In 1937, a short film was made titled Record Making with Duke Ellington, giving viewers a glimpse into the process of how the sounds created in a studio were turned into wax platters. I didn't set out to make such an extravaganza myself, but after spending so much time in Andreas Meyer's Astoria studio this week, overseeing the transfers for the upcoming Mosaic Records boxed set I'm co-producing with Scott Wenzel, I just had to film something.
But first, a short update. I've run into a bit of skepticism from some because I'm knocking myself out with updates on the project on my blog and Facebook page but Mosaic still hasn't formally announced it, there's no concrete release date and they haven't even made it available for pre-order. Well, don't worry, all of that stuff will be ironed out probably within the next week. I can attest that this week alone, we finished transferring everything except Louis's set at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, we selected the cover image for the box, in addition to over 20 more, most previously unpublished, and after having David Ostwald serve as my second set of eyes, the finished version of my liner notes are ready to be submitted to Scott this weekend. It shouldn't surprise anyone who has been to my blog that they weigh in at a hefty 27,000+ words....which doesn't include about 5,000 words that ended up on the cutting room floor!
If you still don't know what I'm talking about, all the details are in the blog I originally wrote when the set was approved in May 2013. In addition to the main 9-CD box, I'm happy to announce that we will also be offering a 4-LP analog set featuring just Louis's complete Newport Jazz Festival sets of 1956 and 1958! Vinyl sales are way up so this should hopefully please some of the turntable fanatics out there. And not just a regular run-of-the-mill vinyl pressing; Andreas has invested in the top-of-the-line 1/2 inch tape to make the analog transfers. George Avakian really achieved a perfect mix for the band at Newport 1956; that combined with Andreas's methods are making the final product sound stunning.
Don't believe me? Back to the "Record Making" title of this post. After spending the entire day with it, I can attest that Louis's Newport 1956 set is raw, exciting and one of the highlights of the box. Very little has ever been issued so I was really excited to hear it all....especially because at the time of the DownBeat Editor Jack Tracy wrote one of the harshest reviews of the All Stars in their 24-year-history. He signaled out "Indiana," saying Louis got into some trouble and barely worked his way out of it. Hmmmm.
So when Andreas was taking it all down and got to "Indiana," I held my breath; is Pops going to fall on his face? Of course not! In fact, I can't even tell you what Tracy was hearing. Louis changes some of his phrasing in the second opening ensemble chorus but what he plays fits perfectly; do say he "ran into difficulty" is a joke.
For this moment, I pulled out my iPhone and shot a short video. You'll see Avakian's original Columbia reels on the left and Andreas's half-inch analog reels on the right. Andreas was listening so intently, he didn't know I was filming. Next to me, digging it all, is the one and only Scott Wenzel, a prince of a man who has been so incredible to work with throughout this entire process. (Don't mind my half-second cameo either.) Here 'tis:
Not bad, right? We keep looking at each other at some point during every session and saying, "This is going to be some set!" And it is.
By now, you're probably wondering about the release date. If Scott has my notes and the photos are finalized and the transfers are finished next Wednesday, Scott tells me they can turn it around in a month, meaning the end of February at the earliest or possibly the beginning of March. George Avakian turns 95 on March 15 and will be celebrating his birthday with David Ostwald's Louis Armstrong Eternity Band at Birdland on March 12 so it would be wonderful to present it to him then.
Speaking of Uncle George, David and I spent the night with him at his apartment this week. I needed to ask some last-minute discographical questions for my notes and we wanted to get his permission to use a photo of himself and Louis with Louis wearing his "Ambassador Satch" tux. George was in a great mood and the stories just kept on coming. Here he is with David:
And a shot of him holding the picture that will be included in the Mosaic set:
And besides the above video, it was fun just to take some photos of the process in the studio. What a trip to be surrounded by all those original reels. Here's Newport 1958, which will be transferred next week:
And here's Andreas Meyer again, at his station working his magic:
Scott Wenzel, listening very intently:
Andreas posted a picture of his tape machines to Facebook on Thursday night and the thing blew up, getting a ton of "like's" and comments. The buzz for this set is pretty big and we're not going to stop now!
A good shot of the half-inch tape capturing the analog sounds:
To show you what pros these guys are, Andreas would chop off a good chunk of the beginning of each fresh reel of tape because sometimes there's issues with the outer layers of a new a tape. By the end, the waste basket was filled with tape....all for the cause!
And what about your loyal blogger? Here I am, living the dream, listening to Louis at Newport, eating a chocolate chip cookie and drinking a coffee. Nice "work" if you can get it!
So there you have it. I'm sorry I have posted anything since my Jack Bradley tribute two weeks ago but you can imagine what life has been like lately, devoted to making this set as perfect as possible. Writing the notes, listening to the refs, going to the studio, visiting George, making a trip to the Sony Photo Archives, eating ridiculously good bagels at Brooklyn Bagel and Coffee Company, and so on. At one point, Scott asked, "I don't know how you do it--do you do blow?" I responded, "No, it's the donuts!" (My Facebook friends will get that....)
Hopefully, my next announcement will be featuring the official Mosaic page for the set, pre-order info and a definitive release date. Til then...keep salivating! (And Satch-urating....)