Twice in this past year I've gotten to visit rooms where iconic recordings have taken place. These are concert recordings I have restored and remastered, so, in some ways, I know the rooms intimately, and it some ways, they are agonizing mysteries. In March, I made a pilgrimage to Caffe Lena in upstate New York (and wrote about it here).
This past weekend, I joined the Erroll Garner Jazz Project team in Carmel, California to give a talk about remastering and restoring The Complete Concert by the Sea. It was a culmination, a wrapping-up of a massive project that was technically difficult, emotionally exhausting, and, for a time, all-consuming. I'm immensely proud of my work on this historic recording and so happy that this concert now sounds as close as possible to what it sounded like on the night Erroll recorded it. Which brings me to the room.
I got to stand on the stage at the Sunset Center in Carmel! The concert hall has been extensively renovated since Erroll Garner performed there in 1955. But I could still imagine where the piano was, where the microphone was placed (and where it was moved to after the fourth song). During remastering, I often wondered about the size and shape of the room, whether the chairs were wooden or covered with cloth, what was the capacity, and what was the audience wearing. (A surprising amount of fur, according to archival photographs of other concerts of that era!) I thought about the room because I wanted to excavate the truest sound of that concert from the 60 year old 1/4" tapes that had been recorded in true mono (one microphone) at 7.5 ips for radio broadcast but certainly not for any intended commercial release.
And now, the complete concert is out (Sony/Legacy), and longtime fans and new listeners can imagine themselves settling into a seat at the Sunset Center for one of the most riveting and rollicking concerts ever captured on tape.
There will be more releases from the Erroll Garner Archive, and, excitingly, much more scholarship on Garner's music and life. For now, I am finally able to relax, listen to him play, and picture the waves at Point Lobos, just south of Carmel.