NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 2009: Of those recording sessions that may be fairly judged as historically significant, most only attain that revered status in hindsight. It is a rare recording session that may be deemed historically significant from its inception. Such a session occurred last October and featured a unique confluence of talent and history. The Count Basie Orchestra, the direct and continuous descendent of the group formed by the legendary bandleader himself, recorded the very last live big band session at Manhattan's 4,600-square-foot Legacy Studio A509 on the eve of the studio's destruction, a casualty of Big Recording's decline and the Big Apple's shifting landscape.
Grammy-nominated producer Al Pryor and multi-Grammy-winning engineer Todd Whitelock approached the session with appropriate reverence and a strategy to combine the very best old-school techniques with the very latest in recording technology to capture the raw energy and musicianship of what is arguably the tightest jazz orchestra in existence. Mike Pappas, of KUVO radio in Denver, supplied a number of new and vintage Sennheiser and Neumann microphones from his vast collection, which provided the ideal input, not only for the flanked Decca tree that provided the body of the sound, but also for the dozens of spot mics used for isolated instruments and for highlighted solos. The new recording, The Count Basie Orchestra: Singing, Swinging, Playing - A Tribute to Jazz Masters was released on August 25, 2009.
The full-band, live recording took place over three ambitious days in October at Manhattan's Legacy Recording Studios' A509. Located at Legacy's West 38th Street location, studio A509 featured the second-largest live room in Manhattan. The location opened just months before 9-11 - in rosier economic times - and is now officially closed for a date with a wrecking ball. The area is slated for development in the Hudson Rail Yard Project, with a planned shift to more residential and green areas. A speculator purchased much of the block in anticipation of the shift and made Legacy an offer they would have been foolish to refuse.
Pappas and Sennheiser's involvement from the outset proved pivotal. "I felt completely unencumbered," said Whitelock. "At any session, I always have an idea of what would be the ideal mic for a given application, but it's often not in the studio's inventory or prohibitively expensive to rent. With every Sennheiser and Neumann microphone of consequence at my disposal, often in multiple copies, I was completely liberated from those sorts of constraints and free to make the recording exactly as Al and I saw fit."
Pryor placed the saxophone, trombone and trumpet sections - the meat of the band - in the main 4,600-square-foot live room. "I love the beauty of that room," he said. "I wanted to hear the air and beauty of the orchestra's sonics fully-formed in that large space. There are very few studios where you could get away with using a Decca tree, but at A509 and with enough mass of acoustics, the Decca tree gave us the perfect picture of what was under it." Not surprisingly, Whitelock chose three Neumann M 150 Tubes, the direct descendents of the M 50 that was synonymous with the technique in the 1950s, for this session's Decca tree. For outriggers, Whitelock used a pair of Sennheiser MKH 800s set to cardioid pickup pattern.
For spot mics, Whitelock used Sennheiser's new MKH 8050 hyper-cardioid condensers on alto sax and flute, MKH 8040 condensers on bass and guitar, Neumann TLM 170 Rs and M 147 tubes on trumpets and trombones, Sennheiser MD 421s on toms and the beater-side of the bass drum, Neumann U 47 FETs on the opposite side of the bass drum, and vintage Neumann U 47s and U 48s for guest vocalists.
"The Count Basie Orchestra brought a tradition to the studio that a lot of my younger assistants haven't ever seen. Unfortunately, due to the economics of it all, you don't see big bands seated very often." Although his voice never cracked, it was clear that the loss of Legacy's A509 was an emotional loss for Whitelock. "There's no suitable replacement in the area. Myself and a hundred other engineers who cut amazing albums in this room are all in mourning. Where are you gonna go? I can't see another room like this opening up in Manhattan. I guess it's a sign of the times."
But wherever they have to go, Pryor and Whitelock hope the success of this record will spawn future projects with the Count Basie Orchestra and the other up-and-coming jazz orchestras around the country. "Mack Avenue Records stuck their necks out to make this happen," Whitelock concluded, "and we have hope it pays off!"
ABOUT SENNHEISER ELECTRONIC CORPORATION
Sennheiser is a world-leading manufacturer of microphones, headphones and wireless transmission systems. Established in 1945 in Wedemark, Germany, Sennheiser is now a global brand represented in 60 countries around the world with U.S. headquarters in Old Lyme, Connecticut. Sennheiser's pioneering excellence in technology has rewarded the company with numerous awards and accolades including an Emmy, a Grammy, and the Scientific and Engineering Award of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Neumann's award-winning line of microphones has set the standard in the industry since 1928. In 1999, Neumann received the prestigious Technical
Grammy(r) for its 70 years of innovation in microphone design and contribution to the music industry. A continuing commitment to provide innovative, technically-refined products and engineering solutions of proven quality ensures that Neumann's stature will remain unassailable.
Neumann is proudly affiliated with the Sennheiser Group, which also encompasses Klein + Hummel (renowned sound reinforcement solutions) and Sennheiser Communications (technologically advanced headsets for PCs, offices and call centers). Neumann products are distributed exclusively in the United States, Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean through Sennheiser Electronic Corporation, located in Old Lyme, Connecticut.