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Half Note Records: Live from the Blue Note

Bob Kenselaar By

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At the end of that process, we'll have five or six hours of music. And then, out of that body of music, I'll pull out sixty minutes for the CD. So, a 'Live-at-the-Blue-Note' show is almost always a composite of four or sometimes six shows that have been selected, cobbled together, and organized to reflect a night at the Blue Note."

The mechanics and logistics of live recording can present challenges, as well. "We'll either use a truck or a remote operation that's situated on the second floor in the Blue Note. The stage is fully mic'd, and there are 24 tracks worth of sound being captured. And sometimes it can get really messy on the stage, depending on the size of the ensemble and who's playing. It can be a challenge to make that sound listenable; you're wrestling a beast. That's the province of the engineering team I have. They're great, great guys—Steve Remote and John Duva. They know the sound of the room intimately, so they're able to capture it. It can get very complicated, because you want to try to achieve separation with each of those microphone channels, with a minimal amount of bleed so that you're able to play with each of the sounds and then mix and match and blend and organize. It's like a musical jigsaw puzzle. There are a lot of pieces and parts that are moving around, and you have to integrate them into a whole so that the listener feels he or she is just in the room listening to a show. And if I do my job well, no one will see my fingerprints on the package."

Levenson always seems to be juggling several upcoming projects for the label. "There are probably six or seven balls in the air at the moment, and each of them is at a varying state of completion. One has been captured but not mixed. Another one awaits the photography. One awaits the art direction. By year's end I should have put out about six new releases." Likely among them will be Conrad Herwig's Latin Side of Joe Henderson and a big band recording featuring Joe Lovano with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra doing his original compositions arranged by Gil Goldstein. (Goldstein is also represented on the label with his Grammy-nominated album, Under Rousseau's Moon [2006].)

As if his work at Half Note isn't enough, Levenson is involved in a number of other activities in the jazz world. He's logged in more than twenty years working on the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, co-producing it annually with Leonard E. Brown of the Monk Institute. Levenson finds his work there quite gratifying. "The Monk Competition has served as a launch point for a number of meaningful careers. Josh Redman won in '91, and I remember vividly the moment he won; a host of A&R men rushed to the stage brandishing business cards. There have been a number of people who have benefited mightily from Monk. The exposure has really enabled them to become stars in their own right. In recent years you've seen it with Gretchen Parlato or Ambrose Akinmusire, and even the runners up have done very well, such as Tierney Sutton."

As an outgrowth of his work with the Monk Institute, which is based in Washington, D.C., Levenson has produced a number of high-profile events over the years for the National Endowment for the Arts, the U.S. State Department and the White House. They've featured such musicians as Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter and included command performances for the President and other political dignitaries.

Levenson is also active in the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), the organization responsible for the Grammy Awards, and he currently serves as a Governor of the New York Chapter and as chair of the independent jazz committee. "I believe that jazz has often been treated as a stepchild in the pantheon of the arts. It's not a music that commands major mainstream regard or respect for a host of reasons, primarily involving both economics and race. I should probably say that jazz has no monopoly on feelings of neglect. I just happen to live in the jazz world, so I represent its interest. NARAS is a political organization that has a mandate to aid and assist all genres of music and all musicians and professional people who work in music. It's my conviction that we should not determine a music's value by its commercial viability only. I try hard to get jazz represented fairly."

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