Following Teo Macero’s death on February 19, most news stories and obituaries concentrated on his role as the producer of Miles Davis’s Columbia recordings. Beginning in 1959 with Kind of Blue, Macero edited or oversaw Davis’s sessions, which included those for Sketches Of Spain, In A Silent Way, and Bitches Brew, some of the most influential albums of the past fifty years. With exceptions, notably in the editing of In A Silent Way, Macero got along well with Davis. “We had our battles,” Macero said after Davis’s death in 1991:
There were times when he wouldn’t speak to me and I wouldn’t speak to him. It’s like a husband and wife. There are times when you just like to be left alone.
Kind Of Blue and Sketches Of Spain became two of the best-selling jazz albums in history.
It was barely noted in most of the articles, and not at all in some, that Macero was himself a gifted musician who won a scholarship to the Juilliard School and emerged as a daring composer of atonal acoustic and electronic music. He was also a talented and highly individual tenor saxophonist prized by Charles Mingus, among other important jazz artists of the 1950s. After he joined Columbia as an editor then moved up to producer, his playing took a back seat and he became one of the label’s busiest recording executives. Nonetheless, Macero did not give up his saxophone. The drummer Kenny Harris, who moved from England to New York then settled in Bermuda, had a playing encounter with Macero. He writes Rifftides from Hamilton, Bermuda.
When I was playing at Elbow Beach in the 60’s I also had a jazz show on ZBM radio on Saturday afternoons. Teo was vacationing here and had read in the newspaper that Jim Hall was to be a guest on my show. He called me as he wanted to speak to Jim – Jim was not in the studio as the interview had been recorded earlier in the week and he had gone back to New York. Teo came into Elbow Beach one evening and asked if he could sit in with the band. He borrowed a tenor saxophone and played in his usual style. Everyone in the nightclub left. Everytime I saw him in New York after that he would always say to me “If you want to clear a nightclub, give me a call.”
It’s an amusing story, but if Macero was playing “in his usual style,” the Elbow Beach patrons walked out on some fine music. He is prominent on Jazzical Moods, a 1954 album co-led by bassist Mingus and alto saxophonist John LaPorta, and also featuring the young trumpeter Thad Jones. It was a remarkable gathering of far-sighted adventurers whose music foreshadowed jazz departures made later in the decade.
Teo Macero, 1925-2008.