Saturday, April 6, 2013

Recording Miles

It was about 2:30am sometime in the autumn of 1990 when I got a call from Herbie Hancock's manager Tony Meilandt.  I let the machine pick up it up and listened as Tony, either over-stimulated, tired or both stuttered out: "big show at the Apollo tomorrow for Quincy ... Miles is going to be there ... Herbie,  ...George Duke,  ... Chaka Khan ... lots of people ... I want you to grab Bill's ADAM and record it."  What he was talking about was a planned birthday celebration for Quincy Jones that coincided with the  premiere of a new film about him called Listen Up: The Lives of Quincy Jones to be held at Harlem's famed Apollo Theater.  The film was to be screened inside the theater while on a lot outside a stage was set-up underneath a large tent for a live, all-star musical extravaganza after party.

I spent about an hour deciding if I was up for this challenge.  When he said "tomorrow" he really meant the evening of this same day.  Nothing like planning ahead I always say.  Bill was Bill Laswell whom Tony also had business dealings with.  The ADAM was a large, bulky, but still portable 12 track digital recorder that Bill used for field recordings in West Africa and Morroco.  It was what we used to record the Master Musicians of Jajouka.  Needless to say, it's a lot more involved to record something of this nature than grabbing a recorder and showing up at the door.  I called Tony back around 3:30am and told him that.  He told me to get whatever I needed to make it happen.

I stayed up the rest of the night researching the best ways to accomplish this in the short amount of time left to arrange it.  By about 8am I had decided that the only realistic way to pull this off was to bring in the Record Plant's Remote Recording Truck and Mobile On Location Studio which would cost about $5,000 to record the evening.  I called Tony back and told him this and he said "no problem, do it!" 

 A few minutes later I happened to call another engineer, Jerry Gottus, to ask about something.  I first met Jerry when he hired me as an intern at the studio where I "grew up" as they say in the biz.  Told him the situation and he said that he thought the Apollo had a full scale recording studio upstairs with tie lines from the stage.  Called up the Apollo and sure enough they did. They had known about this long in advance and were well prepared.  I often tell people in "this business we call show" as Tom Waits puts it, about how ironic it is that we provide communication services yet our communication with each other often seems quite lacking.

When I got to the Apollo everything audiowise was wired and in place.  Can't get much easier than that.  I did a quick soundcheck with the band and a line check for all the guest mics.  We were recording to two 24 track Studers linked up to give us 48 tracks which was needed for all of the musicians.  It was definitely a stellar line-up.  The back-up group was the Saturday Night Live house band led by G.E. Smith at the time. Arthur Baker was the musical director.   Miles Davis and a jazz group with George Duke and Herbie Hancock were the first performers.  I scrambled to get the levels right.  Miles was playing long ambient tones similar in style to Kind of Blue.  He sounded great but I was really too busy to appreciate it fully.  

A lot of celebrities were reportedly there in the audience, Dustin Hoffman, Mayor David Dinkins, even Michael Jackson was said to be present dressed in drag.  This was during a reclusive period for him, so it 's quite possibly true.  Jackson was in the film but didn't allow himself to be lit so appeared as a mysterious dark shadow.  Quincy Jones, of course, produced his mega hit album Thriller.  

A lot of top tier musicians performed but I can't say who at the moment other than the ones Tony mentioned.  I have a newspaper clipping somewhere .  Can't find anything on the web.  I remember Lesley Gore singing her hit It's My Party and I'll Cry if I Want To.  Patti Labelle was there too.  There was also a cadre of then current popular rappers, Flavor Flav is the only one I recall at the moment.  I later worked with Flav on a Public Enemy record.  A very nice if somewhat crazy guy.  When I first met him he went into a whole Wizard of Oz routine: "Oz man, where's my heart, and, and, where's my courage man etc. It's right there, Flav, it's right there..." I replied, getting into the spirit of this ridiculousness.

The recording went well but I never heard it again; don't know who mixed it.  I was told it was just a birthday gift for Quincy and could never be released because all these artists were under contracts to different labels.  Another irony is that I didn't get to meet Miles or any of the musicians then despite recording them.  The performing area and the control room were far apart and isolated from each other.  I did eventually get to meet Miles.

A few months later I was recording overdubs for Bill at Platinum Island, the studio where I grew up.  We were in the smaller room, Studio West.  I forget who the artist was, it might have been The Swans.  Miles was tracking in the bigger room, Studio East, playing as a guest for someone else.  My friend John Herman was the assistant on his session.  I asked him to let me know when Miles was leaving so I could "just  happen" to pass him in the hall.  John let me know.  Miles left with a group of about 4 people, it was kind of a narrow hallway.  The first two people, who I didn't know, just passed by without saying anything like most New Yorkers do.  I was expecting Miles to do the same but he turned, looked directly at me and said in his classic raspy voice, " Hi, how ya doin?"  "Fucking GREAT Miles !!! is what I thought, but just said  "I'm doing good."  He knew I was in that hallway to meet him!  It definitely made my night.


  1. Fascinating story. I wonder where that recording went?

  2. Thanks Tommy, and Tony. LJ, I suspect it lives in Quincy's archives.

  3. Maybe someday it can be released? Kind of ironic that you were one of the few people there who couldn't concentrate on Miles' playing.