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Meeting held November 27, 2007 at Opus 4 Studios, Bothell, WA

AES PNW Section Meeting Report

An Evening With Roy DuNann
Moderated by
Thomas Conrad

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(L-R) Roy DuNann, Thomas Conrad
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(L-R) William O. Smith, Roy DuNann, Thomas Conrad
Bill Smith reminisces about his recording with Roy
Photos taken by Gary Louie.

AES PNW Section Meeting Report vers 3.2

An Evening with Roy DuNann

Meeting held November 27, 2007 at Opus 4 Studios, Bothell WA.

The PNW Section's November 2007 meeting was a very special evening with an unrecognized giant of the recording engineering business, Roy DuNann. Long retired and living near Seattle, a chance meeting with Mike Matesky and the discovery of an April 2002 Stereophile magazine article on him by jazz writer Thomas Conrad led to this meeting. Conrad was enlisted to be the meeting host/interviewer, and an RSVP audience of 50 (23 being AES members) gathered at Opus 4 Studios in Bothell, WA. Also on hand this evening was clarinetist Bill Smith, who recorded 5 albums with Roy in the 1950s and 60s at Contemporary.

PNW Chair Rick Chinn opened the meeting, with AES President Bob Moses on hand to ask the audience how to improve the AES. Then Tom Conrad sat down with Roy, assisted by the occasional playing of musical excerpts, and discussed the studios, artists, equipment and techniques of the early analog tape days.

While other engineers may have received more publicity, Roy's work stands up to anyone's. Capitol Records' first engineer, he recorded, among others, Nat "King" Cole, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin (including That's Amore ), Peggy Lee, Kay Starr, Jo Stafford, Stan Freberg and the Stan Kenton Band (a louder band than Navy planes, he says).

Later, lured to Contemporary Records, he worked on many jazz classics featuring the likes of Barney Kessel, Ray Brown, Shelly Manne, Art Pepper, Andr Previn, Leroy Vinnegar, Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman, Bob Cooper, Curtis Counce, Teddy Edwards, Victor Feldman, and Hampton Hawes.

Conrad worked in AV retail management for many years, then writing for CD Review, Downbeat, Stereophile, & Jazz Times. He became curious about the great sounding classic albums done by this Roy DuNann fellow in the credits. He searched for Roy, and finally found him in Bothell, WA - not far from Tom's home! This meeting led to the Stereophile article.

The Way Out West track from Sonny Rollins (1957) was played, one of the most famous jazz albums made and reissued on about every format known.

Roy told of his early years, becoming an amateur radio operator, or ham, in junior high school. He fiddled with electronics, then enlisted in the Navy before Pearl Harbor. He was sent to London to learn the newfangled radar systems, serving with the British Navy as an American sailor. Upon returning to the states, he went to Hollywood to settle down, working for a Motorola distributor, a "ham" radio-type store. A customer looking for recording equipment offered him a job at Capitol Records' Quality Control department, testing record players that Capitol sold. Packard Bell was making the phonographs for Capitol and they needed a lot of QC inspection. He did this for 8 months. At the time, Capitol had not built their tower, had no studios, but had just acquired a new Ampex tape recorder and Scully disc cutting lathe. He became involved in building new studios and did recordings there for years. Some of this was recording to discs, until tape came along.

Tennessee Ernie Ford's Sixteen Tons (1955) was played. Roy told some anecdotes of recording and editing on disc recordings, then making 78 rpm masters for production. In those days, the engineer did everything, from setting up the chairs to cleaning up afterwards.

Roy met Lester Koenig as a customer of Capitol, where he did recordings for Lester's Goodtime Jazz label. Roy had a run-in with Capitol's head of disc pressing, and went to work for Lester at Contemporary Records. Roy said he liked Lester's country and Dixieland recordings, later warming up to the modern jazz he would showcase so well.

By 1956, Roy was charged with building the Contemporary Records recording facility - in their shipping room. He also designed their disc cutting facility. Contemporary did have some state of the art equipment for the time, with Ampex tape recorders, a stereo Westrex lathe, and AKG and Neumann mikes. Microphone output levels were high and went right into their mixer, making a clean and simple signal path.

Next the 1959 track, Greensleeves was played, from the Contemporary Records "Folk Jazz" album arranged by and featuring Bill Smith on clarinet, recorded by Roy.

Smith, now a retired University of Washington Emeritus Professor of Music, gave some of his recollections of those days and got reacquainted with Roy for the first time in decades. Bill was teaching at USC, and Lester Koenig asked him for a jazz piece to showcase the new long playing LP format. Smith decided he would write a divertimento that would feature Red Norvo on vibes, Bill on clarinet, Barney Kessel on guitar, Red Mitchell on bass, Shelly Manne on drums, and Buddy Collette on alto flute. Bill went on to do five albums at Contemporary with Roy engineering. He recalled the warehouse-cum-studio being spartan, but with Roy still able to get a marvelous sound. Close miking and some baffles were used, and the ladies room got pressed into service as an echo chamber.

After a break, door prizes were won by:
AKG headphones, courtesy Opus 4: Kevin McCarthy
100 blank CD-Rs, courtesy Opus 4: Doug Haire
Mackie bag, courtesy Bob Moses: Dan Droz
AES 123rd convention exhibitor directory: Bob Gudgel, Stuart Hallerman

The evening reconvened with some discussion of album reissues and reverb. Originally, reverb (in most cases, an EMT plate) was added when the disc masters were made, not on the tapes. Some reissues only copied the tape, with no reverb!

Tom quoted some of the accolades others said about Roy's recording from his Stereophile article, including this from recording and mastering engineer Bernie Grundman: "Roy did a lot for this industry. He showed us all how good it could be. His best recordings are not just good for their era. They are some of the best-sounding recordings of all time."

Some concluding audience questions included remarks on early stereo panning; balancing the instruments; knowing the solos; the old equipment; getting recordings out fast; hearing loss (Roy now wears hearing aids); mixing on the fly; building your own equipment; piano recording; Andr Previn recordings; his days after Contemporary in Phoenix, then at A&M Records in Hollywood as a maintenance engineer; drum kit recording; the bad work hours; and old vs. new engineers.

The evening finished by playing Sonny Rollins from his Airegin album (Nigeria spelled backwards).

It was a remarkable evening with a remarkable man.

Gary Louie, PNW Section Secretary


Recordings copyright © 2007 by the Audio Engineering Society Inc. All rights reserved.
mp3 #1 (24mb) 
mpe #2 (12mb) 
The Stereophile Article  that started it all.

Last modified 04/28/2013 12:00:28.