Editor's note: the following essay
was contributed by Mike Mullaney, a long-time
employee of the recording studio
and currently a Vice President of the student travel
company, Passports, Inc.
Ahmad Jamal was due at the studio within minutes and we
were all a bit nervous, preparing to welcome a member of jazz royalty to record
in our rock 'n' roll facility.
All the staff were quiet, wondering what last-minute
preparations could be made to create the perfect environment for the artist.
Jesse and I paced the floor of the studio, adjusting the light dimmers and
cleaning out ashtrays as soon as we put out our cigarettes. George Evans had
tuned the grand piano, the showcase of the A studio and a fine testament to the
Steinway name. Mikes were set all around close, ambient and underneath the
soundboard, headphone levels checked, tape machines calibrated and virgin tape
Fresh cut flowers and candles were arranged throughout the
farmhouse and studio. Chilled wine, soft drinks, sparkling water, shrimp
cocktail, and an assortment of cheeses were laid out in the kitchen. The
fireplace was lit, cozy and inviting.
A car drove up the stone driveway and Jesse and I looked
out the windows and saw its headlights. We walked out to the kitchen and John
Farrell was already walking out to the driveway to greet them. These were always anxious
moments, but wed become accustomed to such meetings and were ready to adapt to
We heard the door open and John's cheerful voice describing
the office area and library as they made their way to the kitchen. John
introduced us to Ahmad and Laura Hess-Hay, Ahmads manager. They both exuded an
class and distinction. Pleasantries done and smiles all around, Ahmad asked
where the piano was and I showed him into the studio. He looked at the Steinway,
sat down and began to play. Jesse went into the control room to start working on
levels. I stayed behind to see if there was anything that Ahmad might need. A
few minutes later, Ahmad was in a relaxed, comfortable zone, so I retreated
quietly and joined Jesse in the dimly lit control room, where he worked away at
the console as Laura looked on, sipping on a cup of tea that John had prepared
The sounds coming through the monitors sounded smooth and
effortless. Jesse made a few adjustments and then looked at Laura. They nodded
in agreement, letting each other know that they approved. Ahmad spoke into the
mic and let us know he was ready, so I walked into the studio, handed him his
headphones and waited while Jesse adjusted the levels according to Ahmads
liking. All in order, I walked back into the control room.
Jesse let Ahmad know that we were all set and hit record.
He played through the first song, flawlessly. He did the same on the next song
and the ones to follow. The entire session lasted about an hour or so, each song
done on the first take. Amazing, considering the complexities of the
arrangements. Laura listened with a satisfied and confident expression on her
Ahmad announced he was done and I walked out to the studio
to help him take off the headphones. He smiled, thanked me and told me how much
he liked the piano. Then he followed me into the control room to listen to the
playback. He sat down next to Jesse and I went to the kitchen and got him a
glass of water.
For the next couple of hours, we sat listening as Jesse
made minimal adjustments to the mix. Laura came and went, hanging out near the
fireplace and making phone calls in between her visits to the control room.
Ahmad sat quietly, nodding approvingly throughout.
Before we knew it, the mixes were all on quarter-inch tape
and I finished the labels. Soon after, I handed them the tapes and they prepared
to leave. They thanked us and both Ahmad and Laura told me they thought I was
British. We all laughed about my New England accent as we walked them to the car
and waved them goodbye.
Ahmad Jamal a real class act. His quiet grace and greatness brought a
new dimension to our storied halls.