New York Reunion
Not too long ago, I found myself in David Chesky’s New York apartment talking about some really cool Quad speakers he was using for playback. He was brainstorming about the best stands to use for them. I’m afraid I was not very helpful as a long-time Magnepan owner. After all, what does a Maggie owner know about stands? After listening to some very natural sounding 24/96 Chesky recordings, we got to talking about his frustrations with 16 bit digital and the necessity for more resolution. Hanging out with David caused me to think back to a 1991 recording session we both worked on that ultimately led to my love of “hirez”.
We were in Studio A in the old BMG/RCA building and just getting started when someone yelled, “Can someone fetch Ron some cigarettes?” I piped up and said, “I can go.”
So after two months working on music projects, this is where I was. Fetching cigarettes for some guy named Ron.
I could not have been more thrilled. Ron was the famous jazz bass player Ron Carter. He was in the studio with McCoy Tyner, Joe Henderson and Al Foster recording New York Reunion for Chesky Records in the heydays of the CD format. It was reunion for Joe Henderson and McCoy Tyner who had worked together on Joe’s debut Blue Note effort Page One in 1963. Ron Carter and Al Foster later had a classic trio with Joe in the 1980s so it was a bit of a reunion for them as well.
Somehow I had been invited to help out on the session and it was like Disneyland for this music lover and audiophile. How did I wind up here?
This had all started back a few months prior with a conversation with Steve Guttenberg, a long-time friend, and at the time a salesperson at Sound by Singer. I had been buying loads of Chesky CDs at Singer in part because I liked the Latin jazz and in part because my system was not very good at the time and they sounded so wonderful anyway. Steve mentioned that David Chesky was coming by for an in-store appearance at Singer and suggested I attend. David showed up to play tracks from his New York Chorinhos album and it was simply fantastic. Steve introduced me to David and he said I should stop by the Village Gate on Thursday for a live recording of Clark Terry. David said he would “put me on the list.” It was the first of many nice things David would do for me and many others over the years. I showed up early and as luck would have it, one of their NYU music interns no-showed the event and David asked if I could help out. I quickly said yes.
I began working with Jeremy Kipnis laying microphone cable and wound up with the thankless job of asking patrons to not smoke because it would interfere with the AKG microphone diaphragms. Bob and Jeremy had set up a small “control room” off to the side of the stage and I got to be a fly on the wall during the recording which eventually was issued on two CDs. I think David and Norman appreciated my help on the session as they invited me to the next one. After a while I became one of the crew, albeit the most junior person. I was working on Wall Street at the time so this was perfect for me. Seventy-hour job during the week (!) then late nights helping David, Bob, Steve and Jeremy capture the sound of some amazing jazz and classical artists. Only in New York. We also recorded some popular artists like Livingston Taylor and unique ensembles like Orquestra Nova.
It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship with Chesky Records. I went on to work on nearly two dozen Chesky recording sessions and to this day I have remained good friends with the entire recording team. In that time my knowledge of both recording and playback has grown significantly. Today I work with my friend Nick to make high resolution live to two track recordings of local classical musicians from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the Atlanta Chamber Players. I sort of describe myself as a “super enthusiast” as I am always trying new things and leveraging my work in recording to help make sure my stereo system is revealing enough to capture the proper tone of the violin, cello, piano and guitar.
So what happened to New York Reunion? I went out to get Ron his cigarettes at a local bodega and he was grateful. Jeremy and I built the “mic tree” for the session, which was highly stabilized and weighted down on concrete blocks and “tiptoes”! We also covered the top of the mic tree with aluminum foil to minimize the radio frequencies we were getting from being in midtown Manhattan. It was a quite a sight! The session went exceptionally well and I was just in awe of the jazz improvisation that took place that weekend.
Some audiophiles in the audience may remember the old Monk track Ask Me Now from the CD where there is a lengthy opening solo by Joe Henderson with oodles of presence. You can clearly hear the reverb off the back wall of RCA’s Studio A. Bob Katz masterfully utilized the AKG tree along with an accent microphone on Henderson’s sax. We recorded the session both in digital and analog formats. Jeremy and I managed the analog deck and the analog tape eventually became the source for a superb Super Audio CD that captures more fully the sound we heard in person including the right amount of decay from Henderson’s sax solo. Hearing that disc prompted an even greater interest in high resolution audio that continues to this day. It is why we record in 24/176khz and it matches David’s experience in recording a wide variety of artists.
Amazingly New York Reunion went on to reach the #4 spot on the Billboard Jazz chart and further helped to establish Chesky Records. Of course today they are as well known for their HDTracks high resolution download site. The chart success was pretty cool but what I really took away from the session was that there are times when you get the right mix of talented people collaborating that you can create something really special, almost magical, where the sum is far greater than the individual parts.
It’s been a while since that session, but seeing David again brought back memories of good times and good music. Like we witnessed with Joe, McCoy, Ron and Al, it seems you can just fall back into the groove with your very best friends.