Every record tells a story, this one is no exception. It just needs someone to find it, and tell it, the record is merely the jumping off point. So set your time-transporters for the Summer of 1955, you may need to bone up on your beat slang to fit in. If you dig it, man, it’s crazy! You’ll be making the scene! On second thoughts, zip-it, keep a low profile, and pull your hat down.You do have a hat, don’t you? No, not a woolly one.
Selection: Bohemia After Dark (Oscar Pettiford) self titled.
. . .
Read the line up carefully, it’s an important part of the story.
Nat Adderley, cornet; Donald Byrd, trumpet; Cannonball Adderley, alto sax; Jerome Richardson, tenor sax, flute; Horace Silver, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums. Recorded NYC, June 28, 1955
How the line-up of this 1955 Savoy recording date came about is a story in its own right, for which I will borrow some excerpts from Cary Ginnel’s excellent biography of Cannonball, Walk Tall – The Music and Life of Julian Cannonball Adderley. Rather than retype the story, or indeed plagiarise Ginnel’s work and take credit, I will experiment with using a few caps from the book, undertaking the continuity links myself. Fair Use disclaimer.
One evening, in June 1955, bassist Oscar Pettiford’s band was due to play at the Café Bohemia, but his regular (alto) player Jerome Richardson went missing, supposedly as a result of another engagement. (He is also missing from the group photo above) Missed dates were not unusual among musicians, given the widespread use of narcotic and the chaotic lifestyle of some musicians, so it was common event to need to seek stand-ins.
News of Adderley’s performances spread like wildfire, and impressed Miles Davis so much that he determined Cannonball would subsequently join his 1st great Quintet. Kenny Clarke was soon scheduling a recording session for Savoy producer Ozzie Cadena, to be recorded at Hackensack, by Rudy Van Gelder. However the final line up saw some unexpected last minute changes:
So we hear the recording debut of Paul Chambers, age just 20, in place of Oscar Pettiford, basically with Pettiford’s band, recording Pettiford’s composition, “Bohemia After Dark”. To signpost the absence of Pettiford himself from the session, adding insult to injury, the band dedicated one track composed by the two Adderley’s and played over the changes of Sweet Georgia Brown, which they appropriately, or ironically, titled “With Apologies To Oscar”.
Apologies to Oscar, indeed!
Pettiford left the stage for the last time in 1960, at the age of only 38.
It was Kenny Clarke’s recording as actual leader, but Adderley’s rise to fame edged him off the credit list, perhaps the final push that set in motion his move to Europe in the following year, 1956, where he settled in Paris, took up playing with Bud Powell, before becoming a permanent fixture in the Francy Boland Octet and Big Band (much to our enjoyment)
Bohemia After Dark is a jazz standard, recorded by many artists as well as being part of Cannonball’s long time repertoire. Stylistically pacy Hard Bop with a fine Pettiford tune (joining his great tunes like Oscalypso) that captures the lively, briskly-moving urban night-scape of 50’s New York. People out on the town enjoying themselves, bright lights, car horns, the sound of live jazz pouring out of clubs onto the street, lively music for lively people, not yet the next stay-home generation slumped on sofas in front of TV sets.
My favourite Bohemia is Sahib Shihab’s baritone-driven version, which captures the spirit of Pettiford’s tune. Some versions, like Adderley’s Quintet in San Francisco, are taken at too fast pace for a tune with already plenty of rhythmic drive. What is particularly impressive for 1955 is the quality of Van Gelder’s Hackensack recording. More on this in Collector’s Corner, see below.
Vinyl: London (UK Decca) LTZ-C.15047 UK issue of Savoy MG 12017
Original release December 1955, 1st cover, Savoy blood red label, deep groove, RVG hand-etched, Kenny Clarke nominally leader gets top billing.
Someone famously can’t spell RESTRAURNT, or maybe that’s just how they spell it downtown NooYoik.’ Kenny Clarke in largest capitals, but before long, alternative covers begin to note “featuring Cannonball”.
Three alternative covers followed: The Boys In The Band (Hey, get the drinks in, Cannonball, mine’s a large whisky) ; “Model: Gosh, It’s Awful Hot In Here, mind if I slip into something more comfortable?” (note strategically placed letter B), and the New York Skyline (It’s after dark, it’s getting late… yawn…I think I’ll turn in). Bohemia was, of course, a region of the Czech Republic bordered by Germany, Poland, Moravia, and Austria. Material enough for European History Month, but not thought sexy enough to make it to the Savoy cover. Cary Ginnel picks up the cover story
Original Savoy mastered by Rudy Van Gelder, remastered by Decca and released in the UK in January 1957. Despite using the same photograph of the band as the second US Savoy cover, the British release, deliberately or mistakenly, omits the legend “featuring Cannonball”. Leaving British jazz fans collectively scratching their heads: whose album is this? Under whose name do I file it? I think under “Cannonball”, or more correctly, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley.
A recent question from a reader about the “Blue Note sound” got me thinking about the contribution of the studio environment in which they were recorded. We have had a lot of excellent research by DGmono on Van Gelder’s transition from mono to stereo , so I don’t want to go there.
Van Gelder recordings can be separated into those at his parent’s house home studio at Prospect Drive Hackensack, starting around 1953, last recording July 1, 1959 and those following the move to custom-build Englewood Cliffs first recording July 20, 1959.
What intrigued me is how, in the mid ’50s, Rudy could produce such amazing quality recordings, in such an unpromising setting as a domestic living room. That points towards the question of room acoustics, microphones and most important, the type and number of microphones and their positioning. I was listening recently to the Cannonball Adderley Record Day title of previously unreleased Live in San Francisco, 1966. It sounded rubbish, and the penny dropped why it was mono at a time stereo was standard. It was mono because the radio DJ (not an engineer) who recorded it almost certainly had just one microphone, in front of the band. Moral, when a live recording after say 1965 is ONLY in “mono!” expect bootleg quality!
Whilst Englewood Cliffs, with its cathedral-like acoustic space, high ceiling, and EMT plate, produced a sense of “air” around the musicians, especially in stereo, Hackensack produced a sense of intimacy and cohesion, the musicians were virtually on top of each other, mostly in mono. Though Van Gelder kept his techniques hidden from public view, I figured some picture research might throw some light on What Rudy Did.
The revelation came not from anyone actually photographing the Hackensack studio, not found, but from pictures of artists recording there, where in the background unintended detail revealed what was going on at the engineering level. So here is Chapter One of my What Van Gelder Did story.
Van Gelder’s parent’s house 25 Prospect Ave, Hackensack, New Jersey
Interior décor, leaves something to be desired, retro table lamp luckily back in fashion, but the warmth and intimacy of sound captured by adapted German valve microphones, and close proximity of the musicians in a small space with a low ceiling, that’s Hackensack sound. By a strange coincidence Kenny Clarke is pictured below, recording at Hackensack
Close-miking: mike hovering over a cymbal, where the sibilance and high frequencies are captured; also just in front of the bottom end of the double bass body, capturing the bottom-end frequencies; and below, mikes over piano body. Neumann U-boat forty something valve microphones. Drapes across the windows, concealing wooden shutters, a little damping from them. I dare say, the instrument mikes are picking up a small amount of sound of the other instruments in close proximity, reflected off close room walls and low domestic ceiling. Intimacy, cohesiveness.
Herbie Nichols at the keyboard, two possibly three microphones posed, hungry for sound.
Most prominent among the microphones used by Van Gelder was the Neumann/Telefunken U-47, in manufacture between 1949 and 1958. This had an independent power supply (psu pictured below next to mike) and at its heart (inset right) the VF14 tube amplifier, a pentode tube in a steel housing. Only a third of VF-14 tubes manufactured passed the stringent tests for microphone application, which were then stamped “M” (“mikrofon”). The signal received by the VF-14 amplifier is instrument moving-air captured by the fluctuations of a dual diaphragm capsule, the famous M7. This capsule can be set for cardioid (directional) or omnidirectional mode. An engineer could explain the choices Van Gelder made as regards close-miking, and the omnidirectional mode, which captures more natural room ambience.
The other mike also hovering over the piano body is what looks like an RCA ribbon microphone, older generation technology before the arrival of condenser valve/tube mics.
Ribbon mics, which came of age in the 1930s, feature an extremely thin strip of metal (often aluminum) suspended in a strong magnetic field. The ribbon acts as both the diaphragm and the transducer element itself, providing the same kind of sensitivity and transient response you’d expect from a condenser, but with a wholly different character. It looks like Rudy is running a two-horse race, in which a bet on both ensures you have a winner.
But where does Englewood Cliffs air come from?
Don and Maureen Sickler maintain the Englewood Cliffs studios for posterity.
Notice Englewood Cliffs large acoustic space and vaulted beam-and-purlin construction roof design, providing an acoustic chamber intended to add reflections to the sound. It was modelled on the Columbia 30th Street “Church” recording studio (pictured below) which offered over 5,500 square foot acoustic space with 60 foot high ceiling:
Columbia’s secret acoustic weapon was also a reverb chamber below. The hard-walled basement provided an auxiliary reverberation chamber, layering its ambience on top of the natural acoustics of large spaces. The signals from the left and right channel studio mikes were piped down into the chamber and back up into the mixing desk.
The more impressive change between Englewood Cliffs and Hackensack owes much to the larger acoustic space, the exclusive use of close condenser microphones, and the adddition of an EMT Plate Reverb, – “the use of reverb, whether natural room, chamber, or plate, practically defined the “hi-fi” era of music”
What is an EMT plate? German company EMT (Elektromesstecknik) made a huge breakthrough in 1957 with the release of the EMT 140 Reverberation Unit—the first plate reverb. EMT in its day was by far the most popular developer and manufacturer of artificial reverb solutions for the recording industry, forerunner of the field.
Englewood Cliffs it has been confirmed took delivery of an EMT plate. No photos found online show it, because no-one in their right minds would think it important to show.
The story pauses here. I am not an engineer, but I sense that the story is here: Van Gelder created the most beautiful sound experience, which I get it every time I mount a record on the turntable. The explanation how is elusive.
Hope you have enjoyed the ride so far. it is all about discovery and creating knowledge that is useful to people. If you can contribute anything, the floor is yours. If you have taken anything from it, that would be nice to know. If you want to know more, such as what?
I am all ears.