IS THE SOUND OF MODERN JAZZ ACCURATE?

The morning sun never lasts a day. Every new piece of technology promisesus permanent sound carriers from vinyl to MP3.

Sound of jaz

How did it all begin?

With cardboard folds for barrel organs, with iron needles paving trails in wax-like dough. And now we keep music on tiny cards or simply on hard discs.

In 1986, a London-based journalist named Steve Harris became the fourth editor of the magazine Hi-Fi News. A year later he released the first serious guide of compact discs at the Salamander publishing house. Steve Harris wrote that despite the revolutionary transition to compact discs, many CDs are less interesting than vinyl and even some rare 78-turn records. Why? Because of excessive enthusiasm of sound producers during multichannel recording or restoration. Take one example: the operator places the microphone such that it perceives the sound of the double bass better than the general sound of its resonating body.

Steve Harris writes that Robert Parker, the Australian colleague of Willis Conover, was pioneered in digitization and restoration. He rerecorded discs by Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morten and Bessie Smith on PCM-F1, a digital recording device (which cannot be called a tape recorder) which Sony began producing in 1981. Then Steve Harris has mixed feelings in the middle of his preface to the guide Jazz on Compact Discs. On one hand, he gives it to Robert Parker, the pioneer digitizer, and on the other hand he criticizes artificial distortion for the purpose of ‘sound improvement’ by Parker, such as clearing the sound, adding strong reverberation and turning the pre-war mono into artificial stereo.

And this is just part of the problem, because switching to a digital studio technology allowed sound masters creating something cosmic and non-existing in music, but alluring which would kill the live jazz sound. It remained live only for those lucky few who go to those certain clubs, but not for the attendees or the listener audience at large open-air festivals where microphones, amplifiers and loudspeakers create something powerful and interesting, but still distorted in sound and a real failure for real fans who know what real jazz sounds like.

I was extremely happy to find out that Steve Harris mentioned only one sound producer who managed to preserve the art of recording and reproduction of real sound. I am sure you’ve guessed that I am talking about Rudy van Gelder.

The morning sun never lasts… It’s a fact. From my 4,500-strong collection of compact discs, over a half has died, or been squeaking, or been hissing like frying pans for the past fifteen years. Now I have to digitize newly-purchased CDs in two formats, wave and mp3, on my hard drive and always duplicate them. Because even the best Winchester disks crash just as often. This is where the annoyance with the 90s slogan ‘Compact discs are forever!’ stems from.

ЗSound of jaz

Once I took part in a local talk show and the sneaky host asked me how lies in the USSR (I immigrated not from Russia, but from the USSR) were different from lies in France. The answer was not at all difficult: Soviet lies were simple, all-out and stable. Local lies are better thought-out, better made-up and more effective. Why? Because the school of lying for the French begins at age three with television and advertisement.

The school of lying is in advertising. As Marshall McLain wrote, advertisement is similar to brainwashing. There’s no such thing as free lunch. Nor are there ever-lasting CDs.

Before Steve Harris handed it to Rudy van Gelder’s home-based recording studio, he said a few words about the American pianist, composer and producer Dave Grusin: ‘Some talented producers and engineers learned to use digital technology effectively. Dave Grusin with GRP Records apparently has never aimed at recording natural acoustic sound, and instead created impressive, polished, clinically clean artificial sound which had nothing to do with jazz.

Sound of jaz

“Jazz and the real non-deformed sound” – this is my first attempt at this topic. And today’s coverage is not the last one. Ahead of us, there will be stories of the jazz players themselves about how they used to be recorded. Allow me one example. Rudy Blash, a jazz musicologist, wrote:

‘…They were supposed to play the long tin tube whose narrow end was connected to a steel needle which paved a trail on a turning disc covered in beeswax. Wavy lines appeared then on the disc.

King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band gathered for a historical recording and crowded around the bell of that same tube. But two trumpets completely drowned the rest of the orchestra. King Oliver and Louis Armstrong were moved to the back, far from the tube bell, whereas Johnny Dodds’ clarinet was aimed straight at the tube. The bass drum of his brother Baby Dodds could not be used at all. Instead he tapped on two wooden bricks. But when they got to recording, it turned out that King Oliver could not be heard, so Satchmo was asked to move five more steps back. His wife Lil later remembered: ‘Louis was so far from us that he wasn’t seen.’

Sound of jazz

Dmitry Savitsky
Radio Svoboda