We were provided a unique opportunity to preserve an important piece of musical history in its final days. Word had come to us that the historic Clinton Recording Studios in midtown Manhattan was forever closing its doors, destined to be transformed into a modern condominium complex.
One of the many treasures contained therein was this particular Steinway Model D Concert Grand which used to live in the Columbia Records 30th Street Studios. The CBS 30th Street Studio, “The Church” was perhaps the most influential recording studio of the 50’s and 60’s producing dozens of legendary albums in various genres.
Of those recordings this piano played a critical role in two albums which are still considered among the finest recordings of all time. First being the original Glenn Gould “Goldberg Variations,” the most critically received classical album of all time. Four years later came Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” which forever altered music.
In 1981 Columbia closed its doors and this piano was brought to Clinton. In addition to the grand two of the original Columbia Nuemann U49 microphones made the journey also. These were two of the five (or six) microphones originally used on the Kind of Blue date. We were fortunate enough to sample this special grand using these two original microphones.
A friend of ours, John Davis, did a scoring session at Clinton and let us know about the closing as this day was to be the final date. As the conversation drifted from the saddening state of affairs for large stages we came to talk about why this particular stage was a special place. Although I had previously worked at the this studio I was never aware that the grand in the corner was the “one piano” used in so many of my favorite recordings.
At the time we were in Seattle conducting some non-cinesamples recordings. Mike and I walked over to secure a copy of Ashley Kahn’s paperback Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece. This book pushed us across the threshold and the vision for this session started to become a reality.
As Patti headed back home to put the finishing touches on the Seattle project Barry caught a red-eye that night for Manhattan. We had arranged to extend the closing date of Clinton by one day, just ensuring us enough time to sample this extraordinary instrument. Much of the gear being used was already up on Ebay. It was the last session ever recorded at Clinton.
With a mind to the handful of historic pictures from the recording Kind of Blue our engineer Tim Starnes (Drums of War, HollywoodWinds, Cinesnares, Cinetoms 2, CineCrash) set up three sets of microphones. The first pair – the U49’s from old Columbia set up in historical position (note that the original was in mono), the two other pairs each set back a touch further from the other.
We recorded two signal chains for each mic, a clean signal going through the Neve board and one going through a historic tape machine and finally into pro tools. We highly suggest exploring the charming colorization of the tape signal but both are provided for your convenience. For some of the youngsters out there note that tape will alter the sound of medium to high gain velocity layers and that often engineers go through great lengths to achieve this distortion.
Due to the delightful variances in timbre with each key the piano was sampled chromatically; this was the only way to get a true representation of the instrument. Barry was the pianist for the sampling and he employed a unique strategy.
“Perhaps this library benefits from having someone so intimate with sampling striking the keys. The way this particular piano was voiced was very unusual and charming. Certain notes when struck with matching velocities would sound rather different in tone from one another. One would scarcely notice this in a session but it would be greatly amplified via sampling. We decided the most faithful way to capture the samples was to do it by ear, rather then by touch. Instead of concentrating on a perfect velocity match across the keyboard we listened for sweet-spots/landmarks, identifiable, pleasing string to hammer ratios. This is a method employed by pianists to layer notes upon one another with clarity. I think the end result is better for recording in this manner rather then a straight key-weight dependent system.”
We sincerely hope you enjoy this piano as much as we do.
Click on play button to start demo.My Funny Valentine - Jim Trompeter
Danny boy Vintage - Barry
Mirion - Adam Hochstatter
Prelude in D from T.W.T.C - Bach
ShroominLove - Mike Barry
Rachmaninoff Prelude - Mike Barry
Piano in Blue - Mike Patti
All The Things - Greg Schlaepfer