During his four-year tenure with Sphere Marketing, the
distribution and promotional branch in North America for the
Milan-based Black Saint and Soul Note labels, Frank Tafuri championed the cause of
"creative music." As the Stateside publicist
for that adventurous Italian label founded by Giovanni Bonandrini,
Tafuri regularly pitched the music of everyone from the World
Saxophone Quartet, Andrew Cyrille, Cecil Taylor and Ran Blake to
David Murray, Steve Lacy and The Herbie Nichols Project. His
own personal passion for the music often persuaded writers to
check out some new talent or consider covering some worthy
recording that otherwise might have gotten lost in the
shuffle. In that regard, Tafuri was always a champion of the
music, well respected by both critics and musicians alike.
When Bonandrini finally decided to dissolve the American office in
September of 1997, Tafuri parlayed his expertise in the business
of marketing and promotion into a number of part-time consulting
gigs for such labels as Malandro
Records and GM
Now the one-time publicist has emerged with his own adventurous
label. As the head of his Brooklyn-based OmniTone Records,
Tafuri takes a decidedly hands-on approach to being a record
executive. Not only is he immersed in such things as
scouting and signing artists, fixing budgets, hooking up
distribution, plotting ad campaigns and properly promoting the
music, he's also engaged in writing all the liner notes and
taking all the photos for each release.
"I never dreamed I would be doing this," says the
Cincinnati native. "But working with Black Saint/Soul Note I
found out how much this job integrates a lot of different skills
that I have developed over the years and things that I enjoy doing
— communicating with people, understanding the
music, doing photography and design work. As it turns out, I
helped pay my way through college doing freelance photography and
I had written a number of liner notes before I started with Black
Saint/Soul Note. So I found that this job really put together a
lot of stuff that I already knew."
The first batch of OmniTone releases, which hit stores in November
of '99, included Swimming by French horn player-composer Tom Varner, Genius
Envy by trumpeter-composer (and Andrew Hill sextet
sideman) Ron Horton, Saturn's
Child by vibist Joe Locke and pianist Frank Kimbrough and Underthru by the Joe Morris Quartet. The coming year will see
debut releases from trumpeter Cuong Vu, tenor saxophonist Tony
Malaby and Equal Interest with pianist Myra Melford, saxophonist Joseph Jarman, and
violinist Leroy Jenkins, as well as the first recording in six
years by Marty Ehrlich's Travelers Tale.
While all the artists on the OmniTone roster may fall outside the
realms of mainstream jazz, Tafuri believes that there is a
substantial audience for their kind of adventurous, challenging
music. "I feel that saying my goal is to sell records
is not a dirty thing to say. But it's amazing how many
guys that are out there doing 'creative music' believe that
their music isn't going to be worthwhile if all of a sudden it
started selling a lot of copies. It's a weird
thing. They get into this mindset that 'this music will
only sell a thousand copies and we'll be very happy with that.
We'll be martyrs.' But that mentality is not treating
the music with the right kind of respect. There are a lot of
fans of this music out there. It's just a matter of wading
through the chaff to hook up with these people and make that
Prior to his experience with Black Saint/Soul Note, Tafuri worked
in jazz radio for 13 years at a NPR affiliate, WVXU in
Cincinnati. "I did a weekly show and founded a
program there called 'Bop Connection' back in '79. At
that time a majority of music that was getting played at the
station and a majority of stuff in the library was '70s
funk-fusion and ECM stuff. There wasn't a lot of
straightahead jazz so I was filling a niche there."
Tafuri's radio experience also includes two memorable years with
the AM commercial station WNOP. "It was a small wattage
AM station in Cincinnati that had a weird sunup to sundown license
because they shared a frequency with a radio station in Canada
that would come on at sundown. It was mainly a swing and
bop-oriented station and what I introduced there was the more
adventurous stuff, which they didn't have a helluva lot
of. I may have been the first person over there to play
Ornette Coleman on the air. And on top of that, it was a floating
radio station. It was really wild. It was a kind of barge
that literally floated on the Kentucky side of the Ohio
River. They had special tone arms on the turntables there so
that when the weird craft that we were in would start rocking, the
records wouldn't skip. And then when the river froze over,
which happened a couple times, people had to come up with
inventive ways of relieving themselves."
In the early '80s, Tafuri also helped found a not-for-profit
jazz support organization in Cincinnati called Stone Valley
JazzFest Inc. "For 10 years we hosted an annual outdoor
two-day jazz festival using a wealth of Cincinnati and area
musicians while also bringing in artists from out of town."
It was during this period that he also began contributing record
reviews to a publication called The Music Box.
opportunity got him to New York in '93. "I took a position
working up here as a data base consultant specifically to try and
find a gig in the music business, not knowing what I wanted to do
exactly," he explains.
It was during the summer of '93 that he made his initial contact
with Giovanni Bonandrini. "I was a great champion
of Black Saint/Soul Note for years on WVXU," he says.
"I was the guy that was playing all that adventurous stuff at
that station. And when I made my annual trip to Italy that
year, I decided I wanted to meet Giovanni just to tell him how
much I loved his label. I wrote him a letter in advance and
he called me to arrange a meeting. When I got to Milan it
turned out that Giovanni wasn't there. His son Flavio
apologized, explaining that he was tied up at the pressing
plant. So Flavio and I had a great conversation, half in
English, half in Italian. And by the end of the conversation
he started pitching me on this publicity and promotion job that
they had for their American company."
Tafuri started with Sphere Marketing (which was based in a cargo
area at JFK airport) at the end of '93. "I worked for
them for about a year and a half on a part-time basis just doing
publicity and promotion," he says, "and it became
evident to me that it was really a full-time position. It took a
while for them to make me an offer that was reasonable enough for
me to quit my other job — and I took a big pay cut to go to work
for them. But I was so knocked out with the thought of
actually representing those labels here."
Not only did he function in a publicity/promotion capacity, Tafuri
also showed some A&R insight in bringing the critically
acclaimed Herbie Nichols Project and vocalist Anita Gravine to the
label. "I did pitch several things to them," he
says. "Some of them they took but there were several
others that they weren't interested in that I felt were very
worthwhile. And I continued to have relationships with some of
these people after leaving that job."
Following, his consultant work for GM and Malandro, and a brief
stint as publicist for the Arkadia label, Tafuri began to lay the
groundwork for his own label.
"I got to the point where I felt there was a need to have a
label that was going to put creative music out there and really
support it and package it in the right way. And in some
ways, OmniTone is a continuation of the work that was abruptly
ended at Sphere. I had made a lot of strong
relationships during my time there (Tom Varner and Frank
Kimbrough, among others) and I wanted to use those strong
relationships to try and launch a label. And now we're
trying to make a go of it."
In addition to managing the label, Tafuri is also doing some
online retailing on the OmniTone site (www.OmniTone.com) for
hard-to-find labels and artist-produced CDs. "We feel
like even in this age of Amazon.com and CDNow we're filling a
niche because it's hard to get that product from those
people. Even though they list it, it's hard to get."
Tafuri says he is hoping to add a tour support component to do
bookings and line up tours for artists on the label. And he
may introduce another imprint in the near future. "I'm
kicking around the idea of starting a second label that might be
more 'out,'" he says. "But in general I
really want to put music out there that's listenable, that's
viable, that can support these artists that are out there working.
I'm not interested in doing one-offs. I really want working
musicians and I want people that are hustling as hard to get their
music out there as I am."
© 2000 JazzTimes.
Used by permission