Jack Renner of Telarc: Direct from Cleveland! Page 3

Scull: Is the mixer tweaked in any way?

Renner: We have used hot-rodded consoles. We had one that was internally wired with Monster Cable that we used for a long time. In fact, a number of years ago we were recording the Cincinnati Pops and the Monster Cable console went down—nothing to do with the fact that it was wired with Monster Cable, of course.

Scull: Of course...

Renner: We actually use a combination of Monster Cables and MIT. We're good friends with both Noel Lee and Bruce Brisson.

Scull: Imagine...

Renner: So a component failed in the middle of a session. We had a backup console from the same manufacturer, Neotek, and it took us only 10 minutes to set it up. Now understand, we've got a signal that's spent its whole life from the microphone output to the A/D going through Monster Cable. Then we switched to the console with the standard cable in it. And the minute I brought up the fader, everybody in the control room—not just my technical assistants and the producer, but the orchestra manager, the musicians who weren't in that particular number—they all said, "What did you do, what happened to the sound?" Everyone could hear that the soundstage got smaller. Everything just got a little more narrow and not quite as bloomy. If you ever needed a demonstration of the effects of high-performance cable, that was it.

Scull: And the A/Ds?

Renner: Well, the signal passes through our proprietary 20-bit A/D designed by Tom Stockham. Even today, the only thing that comes to close to it, or perhaps we can say that exceeds it, is the 24-bit 96k dCS. But Tom built this unit for us six years ago. And he was still way ahead of his time.

Scull: That's an all-solid-state unit?

Renner: Yes, we do use tubes, but not very often. And especially not on live dates. They tend to go down at the most inopportune times! We really feel that the solid-state mikes, preamps, and electronics we're using are the best available.

Scull: How would you characterize the Telarc sound?

Renner: I used to say that my recordings are made from the perspective of the best seat in the house. And immediately, of course, somebody says, "Well, who are you to say what's the best seat in the house?" [laughs] Let me tell you what Lorin Maazel once said about my recordings that pretty well sums it up. He said, "They sound the way I hope the audience is hearing what I'm doing behind me."

Scull: Well, that's a huge compliment.

Renner: Yes. And it's through a balance of directive and reflective sound that you get a feeling of tactility about what's onstage.

Scull: Palpability might be another way to put that...

Renner: Right. But not so present and palpable that you feel like you're right inside the instruments. But rather with a mix of reflected sound so that you have a nice feeling of a finished sound, one that gives you a sense of palpability or tactility, a sense of presence, detail, and imaging. Yet you don't feel like you're straining to hear anything. Things aren't awash in reverb. You just feel very comfortable with the sound—it's not a hi-fi, hyped-up kind of thing. Going back to what you asked me before, I like to think of myself as being a re-creator, trying to re-create an event that occurred in time and space.

Scull: Who are your personal heroes?

Renner: C. Robert Fine...that was easy! Without even realizing it, when I was a high school music teacher, I was listening to his Mercury Living Presence recordings and thinking, "Boy, that sounds like the real thing!" It was just...right. Or Lewis Layton on the RCA/Chicago Reiner recordings. They were models of simplicity that sounded absolutely natural.

Scull: And the best work you've done?

Renner: Well, maybe the most satisfying single classical project was doing the Beethoven Piano Concerto Cycle with Rudolf Serkin and the BSO and Ozawa. That was a real peak. And we'd only been in business, what, five years when we did that. In retrospect, working with Serkin was probably the high point of my career. I mean, we also worked with Ormandy and other very-big-deal orchestras and conductors. And probably the most satisfying of these has been our continuing series with Robert Shaw. I don't care if anybody wants to argue this, but I maintain that his is the single greatest influence in choral singing of our generation. We must have done at least 35 or 40 recordings together by now.

Scull: When we were listening to the Ellington Jazz Party on vinyl earlier, you looked over the list of participants and mentioned that you'd worked with everybody on the recording except Basie! Who were some of the jazz greats you've recorded with?

Renner: Well, the list is quite, quite long. You may not know that the marketing slogan for Telarc Jazz is "The Label of the Legends." And to substantiate that, let me start with Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck, George Shearing, and Ray Brown. We've done several things with the Count Basie Orchestra, Joe Williams, and Mel Tormé. Let's see...we did Gerry Mulligan and Dizzy Gillespie's final recordings. We also did Joe Pass.

Scull: Any other projects on the table that you'd like to tell us about?

Renner: Well, there's the Benny Golson Tribute album, and we're about to release a duet album with Oscar Peterson and Benny Green, with Ray Brown on bass and Greg Hutchinson on drums.

Scull: Hey, I hope you remember our address!

Renner: [laughs] And I'm going into the studio tomorrow to finish a Jim Hall project. This will be our fifth record with Jim. You know, there are over 600 titles in the Telarc catalog.

Scull: Remarkable. Any advice to budding recording engineers?

Renner: Yeah. You know, when I first started out, somebody told me, well, just do the best job you can and don't look over your shoulder. As Satchel Paige, the famous Cleveland Indians pitcher, used to say, "Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you"!