AES Section Meeting Reports

Pacific Northwest - November 27, 2007

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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, chance circumstances 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 capacity 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 five 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 Record's 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, André Previn, Leroy Vinnegar, Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman, Bob Cooper, Curtis Counce, Teddy Edwards, Victor Feldman, and Hampton Hawes.

Roy told of his early years, and how he got a job at Capitol Records in the Quality Control department, testing record players that Capitol made and sold. Ultimately, Roy advanced to the recording studio as an engineer, later going to work for Lester Koenig and Contemporary Records.

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.

Bill 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 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.

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."

The evening finished with questions & answers, and by playing Sonny Rollins from his Airegin album (Nigeria spelled backwards).

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