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Classic Recording Gear and Methods

Discussion in 'Vintage Analog Gear' started by DonnyThompson, Jun 29, 2014.

  1. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Chris's thread on Mojave mics - and especially his link to a youtube video of a jazz trio recording with these mics - sparked an idea in me, and that was to research the classic recorded jazz era - from around 1956 - 1965.

    Popular jazz artists during this era were people like Dave Brubeck, Vince Guaraldi, Stan Getz, Ella Fitzgerald, John Coltrane, etc.

    By and large, jazz ensembles, whether they were trios, combos or five piece acts, were nearly always recorded at once. Very little overdubbing - if any - was ever done.

    The most popular mics used were U47's and 67's, Coles STC 4038 Ribbons, AKG 56 and 54 condensers, AKG D-19's, and believe it or not, early versions of Shure's now infamous SM57.

    Because these acts were being recorded at once, the rooms were everything in terms of the sound. Careful attention was paid to mic placement, and often, an assistant engineer's main function was to move around the room with different mics on different instruments to find the best choices, and to also find the "sweet spots" in the room, while the head engineer directed the assistant where to go, what to use, and how to use it. Often, these sweet spots would be instrument dependent, meaning that there may be a spot in the room that was great for drums, but not necessarily for sax or piano.

    Great care was taken by the engineers to accurately capture the sound of the ensemble as a whole, with no focus being on any one individual instrument. It's not that overdubbing wasn't being done in other forms of music - like pop and rock - because it was...but for jazz guys, it was a kind of slap in the face to suggest the OD process, because these cats knew that the end result was based on their sound as a whole, and not on any one instrument alone.

    The players were the cream of the crop. They knew their instruments inside and out, they played with a great amount of technique and dynamics (take a listen to Brubeck's Take Five, it's a prime example of player dynamics, and how great it made the recording sound) and - they played together - no differently than if they were playing a nightclub stage at a gig.

    Very little effect of any kind was ever used, with the exception of some sparse EMT Plate Reverb here and there, but most of the time they relied on the room they were in to grab the sound that they wanted, and the thought of using any additional effects to the music was looked upon as almost sacrilegious. After all, the music was what mattered.

    Consoles of the period were almost always tube-driven, which lent a nice, smooth, coloration - that we now consider to be a major factor of the sound, and why the recordings always sounded so smooth and warm. But it's not as if this format was chosen by the engineers at the time. It's because it was largely the only format available. They just used what they had at the time. They probably had no clue that 50 years later, engineers would be doing everything in their power, and spending the equivalent of second mortgages, all in an effort to get "that" sound.

    Very little limiting was done at the performance/tracking level, this was generally allotted to the final mastering phase. "How loud can we get this?" was NEVER an issue, and if it was taken into consideration? It was only used in an effort to increase the signal to noise ratio, to mask the built in shortcomings of tape - like tape hiss. But it was never done with any intent to "stay competitive" with other recordings of the time.

    Instead, the focus was on the talent, the dynamics and the song. No one ever stepped into a recording session at that time and said "we have to make this as loud as possible."
    It just wasn't a concern, nor was it considered to be a factor at all in the final fidelity.

    For fun, here's one of my all time favorite jazz recordings - from Vince Guaraldi, who was most famous for "Linus and Lucy" (The Peanuts Theme Song).
    This song, Cast Your Fate To The Wind, was recorded in 1963 on a four track Scully tape machine. You can hear the tape hiss, as this was recorded before Dr. Dolby invented his noise reduction process a few years later. But it's a fun trip into the past, and a wonderful recording, from a time when the talent and the music were what truly mattered.

    View: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTA3aOfrDHA


    Any and all comments are welcome. :)

  2. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    another awesome example...

    Thelonious Monk's Round Midnight, (Monk isn't playing the piano in this video even though the OP titled it that way... no John Coltrane, either... weird)...
    But, Wes Montgomery IS on guitar. The epitome of smoooooth. ;)

    View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pbp2FhdKyg

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