From left: Quincy Jones, Recording Academy Chairman/CEO Neil Portnow, Al Schmitt (Photo: WireImage)
Jazz provided the backbone for the sixth annual Producers & Engineers Wing Grammy Week Celebration that honored Quincy Jones and Al Schmitt on Wednesday at the Village recording studio in West Los Angeles. The two men have had success throughout their lives in jazz - Schmitt with Cal Tjader and Diana Krall; Jones with Louis Jordan and Count Basie; both men with Frank Sinatra -- and the music permeated the the many rooms in the studio.
Schmitt, an engineer with 18 Grammys, and 27-time winner Jones, the multi-hyphenate who on this night was saluted for his studio work with Michael Jackson, Ray Charles and others, received the President's Merit Award. Recording Academy president/CEO Neil Portnow referred to both men as "deep in jazz ... deep in great sounding recordings."
In a room full of well-wishers that included George Benson, Patti Austin, Marcus Miller, Concord Records A&R chief John Burk and Jimmy Jam, Schmitt was humble and succinct in a speech that followed a video on his career that touched on his early work with Henry Mancini on "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "Hatari," middle period with "Toto IV" and later years with Charles' "Genius Love Company."
"When I was told I was getting the president's award I thought 'how cool. I'm going to get to meet President Obama," he joked, before saluting the many producers, engineers and musicians in the room. "Let's all just keep making great records."
Jones' speech was typical Q: Historical, cross-cultural, non-PC, hopeful and lengthy. He spoke of his early childhood surrounded by gangsters and an encounter with a spinet piano during a junior high vandalism streak in Seattle that altered his life. He learned brass instruments -- the trombone first because it was closest to the majorettes -- until he landed at the trumpeter, which led to a job in Lionel Hampton's band when he was still a teen.
He saw the beginnings of rock 'n roll in the early 1950s in the bands of Louis Jordan and Hampton, worked with Lesley Gore and only after he got a label job, he says, did he realize producers got paid. At 23, he started to see more and more of the world thanks to his stint with Dizzy Gillespie and for much of his speech he hammered home the idea that people need to travel more and attempt to reach out to others globally.
"America doesn't know how to speak to the Middle East," Jones said, suggesting that his musical involvement in countries such as Egypt and Syria needs others to take his lead. He offered a metaphoric closing that encouraged involvement: "When it rains, get wet, and always empty the cup. Every time it will come back twice as full."
Jones brought out two acts he is working with to back up his desire to keep jazz alive and play a role in the international music scene. He brought to the stage the five members of Blush, a singing group comprising women from the Philippines, India, Korea and Japan; he referred to them as "the next step after Psy." Prior to them, 11-year-old pianist Emily Bear, whose debut album comes out on Concord on May 7, performed two original pieces that deftly merge elements of Monk, Manilow and, for a few speedy bars, Meade Lux Lewis.
ASCAP's Loretta Munoz reminisced about seeing Bear perform six years ago when she first signed with the performing rights organization. "She would do these dazzling things on the piano and then she's lay down and nap on the piano bench," Munoz said. "She acted like a five-year-old."
Jones with Emily Bear (Photo: WireImage)
George Benson was among those dazzled by her playing, giving the occasional shout of encouragement and midway through her performance he had his iPhone out to capture her appearance.
As usual, the event was swarming with people who spend most of their time thinking and talking about how music is recorded and the equipment involved. Mike Clink, co-chair of the P&E Wing, noted the recent creation of QualitySoundMatters.com; Village owner Jeff Greenberg encouraged people to join the recording academy and push the number of producers and engineers beyond the current 5,000-member mark.
Since the P&E event is at the start of Grammy Week, plenty of conversation concerned the events everyone was headed to over the next five days. Beyond that, songwriter Dan Wilson said he was taking the week off; agent Susan Markheim is putting the finishing touches on a 40-city tour for her client Chris Mann; and the Grammy Museum's Lynne Sheridan was particularly jazzed about an upcoming Eric Burdon event. Others on hand included musicians Michael Penn, Ledisi, Sheila E. and Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, Grammy Museum executive director Robert Santelli and producer Peter Asher.
One thing that was different about this year's event was in one of the recording rooms. Usually they are full of gear and a few experts who can talk about hardware and software being used. In one of the larger rooms, though, the state of Louisiana brought in gumbo and four types of Abita beer along with literature about Louisiana studios. Smartly they also brought in a trio to enhance the atmosphere with -- what else? -- some rather funky jazz.