Pressed for All Time:
Producing the Great Jazz Albums
From Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday
To Miles Davis and Diana Krall
by Michael Jarrett
University of North Carolina Press
Michael Jarrett is a published author and jazz authority as well as an English professor at Pennsylvania State University at York, PA. He looks at the way certain jazz recordings were made through interviews with their producers. He writes about his conversations about these recordings with some of the giants in the business—George Avakian, Milt Gabler, Orrin Keepnews, Michael Cuscana and Neshui Ertrgun, for example, and also many with which most are unfamiliar.
Jarrett recounts his conversation with Gabler about how Billie Holiday wanted to record “Strange Fruit” which was popular with her multi-racial audience at NYC’s Café Society. She was under contract with Columbia which would not record it for fear of offending a portion of their customers. Gabler was able to get an exception from Columbia and recorded it on his own Commodore label. Ironically, it was pressed by Vocalion which was owned by CBS, which also owned Columbia. The book covers recordings current to 2013. Some examples of recordings in the 2000s include Diana Krall, Norah Jones, Abbey Lincoln and Gregory Porter in 2013.
When recording tape came available, then producers were able to edit and splice, thereby saving time in the recording studio. One producer reported that he learned to edit by watching Rudy Van Gelder do it.
The format of the book is necessarily conversational. A subject heading might be the title of a recording and then conversation with one or more producers about that recording. There is usually a small photograph of the album cover. So that the reader of this review may conceptualize the format of this book, the titles of the four chapters are as follows:
Cutting Sides: Producing 78 RPM Discs, 1936-1949
Rolling Tape: Producing Jazz LPs, 1950-1966
Laying Down Tracks: Producing Multitrack Recordings, 1967-1990
Recording to Hard Drive: Producing Digitally, 1991-2013
There are also brief biographical sketches of the interviewee/commentators since some may not generally be known by the average reader.
Mr. Jarrett kindly allowed me a telephone interview. Although he covered this in his book, he has interviewed record producers for jazz publications including Jazziz and Pulse, published by Tower Records. I asked how he reconstructed those interviews. He explained that he taped all the interviews then transcribed them. Hence, it was then just a matter of searching to find the ones desired.
This book is a valuable contribution to our greater appreciation of the artists themselves. If not for the producers the music would be only ephemeral. If one wishes to verify, Jarrett’s interview recordings are on file at the library at the University of North Carolina. —F. Norman Vickers
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