The truly legendary producer, arranger, and composer Teo Macero passed away February 19, at the age of 82. There have been dozens of obits; our own bio outlines his amazing contribution to music both popular and marginal for the latter half of the 20th century. And while he is best known as the Columbia staff producer behind Miles Davisâ€™s seminal recordings Kind Of Blue, Sketches Of Spain, In A Silent Way, Bitches Brew, Jack Johnson, and On the Corner (and dozens of others since he worked with Davis until he left the label 1982), he did much more; he worked with artists as divergent as Carmen McRae and the Lounge Lizards, Charles Mingus and Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald and the Clancy Brothers, Duke Ellington and Michael Blake, actor James Whittemore and Charlie Byrd. Macero was a visionary as both a producer and editor and his entire legacy has been well documented. What follows below is the indisputable evidence of Maceroâ€™s genius. It documents a single year in his career: 1959, when he made his indelible mark on jazz. During it he produced some of the most enduring recordings of all timeâ€”and, if it matters, three of the best-selling as well. They are presented not simply as indisputable proof of his true artistry but as a deep appreciation for what he left us. If Macero had not gone on to work with so many others over the course of his long career, and simply quit after 1959, he would have gone down in cultural history books regardless. Thank you Teo.
Kind Of Blue, the record that bonded Macero and Davis for 20-plus years. They had worked together previously, but this moment changed jazz history and the pair would continue working together until Macero left Columbia in 1982. "So What," with its striking Paul-Chambers bassline, Bill-Evans arrangement and sparse, chord voicings, Philly Joe-Jones restrained kit work and the nearly hushed front line with Davis, John Coltrane, and Cannonball Adderley in the midst of all that space is arresting from its very first note.
Gil Evans and Miles Davis had worked together on two albums previous to this one, but Sketches Of Spain is undeniably their greatest moment. And while the collaboration between Evans and Davis is rightfully celebrated, Macero was the glue here; his sense of economy, texture, color and space works as a mercurial element that makes this album such a transcendent recording. This period in the careers of all three men would prove a defining one. Here's a nibble from the albumâ€™s second track, Manuel DeFalla's "Will O' The Wisp."
Charles Mingusâ€™s Mingus Ah Um is one of his greatest recordings. His band at the time included Booker Ervin, John Handy, Jimmy Knepper, Daanie Richmond, Horace Parlan, Wille Dennis and Shafi Hadi. Ever the mercurial persona, Mingus sat in the editing room with Macero to make sure his presence was felt. The album is a pillar in his catalog, as is another one they did together in 1959, Mingus Dynasty. The sample provided here is from "Better Git It In Yo' Soul," the joyous riot that opens Mingus Ah Um. (The set also includes "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," "Fables Of Faubus," and "Open Letter To Duke.")
Macero worked with the great John Hammond, Sr. on Nigerian percussionist Babatunde Olatunji's Drums Of Passion in 1959, one of the most enduring recordings of African drumming and singing ever recorded. It has been almost continually in print since that time, and legend has it that it was Macero who wanted to keep the recording as raw and natural as possible. Here's a bit from the title track ("Jin-Go-Lo-Ba").
Incredibly, as if Kind Of Blue and Sketches Of Spain werenâ€™t enough to solidify Maceroâ€™s place in the pantheon, he also produced Dave Brubeck's smash Time Out. Unlike Davis or even the silent but imposing Mingus, Brubeck insisted on total control over every note in the editing process, but Macero's sonic approach is still evident in the final mix. Two hit singles came from this record:
and "Blue Rondo a la Turk"
Shockingly, in addition to the aforementioned albums Macero also produced Everybody's Boppin', the Columbia Records debut of the jazz vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. No other vocal group in America would reach the same heights of popularity until the Manhattan Transfer some 20 years later, but this trio did it first and best. Sure they could scat, but that was only about a tenth of what they did; here are a pair of clips: