Editor's note: the following essay was contributed by Mike Mullaney, a long-time
employee of the recording studio and currently a Vice President of the student travel
company, Passports, Inc.
Ahmad Jamal was due at the studio within minutes and we were all a bit nervous, preparing to welcome a member of jazz royalty to record in our rock 'n' roll facility.
All the staff were quiet, wondering what last-minute preparations could be made to create the perfect environment for the artist. Jesse and I paced the floor of the studio, adjusting the light dimmers and cleaning out ashtrays as soon as we put out our cigarettes. George Evans had tuned the grand piano, the showcase of the A studio and a fine testament to the Steinway name. Mikes were set all around — close, ambient and underneath the soundboard, headphone levels checked, tape machines calibrated and virgin tape in place.
Fresh cut flowers and candles were arranged throughout the farmhouse and studio. Chilled wine, soft drinks, sparkling water, shrimp cocktail, and an assortment of cheeses were laid out in the kitchen. The fireplace was lit, cozy and inviting.
A car drove up the stone driveway and Jesse and I looked out the windows and saw its headlights. We walked out to the kitchen and John Farrell was already walking out to the driveway to greet them. These were always anxious moments, but wed become accustomed to such meetings and were ready to adapt to any circumstances.
We heard the door open and John's cheerful voice describing the office area and library as they made their way to the kitchen. John introduced us to Ahmad and Laura Hess-Hay, Ahmads manager. They both exuded an incredible class and distinction. Pleasantries done and smiles all around, Ahmad asked where the piano was and I showed him into the studio. He looked at the Steinway, sat down and began to play. Jesse went into the control room to start working on levels. I stayed behind to see if there was anything that Ahmad might need. A few minutes later, Ahmad was in a relaxed, comfortable zone, so I retreated quietly and joined Jesse in the dimly lit control room, where he worked away at the console as Laura looked on, sipping on a cup of tea that John had prepared for her.
The sounds coming through the monitors sounded smooth and effortless. Jesse made a few adjustments and then looked at Laura. They nodded in agreement, letting each other know that they approved. Ahmad spoke into the mic and let us know he was ready, so I walked into the studio, handed him his headphones and waited while Jesse adjusted the levels according to Ahmads liking. All in order, I walked back into the control room.
Jesse let Ahmad know that we were all set and hit record. He played through the first song, flawlessly. He did the same on the next song and the ones to follow. The entire session lasted about an hour or so, each song done on the first take. Amazing, considering the complexities of the arrangements. Laura listened with a satisfied and confident expression on her face.
Ahmad announced he was done and I walked out to the studio to help him take off the headphones. He smiled, thanked me and told me how much he liked the piano. Then he followed me into the control room to listen to the playback. He sat down next to Jesse and I went to the kitchen and got him a glass of water.
For the next couple of hours, we sat listening as Jesse made minimal adjustments to the mix. Laura came and went, hanging out near the fireplace and making phone calls in between her visits to the control room. Ahmad sat quietly, nodding approvingly throughout.
Before we knew it, the mixes were all on quarter-inch tape and I finished the labels. Soon after, I handed them the tapes and they prepared to leave. They thanked us and both Ahmad and Laura told me they thought I was British. We all laughed about my New England accent as we walked them to the car and waved them goodbye.
Ahmad Jamal — a real class act. His quiet grace and greatness brought a new dimension to our storied halls.
All original material copyright © Gilbert Scott Markle. All rights reserved.