The life of legendary producer Phil Ramone was celebrated Saturday night in grand style, with performances from many of the acts he produced down through the years such as Billy Joel, Paul Simon and Tony Bennett, along with remembrances from Quincy Jones and Kevin Spacey.
Other luminaries spotted in the audience by Billboard included Jack Douglas, Mike and Linda Moran, Paul Williams, Paul Shaffer and Seymour Stein.
The event was held in honor of the producer, who passed away March 30, after being hospitalized in February with an aortic aneurysm.
The event, which kicked off with an audio-only track of a young Ramone playing violin on the "Ted Mack Amateur Hour," was held in the theater of the Salvation Army on 14th Street in Manhattan, in light of Ramone's ties to the organization's orchestra.
First up at the podium to memorialize Ramone was another legendary producer, Quincy Jones. Jones remembered, back when he was producing Lesley Gore in the 1960's at the A&R Studio-co-owned by Ramone, that he "had the raggiest equipment I have ever saw in my life -- it was held together with band-aids -- but he knew how to get incredible sounds out of it."
Jones was followed at the podium by Billy Joel, who remembered that he had made four albums without much success before teaming up with Ramone. "Even 'Piano Man,' which got a lot of radio airplay but wasn't a 'sell-through hit,' and it never made much money." Then, Ramone signed on to do his fifth album, The Stranger, which ultimately proved to be his breakthrough, most successful album. But. before Ramone came aboard, Joel recounted searching for the right producer, almost agreeing to let James William Guercio, whose company Carabou managed Joel, record his fourth album. But Joel had a mission; he wanted to use his own band on the record. "We were on the road then, as an opening act, and we were kicking the crap out of the headliners, and I was begging to make an album with my band," Joel remembered. "But Guercio said 'Let's put you together with Elton's John's band.'"
"So I produced -- or rather torpedoed -- the album myself," Joel remembered. Then Joel almost went with Beatles producer George Martin, but he also didn't want to use Joel's band. "Can you imagine what Columbia was thinking about their artist who had fired Guercio and nixed George Martin? But Ramone came along saw us play live and said he would use the band."
Working with Ramone completely changed my life," Joel said. "I am not just talking about fame and fortune, but also about joy and enrichment."
When Joel was recording The Nylon Curtain in 1982, "Phil turned the studio into an instrument," Joel remembered. When the album was nearly all recorded, Ramone told Joel, "This album needs an epilogue," so Joel wrote "Where's The Orchestra," which he said "has been running through my head ever since Phil passed away. With that, Joel sat down at the piano and played the "commissioned" song.
Tony Bennett, who had two of his albums produced by Ramone, took to the stage next, coming out out and easing into "Fly Me To The Moon." After his performance Bennett told attendees, "There will never be another like him; he was the best -- and I have had a lot of producers in my career."
Bennett then introduced Dave Gruisin, who told the audience he feels like he lost a brother. Gruisin pointed out that he knew Ramone since his days at his A&R Studio on 48th Street. But he reminded the audience that Ramone's craft cut across media. In addition to producing albums, Ramone was also involved in staging live and television events like the Grammys and Elton John Special, as well as recording music for movies like "Yentl," "Flashdance," "Reds," Midnight Cowboy," and "Beyond the Sea."
Gruisin gave way to Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary, who performed "Day Is Done." Other performers included Nikki Yanokky, who sang "You'll Have To Swing Again" and Matthew Morrison, who performed "Come Rain or Come Shine/Basin Street Blues." Shelby Lynne sang a song from her Dusty Springfield tribute album You Don't Have To Say You Love Me. The evening concluded with Josh Groban, who sang "Smile."
However, the first performance of the evening was from the Salvation Army's Phil Ramone Orchestra For Children, who played "When The Saints Come Marching In."
In the 1800s, The Salvation Army used music to help spread word about the organization's mission, according to Lt. Colonel Guy D. Klemanski, Divisional Commander of The Salvation Army Greater New York Division. Ramone began that orchestra in 2011, recruiting about 65 children from P.S. 206 in Harlem, helping to teach them how to play their instruments at after-school rehearsals. "Never would we imagine someone coming along now could have an impact on an organization that already had an 150-year tradition," Klemanski said. Last year, Ramone was awarded the Salvation Army's "Pinnacle of Achievement Award."
On the other hand, his son BJ remembered how much fun his father had in the studio. "He loved working with the reverb chamber," he recalled. "When he was working with Paul Simon and needed the sound of breaking glass, he tried several things, including dropping and breaking 4 gallon water jars." Finally, he got the sound he wanted by breaking large sheets of glass with a sledgehammer, BJ Ramone said.
Ramone also helped established stars reach their dreams too.
Kevin Spacey wanted to make a Bobby Darin movie, "Beyond The Sea."
"I had two crazy ideas; I wanted to play Bobby Darrin and I wanted to sing the songs, not lip sync them," Spacey Said. "Everyone was against me singing, including all the producers who were putting up the money. But I didn't want to imitate Darin, I wanted to find a way to attack the songs. Phil said, 'Okay, we'll get you there.'"
Spacey went on to sing two songs with the house band, "By Myself" and "The Curtain Falls."
Paul Simon said he thought of "Phil more as a friend than a producer." He played two songs, "Slip Sliding Away" and "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover," from Still Crazy After All These Years, which Ramone co-produced with the artist. The house band featured drummer Steve Gadd, who came up with the drum hook for "50 Ways."
Like the house band, the entire event was staged by live event professionals, even the guys handling the cables, who had all worked with Phil. "When we were asked to do this show, it was a work of love," says one such worker who didn't want to be identified.
Ramone's wife Karen, accompanied by her three sons, Matthew, Simon and BJ, closed the evening by thanking everyone who had come and reminded Ramone's friends, family and artists, She said, “It was always about the song -- never about him."