Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Legendary Capitol Studios and Engineering Legend, Al Schmitt

The Legendary Capitol Studios and Engineering Legend, Al Schmitt

   The PBS broadcast of Great Performances of September 7 featured Paul McCartney’s new recording, Kisses On The Bottom, a newly released collection of pop standards and two originals. The TV program was filmed at the same Capitol Studios where much of the album was created. In the show, we were briefly introduced to the “dream team” that recorded Paul’s project, Engineer Al Schmitt with producer Tommy LiPuma (left, Al on right of Paul). 

Currently our Chappell and Dave Holt CD recording is being produced and engineered by Michael Peterson of Harvest Moon Studios (925-370-8718) whose hero/role model is the famous engineer, Al Schmitt. Michael starts to bow towards the East at the mention of his name.  He told us he met Al when he attended a one-time recording engineer seminar at Hyde Street Studios in San Francisco. Al gave the workshop as part of an NARAS conference.

   Mr. Schmitt has won 19 Grammys for Best Engineering, the first received in 1962 for Henry Mancini’s soundtrack album for Hatari, one of my favorite albums when I was a kid. Al also engineered Steely Dan’s Aja and won the Grammy for his work on this milestone album in 1977. He has worked on all Diana Krall’s albums and she was hired to be musical director of Paul McCartney’s project at the Capitol Studio where she recorded many of the tracks.

Speaking of the famous studio where Nat Cole and many others made their classic albums (the Capital Records Tower is nicknamed “The house that Nat built”), Al said, “All the tube gear is kept in great shape, and all the microphones. I still use the same mike they used on Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin on vocals.” He also later said in an interview, “We still have Nat Cole’s piano.”

   Michael Peterson told us about the tube preamps still used at Capitol Studios, and the vintage Neve console. Al Schmitt still mixes down to analog tape some of the time (per his interview with Larry Leblanc).

There is a new preamp in the industry, the UA 710 Twin-Finity, (UA stands for Universal Audio) that has a tone blending knob. This knob allows you to combine the vintage sounding classic warmth of UA tube design with the transient bite of solid state tones.

Al also said about Capitol studios:  “Very few choose to record in the open room with the orchestra, although Frank Sinatra and Natalie Cole come to mind.” Paul McCartney recorded in this very same way (pictured above) on the recent TV special, “Kisses on the Bottom.”
   Look for repeat showings of this studio concert as we are sure that it will be re-shown on PBS.

The photo of Al with Natalie Cole is from web site:

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