Correspondence: Desmond, Lewis & The Overdub

Thomas Cunniffe’s Jazz History Online essay, the basis for “Desmond And The Canadians” two items below, contains this paragraph:

Pure Desmond isn’t a “pure” example of the Canadian group, but the recording clearly echoes the style that Desmond and the Toronto musicians had worked out at Bourbon Street, featuring moderate tempos, melodic solos and low volume. Yet, the album nearly wasn’t released: Taylor was unhappy with Kay’s drumming and brought in Mel Lewis to dub in a more aggressive part. However, there was signal leakage between the two drum tracks, and Taylor’s production assistant, John Snyder, helped Desmond convince Taylor to issue the album as originally recorded.

Saxophonist, arranger and bandleader Bill Kirchner, who knew Lewis, sent this:

Mel told me that Creed Taylor had asked him to do that but he had refused, saying that “he wouldn’t do that to Connie.”

John Snyder responded:

I was with Paul a lot in those days, at CTI and A&M. He played me those tapes of that first gig and I never ever saw him happier than when he was listening to Ed Bickert’s solos. He’d make contortions with his hands as if he were playing guitar with too many fingers and through a cloud of smoke he’d say, and laugh at the same time, “How does he DO that?! Isn’t that just terrific?!” (one of Paul’s favorite words).

He genuinely loved the “Canadian” band and it broke his heart when Creed told him he didn’t want to release the Pure Desmond album. I did fight for the record and it was a long fight (months) but Creed gave in. He told me he thought the record was too quiet and I told him to turn it up, respectfully, of course. That didn’t work because he had me book Mel to overdub the drums. I was unhappily surprised by that request but I did it. I didn’t have the courage to tell Paul. I was convinced that it would not work so I figured, why upset him? I told him after the record came out!

Since it was my job to approve the test pressings of all CTI records I heard this new version first and it was obvious that you could hear Mel and Connie play at the same time. Mel hated doing that session. I got to know Mel pretty well after that and I asked him about it. He said he thought it was a crazy thing to do but he figured he could take the double scale for a three-hour session that would take half an hour, and someone would eventually figure out that it was a dumb thing to do. Connie played perfectly on that record and Mel knew it.

I don’t know for sure what made Creed change his mind and put the record on the release schedule but I do know that Paul gave me credit for it. I was Creed’s assistant at the time and I was pushing him to sign Chet and I pushed him to release Paul’s record. I think after he’d tried to overdub Mel and it didn’t work, he could justify giving in. Or maybe he just turned it up. Creed was a bit of a mystery and always unpredictable.

At Rudy’s the drum booth was not isolated. It was Rudy’s attempt at isolation and the brilliant part about it was, it wasn’t. The large plastic window across the front of booth lifted up from a long hinge at the top and Rudy often recorded drums with it open, so naturally there was no complete isolation. But even with it closed, there was a good deal of leakage of the drums into the other microphones in the live room. Rudy cared more about controlling the sound to hear what he wanted to hear while he was recording rather than isolating it to control it later. Creed was that way too.

Thomas’ piece about that time and those amazing musicians is beautifully done, I think, and consistent with my experiences at the time. Of course, these gents were widely admired. George Shearing loved Don and Reg both and of course Terry became known as a world class drummer. Jim Hall loved and loves Ed Bickert, as anyone can tell. Those guys are the Eiffel Towers of jazz guitar. I never worked with Rob but he hovered over everything and seemed to dominate that whole scene.

Those were fun days. Doug was right there in the middle of it all but I think I had the most fun: I got to go to Elaine’s or Bradley’s many nights with Paul. Ever see that movie My Favorite Year? I was “Benjy” and Paul was Peter O’Toole (as Erroll Flynn). I got to take care of the fun-loving, heavy drinking artist and he changed my life absolutely and still.

I love Paul Desmond and loved him from the first note I ever heard when I was in high school. I think he’s one of the most brilliant improvisers and instrumental stylists ever. To grow up and be his friend is still an impossibility to me. I’m a very lucky person to have been loved by such a great man and to be friends with the musicians he admired absolutely and who brought so much joy to him and to all of us who have ever heard their music. It’s the best of all possible worlds, isn’t it?

These days John Snyder is Conrad N. Hilton Eminent Scholar and Professor of Music Industry Studies at Loyola University in New Orleans. Here’s a picture of John in his pre-professor days with Desmond and Dave and Iola Brubeck aboard the SS Rotterdam on a jazz cruise in 1975.

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