Creed Taylor on Phil Ramone


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Producer Creed Taylor deserves enormous credit for the American bossa nova movement of the early 1960s. Instead of recording jazz artists interpreting the new Rio de Janeiro sound—as many jazz producers at the time were doing—Creed [pictured above] carefully blended the two. By recognizing the jazziness and seductive qualities of Antonio Carlos Jobim's melodies, Creed was able to insist that the two styles feed off each other—giving each equal expressive footing.

During Creed's years at Verve—between 1961 and 1966—this new genre became known as jazz samba. The hybrid was sexy, coy and youthful—the result of jazz and bossa nova co-existing naturally in a common space and speaking a common language.

Creed's go-to engineer on these bossa nova sessions was the late Phil Ramone [pictured above], who had co-founded A&R Recording in 1958 at 112 West 48th Street. Together, Creed and Phil recorded several jazz samba albums—most notably Getz/Gilberto (March 1963) and the awkwardly titled Antonio Carlos Jobim: The Composer of Desafinado, Plays (May 1963).

Yesterday, Creed called to catch up and reminisce about Phil...

“I have nothing but pleasant memories of Phil. If I could have recorded five days a week with him, I would have. His studio—A&R—had a such a warm sound. At A&R, I was getting the same thing in Manhattan that I got at Rudy's [Rudy Van Gelder's] in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.—thoughtful mike placement and careful monitoring. Phil had pure talent. He had ears.

“After we recorded Getz/Gilberto, I could hear how jazz and bossa nova shared many similar characteristics and that when placed together with the right musicians, an interesting dialogue would take place. I also could hear that Jobim's melodies and piano could be staged on a much bigger scale and still retain their intimate qualities. Jobim's music virtually demanded it. So I decided to pair Jobim with arranger Claus Ogerman.

“I not only wanted to hear how this combination would turn out but I also was looking for a sound—something large, shimmering, seductive. That's why I turned to Phil. I wanted the record-buyer to hear Jobim fully expanded, with Claus's strings framing those gorgeous melodies of Jobim's. I knew Phil, with his classical training, could do it.

“Phil had studied the violin at Juilliard and knew strings inside and out. He knew exactly what to do with the mikes to get the sound I wanted and who to move where. On The Composer, the piano's sound was important—but so were the strings. Phil placed the mikes with such finesse as the musicians warmed up. He'd step back and look, then move forward to make an adjustment, tinkering until it was absolutely right.

“Phil viewed mikes as instruments. On The Composer, he wanted what I wanted—a sound that enveloped you. We didn't have to talk about what he was doing to get this sound. We'd listen to the playback after and just look at each other and smile. We both could hear the same thing—perfection.

“Jobim had never recorded anything on that scale before. At least not in the States. I wanted Claus because I knew he liked to voice unison strings, which created this penetrating high-end airiness. The sound became his signature, but I have no idea how he did it.

“When I worked with Phil, I never heard him utter a phrase that was anything but positive. I viewed him as a dear friend. He had a sense of humor and was never ever angry or annoyed at anything. Only those who worked with him got to see what drove him to make beautiful recordings. The record-buyer heard the difference, of course. And that's what Phil was about. Making sure that end-users were knocked out—whether they were aware of the clarity or not."

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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