October 24, 2016

The Producer's Hat


Autumn at Hamilton College brings a much-anticipated and welcomed event. World-class jazz on Friday night of Fallcoming weekend has been a tradition for 23 years. This event takes place in the acoustically friendly environment of the Fillius Events Barn. The list of jazz musicians who have taken part in this concert is impressive and includes Milt Hinton, Clark Terry, Bucky Pizzarelli and Kenny Davern.
In the early years of my job as Director of the Fillius Jazz Archive, I assisted Milt Fillius in producing this event. After his passing in 2002, the responsibility became mine. As with any event that involves performers and an audience, the devil can be in the details. The following are some of those individual logistics that need to be addressed: book the musicians (a year ahead of the event) and reserve the concert space; create posters and programs; book local travel and accommodations for the artists; organize for a pre-concert dinner for 20 guests; arrange for proper lighting and audio in the concert space; and collaborate with physical plant on the desired room set-up.
This particular year brought a new and exciting set of challenges to our fall jazz event. The recommendation from a respected jazz artist led us to book two outstanding pianists for a duo piano concert. Dick Hyman, at age 89, is still at the top of his game, and his game includes performing virtually any style of jazz and classical music. The only piano player I’m aware of who can match Mr. Hyman’s abilities is his co-performer for the evening, Rossano Sportiello, 47 years younger than Mr. Hyman but equally adept at playing with dazzling technique and consummate musicianship.
 Rossano Sportiello, Monk Rowe and Dick Hyman
Photo by John Herr

When the idea of a two piano performance was presented and accepted by both artists, Mr. Hyman said, “Well, we ought to record this.” This rang a bell with me. Never in the 23 years of this event had we done a recording with the ultimate goal of release on a jazz label in mind. Both Dick and Rossano record frequently for Arbors Records, and so the plan proceeded. This led to more logistics, some of which were new to me: locate and rent two top-of-the-line matching pianos, and arrange for a delivery by a piano moving company; secure an insurance rider and extra security for two nine-foot grands; assure availability of the piano tuner to tune both pianos twice, once before rehearsal and again before the concert; discuss logistics with the record label; locate and negotiate with a recording studio who had remote recording capabilities to capture the concert; and finally, process check requests for the entire weekend.
Unexpected details always arise. In this case, unwanted noise in the room was interfering with capturing clean audio. An aggressive foot tapping by one pianist was solved by locating a small rug. The steady hum of a ventilation fan also was polluting the audio, requiring a last minute call to physical plant. The concert on October 7 came off without a hitch, and first reviews of the audio that resulted were highly encouraging.
The next steps included digital review of audio, transfers to CD and cassettes (yes, cassettes!) for review by the artists, and collaboration with a graphic designer on the cover. In the hopper are composing liner notes, discussing song choices, collaborating on necessary audio edits, and arranging for the final mastering.
Stay tuned for part 2 when Dick Hyman and Rossano Sportiello Live at Hamilton is released on Arbors, anticipated in the spring of 2017.