Tuesday, April 11, 2017
Pressed For All Time: Producing the Great Jazz Albums
Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press
2016: 336 pp
Michael Jarrett, has a fascinating new book out which considers the role of the producers in making the great jazz recordings happen. Jarrett, who has written about music for a variety of publications, is a Professor of English at Pennsylvania State University. Through oral histories with producers, engineers, musicians and label executives, he traces the role of the producers from 78 era to the present day digital recording era. He weaves the interviews in a manner that provides insight on how various classic jazz recordings happened.
The book opens with a Cadenza from Don Schlitten on producing jazz records who notes the transition from large companies with their Artist & Repertoire person to the modern jazz producer as well as noting when he started in the business, recordings whether tape or acetate were still made direct with no mixing or the like and this has evolved. Multi-track taping changed things. Schlitten's overview is very helpful to understand what is going on later.
As Jarrett observes that with recording onto tape, the A&R person evolved into the producer since the tape allowed more control over the entire recording process and some producers even became independent. The book is organized into four chapters. Chapter 1 (1934-49) has us in the pre-tape era when music recorded to acetate or lacquer masters. Chapters 2 (1950-66) and 3 (67-90) involve music recorded and mastered on tape, whereas in Chapter 4 (1991-present) involve recordings in the digital age, even if not recorded to hard drives when albums meant CDs, digital downloads and vinyl for enthusiasts.
It should be noted that Jarrett will associate an album with a producer (and also integrate comments from others involved with that recording), sometimes the album is at best tangentially discussed in connection with the illustrated album. Still it is quite fascinating to understand the history of jazz albums which initially were compilations of 78s in an album package. Milt Gabler recalls how he reissued 78s in the 1930s of records from the 1920s, as well as recording Lester Young and then the legendary Billie Holiday "Strange Fruit" session. George Avakian, in discussing Billie Holiday's Vocation 78 of "Billie's Blues," discusses John Hammond in not the most favorable terms. Avakian also claims to have produced the first jazz album that was of new recordings, not simply reissues of prior releases, when he supervised the recording of "Chicago Jazz Album" issued on Decca on 78s in 1940.
It is fascinating in Chapter 2 to hear how tape and eventually multi-track tape, as well as moving from 78s to first 10" and then 12" LPS changed things dramatically such as allowing longer performances to be recorded and issued. While associated when the Columbia release of Benny Goodman's Carnegie Hall Concerts, Avakian gives some history of how he convinced the heads to issue LPs, including extended works by Erroll Garner and Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong's W.C. Handy album (of which another producer, Ed Michel, comments that "Avakian invented LP programming." Also discussed is the "Ellington at Newport." Bob Weinstock (no relation) provides an overview of Miles Davis' "Dig" album (and later Sonny Rollins' "Saxophone Colossus") while Gabler recalls recording Peggy Lee's "Lover." There are discussions about splices (and hiding them) in producing a tape masters, as well as reissues from these masters. Orrin Keepnews initially produced reissues of classic Paramount jazz and blues recordings and later would produce Cannonball Adderly, Wes Montgomery Thelonious Monk and others. Then there is discussion of engineers, including Rudy Van Gelder who would be very secretive of some of his techniques. Tom Dowd discusses engineering Charles MIngus while John Koenig's, whose father Lester ran Contemporary Records mentions the influence of Neshui Ertegun (who was Atlantic's primary jazz producer) had on him. Then there is engineer Esmond Edwards on producing Coltrane, and Eric Dolphy for Prestige and Ramsey Lewis for Argo, Creed Taylor on producing Stan Getz, Gil Evans, Ray Charles, Oliver Nelson and John Coltrane, Nat Hentoff on Mingus Presents Mingus, Bob Thiele on producing Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and John Coltrane, and Teo Macero on producing Miles Davis.
Chapter 3 involves more advanced productions involving tape, and sometimes its manipulation as well as more elaborate and orchestrated productions. There are the Miles Davis' electric albums such as "Bitches Brew" and the like which involved making tracks from splices of partial performances. Also in this chapter we have Creed Taylor's productions of Wes Montgomery, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Freddie Hubbard and others for A&M and CTI. Joel Dorn provides insights on the Atlantic recordings by Eddie Harris, Rashaan Roland Kirk and Gary Burton, while Bob Porter discusses some of the Prestige organ-based recordings he produced for Prestige and how Don Schlitten hired him for those because he did not want to work the soul jazz roster. Don Schlitten tells how he got Jaki Byard's "Solo Piano" done and also a late Jimmy Rushing recording. Tom Dowd talked about what was involved to make Herbie Mann's "Memphis Underground" happen. Other recordings discussed here include some of Ed Michel's Impulse productions including those by Archie Shepp, Sam Rivers and Pharaoh Sanders. Other backstories include Anthony Braxton's "Creative Orchestra Music," Weather Report's "Black Market," Charlie Haden's album of duets, "Closeness," Herbie Hancock's "Rockit," the Bill Evans-Tony Bennett duets, James Blood Ulmer's "Tales of Captain Black," and Illinois Jacquet and His Big Band, "Jacquet's Got It!" ( Bob Porter produced this for Atlantic).
Chapter 4, as indicated is of the age in which, no matter how recorded, recordings started being issued digitally as opposed to vinyl LPs and cassettes. Bill Laswell discusses Sonny Sharrocks' "Ask the Ages," while John Synder discusses recordings by Kenny Drew, Jr., and Mel Torme. Other recordings here include memorable ones by Randy Weston, "The Spirits of Our Ancestors" and "Volcano Blues." Craig Street tells what was involved with Cassandra Wilson's "Blue Light Until Dawn," while Jay Newland, an engineer discussed how he recorded Keith Jarrett's "Bye Bye Blackbird." Newland also describes recording Etta James' Billie Holiday "Mystery Lady," and how they had to cancel the first recording day when Cedar Walton said he couldn't play the piano in the studio because it was terrible. they cancelled and brought in a Steinway. There are of course many recordings here, as well as in the other chapters, that I have not mentioned.
Reading this book, I thought about the documentary "The Wrecking Crew" that weaved interviews, film and music clips to tell the story of the legendary Los Angeles studio musicians that were behind some many popular records of the fifties and sixties, as well as heard on movie and TV soundtracks. In like fashion, the weaving of these interview excerpts provide a fascinating overview of the production of jazz recordings, both then and now. This was lively and highly informative read.
I purchased this.