Roy DuNann: Sound Thinking

When I listen to the two-track analog stereo tape recordings Roy DuNann made for the Contemporary label shortly after the perfection of stereo in the 1950s, I curse the boneheads who, because they could, introduced multi-track, multi-microphone recording. Digital capability then came along with 587-channel mixing boards and made post production a sci-fi adventure that compounded all of the engineering wizards’ sins. Red Mitchell was right; simple isn’t easy. That applies to everything in life, especially audio engineering. Rudy Van Gelder, nominated by acclamation as the god of jazz recording, was better in early stereo than after he got all the toys. For one thing, in the fifties his pianos sounded more like pianos.
Roy DuNann is most likely a genius. Listen to his recording of Double Play!< with Andre Previn and Russ Freeman at two pianos with Shelly Manne playing drums. DuNann recorded it in Contemporary's studio in Los Angeles in 1957. The little company's studio was the shipping room. If you want another example of what DuNann could do with minimal high-quality equipment in a tiny space, try Sonny Rollins' Way Out West. Rollins, Ray Brown and Manne played side by side, not in isolation booths, captured cleanly with just enough separation, plenty of depth and no cute tricks. There are dozens of other DuNann recordings in the OJC catalogue, still available. If it was recorded for Contemporary in the 1950s or ’60s, chances are DuNann was the engineer.
It is worth the frustration of navigating the confusing Concord Records web site in search of DuNann gems by Previn, Manne, Art Pepper, Art Farmer, Hampton Hawes, Lennie Niehaus, Shorty Rogers, Benny Carter, Benny Golson, Duane Tatro and Red Mitchell, among others. Click on the pull-down menu titled Original Jazz Classics Artists. Be aware that Concord has the strange practice of listing artists alphabetically by first name.
Last I heard, Roy DuNann was still with us, living in Seattle. Won’t someone bring him out of retirement?

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  1. says

    I totally agree with your assessment of Roy DuNann. He was the Rudy Van Gelder of the West coast, and I actually find his recording techniques to be more sonically expressive than Rudy’s.
    The guy is a genius, and I’m pleased to know he’s still with us. My only wish is that either Down Beat or Jazz Times do a piece on him.
    All the best.
    Bill Benjamin
    Evanston, IL