View Single Post
Old 27th August 2006
  #1
The seven people that have had a profound effect on what I have done in recording...

There are seven people, in my life, that have had a profound effect on what I have accomplished musically. I will mention them here in the order in which they came into my life. They are:

#1-My parents, Ellsworth and Louise Swedien.

#2-Bea Anderson/Swedien changed my life dramatically!!!

#3-Milton T. “Bill” Putnam.

#4-Edward Kennedy ”Duke” Ellington.

#5-Quincy Jones.

#6-Michael Jackson.

________________________________________________________________

My parents, Ellsworth and Louise Swedien.

My parents, Ellsworth and Louise Swedien, lived and loved music. They were both accomplished keyboard artists. My Dad played the pipe organ and directed our church choir. I think their enthusiasm for the music and work that they were involved in made a permanent impression on me.
________________________________________________________________

Bea Anderson/Swedien

I met Beatrice Anderson one summer evening, in a park in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I was 17 years old, she was 16. When she smiled her incredible smile at me, it was over! I can remember it like it was yesterday. I knew instantly that here was the girl I wanted to spend the rest of my life with! Of course the fact that she has that wonderful, fresh-scrubbed, Swedish beauty has put me in awe of her permanently.

When I first started work at RCA Victor Recording, and then a bit later at Universal Recording Studios in Chicago, all the musicians and engineers, that were my studio colleagues, told me that I shouldn’t ever bring my wife to the studio. They told me that if I did that I would be very sorry. At the time I couldn’t imagine what they were talking about. I still don’t. I am, of course, a bit contrary by nature, so I immediately invited Bea to visit me in the studio. One of the first times Bea came to hang out with me in the studio, was when I was doing an album with Count Basie and Joe Williams at Universal Studios. We were working all night. The sessions started at 2:00 am and ended at 6:00 am. Of course, Bea hit it off famously with everyone in the band, and before I knew it, Joe Williams had her copying lyrics for him. She had a great time! So did I! We’ll never forget those happy sessions!

When there is a major event in my life, I don’t feel that it has actually happened until I tell Bea about it, or until she has participated in the occasion.

I have made it a habit to include her in all that I am involved in. I don’t go anywhere without her. I am a terrible traveler, in addition, I am not my favorite companion. If I have Bea with me, I am always happy and seem to have a very good time.

Bea is liked by everyone. The people that I work with in the studio would much rather talk to her than to me.(Hmmm) When Michael Jackson or Quincy Jones calls to talk to me about a project, they are on the phone with me for three or four minutes, then they ask to speak to “Beasie” and they talk to her for half an hour or more! For some reason MJ always wants to know what she is cooking for us for dinner that day. Bea’s joy for life is infectious, she inspires everyone around her... (Starting with me!)

Bea has never once complained to me or anyone else about the long hours we spend in the studio. Never a whimper. Of course I do think that because I included her once in awhile, she has seen that in my work, the hours can be a bit long, and the sessions are extremely involved.

Over the years of listening to music together, I have found that Bea has an exceptionally good ear! Plus, she has a fairly average person’s perspective, and very good judgement, as well. I love to get her observations on what I am involved in, musically. When I am working on a project, mixing, for instance, I always play my recordings and mixes for her first, before anyone else has heard them. It can be 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. I ask her to come and listen to what I have been doing. It can be in my home studio, or in the car, or wherever. I watch her face for her initial reaction. Talk about a spontaneous, musical barometer! I can almost always plan on her telling me exactly what she thinks of what I am working on.

My advice to anyone planning on a permanent career in music(or perhaps any other area of intense purpose) is to try and find a “Significant Other” that is a true friend. Someone that you can trust with everything in life. The best thing that happened to me was to hook up with Bea.

I think Bea is the best person I know, or ever will know, for that matter. I have never had a vision of what we would be together, but I do know that what we mean to each other is vastly more than what either of us could have imagined when we first met.

Bea is the light of my life. She is like sunlight, bright and warm, making everything seem clear. She is the most ’real’ woman I have ever known. I think that for that very reason, she has made me into a ‘real’ man!
________________________________________________________________

Milton T. “Bill” Putnam.

Early in my career, one of my recording industry idols was Milton T., or ‘Bill’ Putnam. He founded Universal Recording Studios in Chicago. Later Bill moved to California and founded U.R.E.I. - United Recording Electronics Industries.(a leading recording electronics manufacturing company.) Bill designed some of the greatest, most innovative equipment that we had at the time. But Bill Putnam was also marvelous recording engineer. He was a pioneer. Many of the techniques we use to this day, were invented by Bill Putnam. For instance, the way we use “Reverb” or “Echo” in modern recording desks is, in essence, a Bill Putnam brainchild.

Bill Putnam was the father of use of tape repeat, the first vocal booth, the first multiple voice recording, the first 8-track recording trials and experiments with half speed disc mastering, the design of modern recording desks, the way components are laid out and the way they function, console design, cue sends, echo returns, multitrack switching.

In 1957, stereo was taking off, and Bill was determined to incorporate many technological innovations into construction on new studios. The United Western studios, still in existence today as both Cello Studios and Allen Sides' Ocean Way Recording, are still considered to be some of the best sounding rooms ever built.

The location and application of the echo “Send” and “Return” controls was first conceived in his fertile imagination. That system has remained almost unchanged from Bills’ first, rather small recording consoles, to the incredibly powerful mixing desks of today. Many of Bills accomplishments eventually became standard, common practice in the music recording industry.

Bill Putnam was truly an “innovator”. He was one-of-a-kind. A bona-fide “original”. I think Bill Putnam had a unique perspective on music recording. He is someone about whom you can rightfully say that he was the “first’. If you have ever listened to pop music or tried your hand at recording music, Milton T. “Bill” Putnam has touched your life!

Bill Putnam is a man who one could easily refer to as the “Father of Music Recording”, as we know it today.

In 1956, my wife Bea, my Dad and Mom, and I were building my studio in Minneapolis. We had bought an old movie theater on Nicollet Avenue.(Which, by the way, is still a state-of-the-art recording studio.) I worked in our studio there for about a year or so. I recorded such notable artists as : Bob Davis on an album titled “Jazz From The North Coast” on Geordie Hormel’s record label, ‘Zephyr’ records.

I did some albums with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, in that studio that I still hear on the radio. They still sound pretty good, too. I did some interesting sessions there with the Jazz Flautist Herbie Mann. I also did some Minnesota-style Polka band albums for Decca Records with the famed A and R man Leonard Joy. Bands like; “Whoopee John Wilfhart, “Harold Loffelmacher and the Six Fat Dutchman”. Great fun...

Even with all that excitement, I was beginning to think that I would soon have to leave Minneapolis if I was ever going to be able to do anything truly significant in the music recording industry. In my heart I knew that what I really wanted to do was to record major musical acts for major record labels.
________________________________________________________________

Edward Kennedy Ellington - A.K.A - “Duke” Ellington...

I recorded the Ellington Band several times during my years at Universal Recording in Chicago. The one group of sessions that stands out in my memory are a few days of work with the Ellington Band starting Thursday, November 29, 1962. As you can see from the following, Duke Ellington made quite an impression on this young 25 year-old Scandinavian kid from Minnesota. I can close my eyes and see him walking into the studio. He had a very regal bearing. I mean, the way he carried himself was like he was a member of royalty. When Duke came into the studio, you instantly felt something important was about to happen. And it usually did.

Duke Ellington's music, of course, had preceeded him when he entered my life in the recording studio. There are six songs that Duke and his collaborators created that stand out in my musical memory as being some of the most important music in my life. They are: "Mood Indigo", "Sophisticated Lady", “Do Nothin’ ‘Till You Hear From Me”, "Just A-Sittin' and A-Rockin'", "Take The 'A' Train" and "Prelude To A Kiss".

I think you could say that Duke Ellington 'radiated' his being, his personality. He obviously, to me, and everyone else as well, loved his music 'madly'. Music poured from his body and soul. I could tell instantly, the first time that I met Duke Ellington, that he not only loved music, but he 'lived' music! I don't think I have been the same since I met Duke Ellington. Working with him, those few times, made me realize how much music really meant to me.

I have worked with many very talented artists in music, but none can compare with Duke Ellington for genuine love of what we are doing. My personal feeling is that Duke Ellington will go down in history as one of the most important persons in contemporary music. He was both a composer/arranger and a true creator of unique music. In addition to that he was a very warm, generous human being. A couple of times when I was recording the Ellington band, I would invite some of my musician pals to come to sit in on the sessions. They would watch the proceedings with their mouths wide open in wonder.

Studio ‘A’ at Universal Recording in Chicago was a very sizable studio. As I recall the dimensions were close to 75 feet in length by 50 feet in width with a 30 foot ceiling height. The control room was raised to the second story level. To enter the control room you had to go up a flight of stairs. Looking down into the studio from the control room, I remember the “Duke” sitting at the piano during a ‘Take’ with a very thoughtful expression on his face. Then he would scribble a little four-bar ‘riff’ on a scrap of music paper and quietly tippy-toe around the studio during the ‘take’. Of course he did this while we were actually recording. He would show this fragment of music paper to the saxes, the trumpets, then the trombones. At the appropriate musical moment, Duke would stand in the middle of the band, raise his arms and with a great sweeping motion, conduct this little gem, and it would become part of the arrangement. The notes on that little bit of paper would become a part of music history. I always get “goose bumps” when I think about being a part of events such as this.

The “Duke” encouraged me to try out my ideas in the studio. If I wanted to try a different mike technique, a new band set-up, or whatever, I never got anything but support from him.

I watched him closely in the studio. He was perpetually excited about music, he adored his music. When he talked about something new, his eyes lit up and everyone in the room knew that we were on the brink of something fantastic! I wanted to be the same.

________________________________________________________________

Quincy Jones.

I am an only child. I never had a sister or a brother. If I could have anyone that I could think of, for a brother, that brother would be Quincy Jones. I don't mean "brother", in the rhetorical manner. I mean brother in the familial way. That doesn't mean that Q and I have always agreed with each other.

We have had heated arguments resulting from differences of opinion between us. I don't think that brothers always agree either. What has made our relationship last is the fact that true friendship, such as ours, is based on mutual respect. I have the ultimate respect for Quincy, on a musical and a personal level.

And I think he feels the same about me. Quincy Jones is the kind of friend that you could call in the middle of the night, with your most personal problem, either real or imagined, and he would come to your rescue, and your life would be on the right track again. I guess what I am trying to say is that I truly love Quincy. In addition, almost everything that I treasure, that I know about recording good music, I have learned from my pal Quincy Jones.

Quincy Jones once said about music and how it works on the emotions...

"To get out of whatever was distasteful, unpleasant, uncomfortable or painful - music could always sooth that. You just crawl in that world and reach in that black hole and grab something beautiful, and it would take you away from all of that."

Quincy is great fun to be with. In the studio or anywhere. For instance, he loves good food. He loves fine wine. Therefore Jones and I have a lot in common without going further. Quincy is an authority on the culinary arts. He can also make the most incredible lemon meringue pie you have ever tasted! I think if Q wouldn't have been a giant in the world of music, he would have been one of the world's foremost chefs.

When you are with Q, there is a constant parade of notables passing through the studio. We might be doing an overdub session and I look up and there is Ray Charles sitting in the corner of the control room digging the proceedings, or Jesse Jackson, or Miles Davis or Dizzy Gillespie or someone equally famous.

Quincy and I are almost the same age. Actually, Quincy is 13 months older than I am. I have been very careful to point out the fact that I am younger than Q, not only to Quincy, but to anyone else, whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Quincy’s approach to his music is Kaleidoscopic...

Like Duke Ellington, Quincy's instrument for musical expression is the orchestra. If I were asked to use one unique label for describing Quincy’s approach to his music, I would have to use the term “Kaleidoscopic”. I would say that the terms “Fluid” and “Buoyant”, also come to my mind when I think of the music that we have recorded together. Quincy’s way of taking a single piece of music, and making it appear to the ear a certain way on the first listen, and then having a different element in the music to bewitch one’s ear on the next listen through, is probably ‘Q’s most unique production technique.
________________________________________________________________

Michael Jackson....

Michael Jackson is the most professional and the most accomplished artist I have ever worked with! And I have worked with the best the music industry has to offer. Michael is a bona fide international favorite, and he has been for a long time! He is unquestionably a survivor. Michael is a gentle soul. He is very polite. Working with him I always hear him use the words‚ Please‚ Thank You‚ and‚ You´re Welcome, in a industry where such courtesies are not usually used.

What I can truthfully say is that, first and foremost, Michael is an absolute joy to work with. I can´t think of another way to express my experience in working with him. There is no one that I would rather work with. He is the supreme artist. I have never worked with anyone who is more dedicated to his art, than Michael.

For instance, when we record a vocal, on a song, Michael vocalizes with his vocal coach, Seth Riggs, for at least an hour before he steps up to the microphone to record. I don´t mean that Michael vocalizes just once in a while. I mean that he vocalizes every time we record a vocal!

To me, that is real dedication... One of the most fascinating things about Michael Jackson is the boundless passion that he has for his music. His enthusiasm for the project at hand is like no one else I have ever worked with.

M. J.´s musical standards are incredibly high. When I work with Michael, we never settle for a musical production that is “Just Good Enough". Since the‚ Dangerous‚ album project, Michael and I have had a saying that goes‚ “The Quality goes in before the name goes on!” In other words, Michael and I must to be totally satisfied with the musical and technical quality of our productions before we will put our names on them.

Of course, Michael is not the kid next door!!!!

_________________________________________________________________

Looking back at my early years growing up in Minnesota makes me realize that it was quite common among my friends and relatives not to get excited about occupation or profession. To this day I don’t know why. No one ever spoke to me of keeping my interest in my work conservative. I learned that it was OK to like what you did for a living, but to really get excited about your lifes’ work just wasn’t done.

To illustrate this kind of thinking here’s a little story that stands out clearly in my memory: I think this happened about 1954 or 1955.(I was about18 years old.)

I distinctly remember asking one of my cousins in Minneapolis about how his work was going. His reply to me was, “Well it’s going OK, I guess, I’m doing my best not to get involved.” I thought to myself, “You poor, sad-ass working stiff! I’m going to make sure that I never think like that”
_________________________________________________________________

Bruce Swedien

1
Share