nestor Aparicio | Nestor Aparicio,Evening Sun Staff

The music business, much like the toy industry, was always thought to be recession proof.

But during the past year, live music in the area has all but dried up and unit sales of recorded music are down just about everywhere.

In an eternal search for optimism, we have found a local record company that has somehow managed to prosper over the past 18 months.

Tiny Positive Music Records (the name must have been an omen), run by contemporary jazz guitarist Ken Navarro and his wife Kristin Leonhard in Columbia, had four releases in 1991, all of which hit the Top 30 of national radio charts for the format.

Navarro's own "After Dark" release finished the year at No. 68 on the Radio & Records Top Albums of the Year, while Positive's Gregg Karukas' "Key Witness" reached No. 35.

"It's been such a bad year all around so we feel especially fortunate to have somehow managed to ride out the storm with so much success," said Navarro, who moved his family and business to Ellicott City from Los Angeles two years ago.

While the 10,000 in unit sales amassed by each of Positive's successful releases hasn't made the artists millionaires, it is considered very good in terms of contemporary jazz sales.

"The recession has forced some of the major labels like Wyndham Hill and Narada to drop some artists who have been very successful in the past," Navarro said. "We get phone calls and tapes all the time from some very talented people who would like to record for us."

Already, Navarro and Positive Music have signed deals with guitarist Pat Kelley, Nancee Kahler and Bill Moore, and tentative release dates are being discussed.

"A lot of musicians get frustrated dealing with large labels and all of the problems that go along with them," Navarro said. "Sometimes it can take an artist weeks to get sales numbers from his company because they can't get the right person on the phone. It's different with us. If you call here, I'm the one answering the phone."

Leonhard and Navarro spend the majority of their time working radio stations, distributors and record stores to help boost sales.

Currently, Positive is pushing Peter Gordon's lastest release, "Whisper and Wail," a flute and saxophone instrumental, with hopes of booking a U.S. tour for him in the spring.

"I think that is the next step for us," Navarro said. "Getting on the road and playing the music will help the sales and help to spread the word."

* The concert calendar:

Marky Mark and The Funky Bunch and Rhythm Syndicate perform at the Baltimore Arena (Jan. 16).

Coming to the Capital Centre, Rod Stewart (Jan. 19).

Hammerjacks welcomes Peter Frampton (Feb. 14).

The Towson Center hosts Little Feat on Feb. 3.

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