Jammin', java and Jesus Music: Local entrepreneurs envision recording studios and a string of coffeehouses dedicated to Christian popular music.


With the financial backing of a private foundation worth millions, a small band of local entrepreneurs is ironing out an elaborate plan it hopes will move Maryland to the forefront of the Christian music industry.

The first phase began 18 months ago with the opening of Waters Edge, a 1,000-square-foot recording studio in a converted guest house in Annapolis. While it sounds quaint, its size and location don't tell the whole story.

The studio houses about $200,000 of state-of-the-art recording equipment and is frequented by Christian musicians who head straight for the national circuit in most cases, such as Dan Polk and Kelly Minter.

The second phase began in August with the opening of a 3,000-square-foot Christian coffeehouse in Kent Island named Jammin' Java. The coffeehouse also sells CDs, has a guitar retail shop that provides lessons and is a concert venue for Christian bands.

It employs 10 part-timers and has a volunteer staff of a half-dozen.

The third stage is expansion of all of the above.

Plans include building a larger studio in Southern Maryland while opening up to 15 Christian coffeehouses -- at least four this year in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area -- to give local acts exposure and to serve as tour sites for national performers.

There are also plans to acquire or develop a record label that can allow Waters Edge to mass-produce CDs, said Sandy Harless, the studio's manager.

The vision is to offer a soup-to-nuts service, said Keith Rogers, general manager of Jammin' Java.

"We literally want artists to get their start performing on a Jammin' Java stage, go to the studio to record their CD, sign them to our record label and distribute them nationally," he said.

The Jammin' Java/Waters Edge effort should be successful, given that there isn't much competition in Maryland, said Fran Bryant, regional director for the Christian Music Connection, a national support network for Christian musicians.

"There's quite a large audience for something like this, more than people realize," said Bryant, who is also a columnist for Music Monthly, a Lutherville-based newspaper.

"In Maryland, there isn't a radio station that plays contemporary Christian music 24-7, but there is a strong underground movement," he said.

The financial side of the venture is practically secure, as it is backed by the Sunrise Foundation, which was founded in 1986 and received a major influx of cash last year after the initial public offering of Sunrise Assisted Living Inc., a Fairfax, Va.-based provider of assisted-living care for seniors.

The company -- which was founded by Peter and Terry Klaassen in 1981 -- operates 60 properties in 11 states with another 14 under construction or in development. The current resident capacity is more than 3,600.

The $10 million foundation also supports two Christian schools in Fairfax, is developing a model for assisted-living centers for low-income seniors in urban areas and contributes to other not-for-profit groups.

The Christian music venture is fairly new and has garnered only a small portion of the foundation's funding, said Catherine Scott Asplen, the foundation's executive vice president.

The foundation's backing means that the studio is not for profit and doesn't charge for its services, which can cost upward of $30,000 for a CD recording. Because it's open to the public, it's booked for the next five months with about 10 clients, Harless said. There's a waiting list.

As for the coffeehouses, "the goal is to break even," Rogers said. "We want to be a self-supporting venture."

The concept behind the Kent Island coffeehouse is being fine-tuned so it can be duplicated around the country, Rogers said. "We want as many or as few as God wants and in his timing," he said.

Sites are being scouted for coffeehouses to open this year in Fairfax; Washington; Annapolis or Severna Park; and Fells Point or Towson.

The music will be Christian but also will include folk, jazz, modern alternative, rock, reggae, gospel and R&B.;

The expanded studio will most likely be in St. Michaels or in Kent Island. Kent Island might seem an odd place for such a venture, said Kathleen Kelly, who works with Waters Edge and Jammin' Java, but the area has a strong Christian-music fan base that has pledged its support to the effort.

Pub Date: 1/12/98

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