Sunday, August 01, 1999


Jazz enthusiast turns passion into product

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Dale Rabiner's love of jazz guitar and the rich regional music scene led him to start J Curve Records.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
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        For his 40th birthday, J Curve Records president Dale Rabiner received a new goal in life.

        The investment manager's lifelong passion is jazz guitar. His wife, Margaret, had flown in jazz guitarist Howard Roberts to play at Dale's party at the couple's hilltop home above California Golf Course. As a teen-ager, he'd spent summers sweeping up Glenn “Shorty” Hughes' Norwood music store. His bonus: a rare, left-handed Barney Kessel model Gibson guitar.

        Meeting the guitarist and getting to play with him six years ago changed Mr. Rabiner's life. Six months later, Mr. Roberts died of prostate cancer.

        “I was so impressed by Howard and how nice he was, and how encouraging, and what a great musician he was and how uncelebrated, that I vowed as a tribute to his memory to get more involved.”

        In 1997, Mr. Rabiner co-founded the Greater Cincinnati Jazz Society with Arzell Nelson and his future J Curve partner Barbara Gould.

        They began gathering information about the city's jazz history.

        “We really began to realize how much good music there was here and how it really needed to be recognized,” he says.

        So he and Ms. Gould debuted their label in early 1998 with East Meets Midwest, a guitar duo CD featuring local legend Kenny Poole and New York-based guitarist Gene Bertoncini.

        From the start, J Curve wasn't meant be just a local label. (The name is taken from an economic model depicting what happens when a central bank strengthens currency.)

        It has three missions, says Mr. Rabiner, 46.

        “One is to promote guitar. Two is to promote Cincinnati music and three is capturing the young emerging artists and the national figures who have the potential to be the next great musician on their instrument.”

        Two J Curve CDs by non-Cincinnati artists recently landed on national airplay charts. They are pianist Aaron Goldberg's Turning Point and trumpeter Darren Barrett's First One Up.

        Even so, jazz represents less than 2 percent of music sales, and it's tough turning air play into sales.

        J Curve is trying, with radio promotion to 250 stations and a New York-based PR firm. The company has helped get J Curve CDs reviewed in the New York Times and other major publications. They have a Web site,

        But the young label has yet to show a profit.

        “The nature of the recording business is not unlike a venture capital fund,” Mr. Rabiner says. “You have a few artists that just don't work out; you have a majority who are average to good and then you have maybe one or two that really capture people's imaginations.”

        He's expanding J Curve to include a Latin imprint, Sabroso, and has plans for a blues/roots label as well. By early next year, J Curve will have 20 CDs in stores, he says.

        His life would be easier had he remained just a consumer of jazz, but it's worth the struggle.

        “I'm just not one to watch other other people do things. I'm more about doing it myself and making a contribution.

        “I feel very strong and passionate about jazz as an art form, really, American music in general. And so I get a sense of satisfaction when I can sign an artist, see the project come to fruition and know that in some way I contributed.

        “There is a notion of psychic income. We're certainly looking to make money, but the enjoyment you get from something like that you can't really put into monetary terms.”

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