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Teo Macero on Working with Dave Brubeck and Miles Davis

Teo Macero is undoubtedly one of the most influential producers in the history of recorded music. Although he first came to prominence as a tenor saxophone player and member of Charles Mingus' Jazz Composers' workshop, Macero is most well known for his work as a jazz producer with Columbia Records from the 1950s through the 1980s, producing some of the best work of Dave Brubeck, Thelonius Monk, Charles Mingus, and especially Miles Davis. With Davis, Macero pushed jazz through several changes, from the cool jazz of Kind of Blue to the grand orchestral gestures of Sketches of Spain, finally ushering jazz and popular music into the electronic age with his landmark work on Davis albums like Bitches Brew, In A Silent Way and A Tribute to Jack Johnson among many others. The experimental cut-and-paste method of production which he used on these albums helped put the producer-as-artist on an equal footing with musicians in creating a piece of recorded music, and paved the way for future generations of groundbreaking producers from Herbie Hancock to Prince Paul.

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Producer and arranger Teo Macero discusses working with musicians Dave Brubeck and Miles Davis.

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Teo Macero – Working with Various Artists, Part 1

Working with Dave Brubeck wasn't always the most pleasant because, I mean, personally he was alright but he never wanted to take too much advice from anybody. But, I remember doing Time Out which became a big record for CBS and I remember Paul Desmond doing this thing and I love it, I thought it was great. Dave never played a solo on the record (sings melody). There's no solo on that record by Dave Brubeck. Paul played a beautiful solo. So the record came out and the record had sold 35,000 albums. It didn't do too well and we had a little brief meeting in Mitch Miller's office and he says “Teo,” he says “You know I know you’ve worked hard on this record…” but he says “What the hell can we do!?” He says, “Five/four time? Nobody’s gonna be able to dance to that!” You know well Mitch, I says, “You’re right!” I says, “You know, but give us a little time!”

So meantime I had to go to Chicago. I ran into a guy called Grady White who used to be a promotion guy there. Big, fat guy, black, wonderful personality. And he said “Te-te-teteo te-Teo man-man man man.” I says “What’s wrong Grady?” He says “Man man ma-you ain’t gotta hit! You ain’t gotta hit in there!” I says, “Where?” He says, “Take 5! Take 5!” I says, “Awwohhh…” I says, “You know, I can’t get a single out. Nobody back at our place is gonna do it.” I says, “What we’re gonna have to do is figure out a way to get that record out!” I said, “I tell you what to do. You wait until I get back. I will edit it. That one track.” And I said, “I will get it ready and then I want you to send me a telegram for five thousand singles. Breakout in Chicago!” He says, “What!?” I says, “Yeah. Wait till I get back.” So I got there. Laughs. He sends me a telegram. I said, “Don’t send this to me! Send it to the sales department upstairs! And I said “They’ll come running down.” Meantime I’ve got 35 discs, I mean, when I was there, in those days you could do anything you wanted. If you wanted to order 100 discs and then veg, you could do that.

So they came running down and said “Hey Teo man! Look it! (breathless) Man, we got a national breakout… breakout! Breakout in Chicago!” I says, “Simmer down. Calm down a little bit.” They said, “No, no man, we got this breakout! We gotta move right away!” I said, “How soon do you have to move?” They said “Right away, right away!” I said, “okay.” I said, “well, let me see what I can do.”

Meantime I call up the engineering department to have the records ready for me. Thirty-five or 40 of them. Just the acetate, that one track. They shipped them over to me and we shipped them off to Chicago. They passed them out all over town. Laughs and claps hands. It sold a couple of million. But they never gave me credit for that record. But it was Grady White and myself and then about two years later Paul Desmond calls me up and says to me, “Teo, I’d like to talk to you.” I says “Hey! Paul! You know,what’s up!” He says, “You know, I think you’ve got the wrong take!” laughs I said, “Oh gee, don’t tell me that!” I said, “It couldn’t have been the wrong take because I went over there and did the editing myself.” He said, “It’s the wrong take!” I said, “Have you been to the bank lately with the royalty statement?” He said, “Yeah! We’re selling like hotcakes!” I said, “GOODBYE PAUL!” Laughs.

I said, you know, I tried to tell him “forget about it” you know. I couldn’t change his bit if I wanted to. It would have been impossible.

But I’ve worked with Miles and we did some of the creativist records ever made. Now the ones with Miles Davis, he would never finish a record. And then after 4 track when it became 8 tracks or 16 tracks, he would play on the sessions turn his mic off or walk away or back out or suddenly walk out the door and I said, “Hey Miles, you can’t just walk out until we finish this goddamn thing!” chuckles And he never answered me. You know, come on. He says “no, this is it!”

So I would take the tapes, go through them, edit them and I’d call him up and say “Look, I’m sending up an acetate or an album, whatever, a big disc. A thirty-three.” I said “If you don’t like it, I’ll redo it again. You know.” I said, “But, see what you like about it.” He called me back, “Yeah, I know what you mean. It sounds okay.” I says, "You mean it’s alright to go with that record?"

"Yeah, yeah. You did okay.”

And this is through his entire career at CBS. He came to the editing room maybe 5 times in 29, 30 years. And there were a couple of times he came in when we did, oh, I think it was In A Silent Way. I had already mixed, I don’t know, maybe 40 reels of tape. Quarter-inch tapes. I said, “Look it. If you wanna come down be my guest.” I said, “I can do it. I know what’s there, I’ve gone through it all.” So he came down. This is one of the rare times. We sat for about three hours. And he said, “I don’t like that.” I said, “Yeah, I don’t like that either. The guys are just sputtering a lot of notes and are doing nothing.” So we edited the 40 reels of quarter-inch tapes down to two boxes. And in the two boxes we edited down to eight and a half minutes on one side and then the other side was, maybe, nine minutes. Miles gets up and says, “I’m leaving.” I says, “Wait a minute, you can’t leave now!” I says, “You know, I’ve got about 18 minutes here!” You know we put this record out, I says, “They’re going to have your head on a platter and they’re going to have mine too!” I says, “Just leave me alone for a couple of days.” So what I did... I played it through again and I cut it all up. I made pieces and I made bridges and I stretched it out and I moved things around.

With the 18 minutes that I had, I had to go to two sides, so it had to be something like, 40 minutes or 50 minutes of music. And what I did, I cut it and I pasted it up and I put it back together again. Now the same material is there for almost 40 minutes. Maybe even longer. I never did really get the final time on it. And I put it together and the record became a classic. And then a lot of people at CBS said “Aww, anybody could have done that.” I said, “No, not anybody could have done that.” I said, “To be able to do that first of all you had to have an ear. There were no scores. You had to have a mind. And if you want to become a producer…” I don’t know about the Honors, some of these kids wanna be… they really should study music. They should learn orchestration. They should learn how to do all of these things prior to getting in the studio because once you get in there, you know, it’s easy to say, “take one, take two, take three”.

But anyway, we made the record and the record became a classic. In A Silent Way, I don’t know, must have sold a couple of million. I have know way of knowing. And then just recently Joe Zawinul, the conned him into using the outtakes! And I said “Please! If you wanted to use the outtakes, do it in a different format, or give it away as an archival kind of thing, you know, to students. Don’t destroy the original record because a lot of work went into that!” But they did manage to put all the crap back in. And I called up Joe Zawinul and really gave him hell for it. I said “Look it, don’t do it but if you’re that hungry for the money then do it.” And he did it! I guess he wanted the money. I guess I don’t know how much money he got out of it but that was the way I used to do Miles Davis’ records. Edit them, put them all together piece by piece by piece. He would walk out of the studios.

I remember one time he came into the studio, he was going to kill me! He said “You white motherfucker!” I said, “What’s wrong Miles?” He said “I want you to kill that secretary of yours!” I said, “That girl will do anything for you. I’ll tell some things she’s not going to do for you.” I says, “But she’s in your corner!” He said, “I’m coming over to kill you.” At me! I says, “Come over you sonuvabitch! I’m here!”

Meantime I call the president of Canton-Leaver. I says, “Look it, I think there might be a fight here shortly.” He says, “Do you think you need some help?” I says, “No, I think I can handle it.” He said, “Well, do the best you can!” chuckles

Finally, Miles packed up his horn and went out the studio door. Two minutes later, he was back in. He takes his trumpet out. I said, “Put the machines on.” I said, “You sonuvabitch, if I come out to see you, I’m gonna throw up all over you. You hear me!?” And the musicians were still mulling around, you know. They didn’t pay him any mind at all. So finally I got up out of the chair at the control booth and I went outside and I stood next to the sonuvabitch, shoulder to shoulder, just as hard as I could press. And the machines were running and he played one of the greatest solos on, I can’t remember, it was one of the big records that we made. I said afterwards, I said, “You sonuvabitch! We should do this every goddamn time!” laughs

I mean, he would leave the studio on other occasions. And then he’d ask one of his guys to come in and get me. And we’d sit for 15-20 minutes and not say one word. And then he finally would turn to me and I’d say “Well, what about it?”

“I don’t like it!” He’d grab his trumpet to go in the studio. I’d run in the control room and say “Put the machines on! Put the machines on!” And we would record. I’d say, “That’s it! Job finished! Everybody go home!” So to be a producer you have to be a psychiatrist and a doctor.

A doctor. I didn’t know too much about being a doctor in those days. But I did have a few words in my vocabulary that were of great use to me over the years especially with somebody like Miles because I didn’t let him intimidate me. And you really can't let the artist intimidate, if you really want to be a strong producer and a producer that makes, you know, half way decent records. I've had bosses that used to call me in their offices and say "We just got the acetates of Miles' sessions yesterday and it sounds like crap." I said, "Well, yeah, it does sound like crap. I’m not going to use all of that garbage. I’m just gonna edit what should be part of the record and we’ll put it out."

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