«One of the last princes of some trades worn out by sociocultural changes»
Julio Valdeón bids farewell to the historic Al Schmitt, a sound engineer and producer who worked with Paul McCartney, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles and Diana Krall, also the protagonist of a rich alliance with Bob Dylan.
A section of JULIO VALDEÓN.
Al Schmitt died. 91 years. He was a sound engineer and producer. Master of canned sound, says Richard Sandomir in his canonical obituary for the New York Times. Like others who wrote the obituary for him, he remembers that Schmitt’s uncle had a recording studio in New York and that he attended sessions with Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters there. Also that throughout an award-winning sixty-year career he worked with Paul McCartney, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Diana Krall or Henry Mancini, with whom he formed an unstoppable team. One of their last recordings was with Bob Dylan, during the sessions where they recreated in key noir, with country touches, the Hoboken monster songbook, who sang to the tuning of the best trumpeters and managed to make you believe that, indeed, he was telling you about his own sentimental moves. Sinatra’s confessional style created a school and, as I believe I have read somewhere, influenced Dylan himself, among others, who would apply his teachings to the folk inherited from Woody Guthrie and soon transcended political or social commentary to target more intimate territories. .
Schmitt’s with Dylan is therefore an inevitable alliance: nothing more appropriate than the same guy who polished the sound of those monumental slices of the Capitol studios ended up, decades later, working with the man who came to erase all that time and that, finally, between the Mississippi blues and the American Songbook, between Little Richard and Billie Holiday, he has resolved to claim as part of a whole that already encompasses practically all of the imposing American musicians.
I write about old Al while the soundtrack of the TV series plays M Squad, starring Lee Marvin. A sparkling jazz recording featuring the red-hot Stanley Wilson Orchestra performing songs by Wilson himself, Bennie Carter and Count Basie. The youngest may not know it, but to record an album you needed more than composers and instrumentalists. The famous intermediaries, who help the original idea, often nebulous and shapeless, take shape. The highly specialized curritos, who fought in the studio, dedicated to equalizing, arranging, recording, and editing the pieces that we later listened to. As we have already become accustomed to the rodent sound of the mp3, as we prefer portability and storage over sonic quality, the knowledge of professionals like Schmitt seems like waste from another era. But be careful, they are not detritus, but splendid works, with a cathedral sound, expansive, magnificent, that dwarfs the vast majority of contemporary recordings, dwarfed by understanding and the slow but constant death of large studios. Schmitt will remain as one of the last princes of a few trades worn out by sociocultural changes, an aristocratic Amur leopard who will hardly find a successor in an industry that is increasingly decadent, atomized and fragile..
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