Bill Bruford: The Autobiography Excerpt: Chapter 10: Is it different, being in jazz?
Musicians begin to wander in, are given coffee before they ask for it, and in varying degrees make clumsy conversation and gossip to fill what would otherwise have been an edgy silence. Everyone pretends there is nothing to it, this recording thing. But it is on record that you will be remembered. When your grandson sits at your knee in 25 years time and asks, "What did you do, grandpa?" and you reply, "I was a musician," and he says, "What kind of musician?," you'll reach up for a little slice of audio, put it in the machine, and you'd better be happy with what you hear when you play it to the little fellow, because that is it. Everything else is just your or someone else's foggy memory of what you or they think it used to be like. But the mics don't lie, at least not in jazz they don't. What you are, what you can do at that moment, what you did with those guys 25 years earlier: that was it. Today you'll make the stuff you leave behind, and you may never get a better opportunity to create something worth leaving behind than you will today.
The band is pretty well rehearsed, and we should not, by now, be worrying about where the fingers go. There is a very high level of musicianship here: hundreds of hours of study and practice and performance should ensure that the fingers go in the right place, but that alone will be no guarantee of any music worth listening to. I have just had us all out on tour for 15 dates learning this material, examining it, playing with it, tackling it from a number of different angles. We've discarded the one-way streets that all musicians visit from time to time and that lead nowhere, tried all manner of variables in phrasing, fingering, colour, tempo. We've selected, chosen, discarded. Today, all we have to do to create a work that has a life of its own, that is greater than the sum of its components, is to put it all together at the same time.
The human components are, as yet, far from settled. It's nearly 3:30 and we haven't recorded a note yet. Like jockeys at the Grand National, we warily circle the starting gate, each one reluctant to commit himself to being ... well, ready to play. Most time at this stage is rightly devoted to, and thirstily consumed by, the 'prima donna': the lead voice, the singer, or, in this band's case, the saxophonist. He, like all the players, needs to hear just the right blend of himself and the piano for intonation purposes, but he's hearing too much drums. Changing that mysteriously alters the bass-player's headphone balance. Having been settled ten minutes ago, he has now become unsettled again. I look at the clock, and hurriedly opt to work with pretty much whatever racket is spewing from my headphones.
We need to record three masters a day to get this thing in on budget. After many years experience, I've got a pretty shrewd idea of how many copies this will sell. I know the revenue it will create and the cost of making it. So I also know that at about this level of cost, I can take three days to record and three days to edit and mix the results, pay everyone a bit more than the going rate, and leave myself enough of a profit to make me want to do it again. I'm obsessed by the idea that the recording of this music, of my music, this artefact, must be profitable. No vanity publishing for me. No sir. I'm sure as heck only going to go through this kind of grief if people are going to buy the result with their hard-won money. Profit proves that the music is connecting, that it really means something to thousands of people out there, that you're not just playing to your own mother-in-law.
At last we're settled, and we run the first one down. It falls apart half way through. We complete a second take and go into the control booth for a listen. Here comes the hard stuff. As producer, I must listen sympathetically to everyone's contribution and take on board a thousand small and not so small suggestions of both a technical and musical nature that are flying around the room in the adrenalin rush of actually having completed the first piece of music.
The bass drum sounds woolly, the saxophone too harsh and nasal, the piano is sort of OK, the bass sounds like a rubber band, and could we have some more biscuits? Worse, the bassist thinks his sound is working and warns both engineer and producer away from the precise remedy that will tighten up the bottom end. I agree, knowing the bass sound can be improved another day. The engineer wants to know should he be bussing the reverb to separate channels or will a mono version be acceptable? And we haven't even begun to discuss the playing yet.