This is the fourth in a series of posts about the tunes on "Retrophonic Gershwin," our soon-to-be-released album. Part 1 is "How I Got Rhythm," part 2 is ""Probably I'll Meet Him at a Soda Fountain,"" and part 3 is "Which Pianist is Playing What?"
It's been an exciting week: Robert Friedrich has been mixing the tracks on our second album, "Retrophonic Gershwin," all week and just finished the final mixes last night, or rather early this morning. The first recording session at Oberlin with the two Steinway behemoths was July 7, 2012, and getting the arrangements ready took months before that, so it's really been a long haul, with, I must say, a staggering amount of truth-is-stranger-than-fiction hurdles. The second session was January 6, 2013 but Mark had a head cold, so we had to record all of his vocals later in our home studio, which took more than two years after that and involved such adventures as learning how to replace the vacuum tubes on our Avalon preamp (thank you Keifer Wiley, who reassured me that I could really do it myself), getting all the last bits recorded at home, editing everything on ProTools, and learning audio mixing from scratch from Lynda.com videos and GearSlutz. Let me repeat: two years of my life and goodness knows how many hours it took for me to learn how much I still didn't know about mixing. This was me:
It was one of the most epic fails of my life.
I thought we were ready for mastering and approached Thom Moore, oboist of the Cleveland Pops and co-founder of Five/Four Productions, who referred me to Grammy-winning audio engineer Robert Friedrich, who had to deliver the crushing news that mastering couldn't fix what we felt needed fixing; and it became clear to me — although he was far too kind to say it outright — that the main problems were the mixes I had done. However, he — a guy who had recorded nine albums with John Pizzarelli and also does audio preservation for the Library of Congress, making him uniquely versed in historical recordings — was willing to have a go at them, so to paraphrase Dorothy Fields, I picked myself up and dusted myself off, then cleared the tracks of everything I had done to them in the mixing department and hand-delivered them on a hard drive. Here is the first sample mix he did, a transcription of a 1943 Judy Garland/Ivan Ditmars radio performance of "But Not For Me:"
As Teddy Roosevelt says, I "dared greatly," but I think going forward I'll focus my energies on the arranging and editing, and leave the mixing to Rob and his toys: highly-specialized custom equipment and processes that their company has dubbed "Reveal SDM." At least my editing —which I actually enjoyed doing — seemed to largely pass muster (as far as I know, but perhaps ignorance is bliss in this case). And the silver lining is that the whole Gershwin project, despite involving more gnashing of teeth than I ever could have imagined, is also turning out better than I ever could have imagined.
Expected release date is late July. Here's the CD cover design (Photo credit: Beth Segal):