Producer Creed Taylor deserves enormous credit for the popularity of the bossa nova movement in the U.S. in the early 1960s. Instead of merely 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 romantic qualities of Antonio Carlos Jobim's melodies, Creed was able to insist that the two styles feed off each other—giving them equal expressive footing.
During Creed's years at Verve—between 1961 and 1966—the resulting sound became known as jazz-samba. The hybrid was sexy, coy and youthful—a product of jazz and bossa nova interacting naturally in a common space that was comfortable to both sophsticated forms.
Creed’s go-to engineer on the early bossa nova sessions was Phil Ramone [pictured above], who died last weekend. Phil had co-founded A&R Recording in 1958 at 112 West 48th Street. Together, Creed and Phil recorded several seminal jazz-samba albums—most notably Getz/Gilberto (March 1963) and 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 took place. I also could hear that Jobim's melodies and piano could be staged on a much bigger scale and still retain their intimacy. Jobim's music virtually demanded it. I decided to pair Jobim with arranger Claus Ogerman [pictured below].
"I wanted to hear how this combination would turn out, but I also was looking for a sound—something large and seductive. That's why I turned to Phil. I wanted the record-buyer to hear Jobim fully expanded, with Claus’s strings enhancing 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. The piano and strings plus instrumentation were recorded separately, so the mixing was crucial. In fact, I had the strings, Jimmy Cleveland [trombone] and Leo Wright [flute] recorded first. Then Jobim came in and overdubbed on top. I wanted him to wander around with his loose, melodic style—to engage the beauty of what we already had on tape. [Pictured above: Antonio Carlos Jobim]
"Phil viewed mikes as instruments. On The Composer, he wanted what I wanted—a certain sound that enveloped the listener. 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 [pictured above] 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 resulted in this warm, penetrating, high-register airiness. That 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 what went on or not." [Illustration above of Phil Ramone by Rob Kelly]
JazzWax clip: Here's One Note Samba from Antonio Carlos Jobim: The Composer of Desafinado, Plays...