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An Interview with Teo Macero
An Interview with Teo Macero
Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew," producer, Teo Macero, worked with Miles longer than any other person associated with Miles' recording career, and played an extremely important role in the final product that came out of the Bitches Brew sessions. Miles Davis' most successful electric fusion recording, "Bitches Brew," was created over the course of three days in August of 1969. Bitches Brew sold close to half a million copies when it came out when most successful jazz recordings were selling between 12,000 and 30,000 copies. It was by far the most successful jazz recording of that or any other time. It was also one of the most controversial recordings of all times as it completely polarized the jazz audience. The record's producer, Teo Macero, worked with Miles longer than any other person associated with Miles' recording career. He also played an extremely important role in the final product that came out of the Bitches Brew sessions.

Bobby Jackson—(whispering) Hey Teo, Teo Macero…

Teo Macero—(whispering) Yeah, what you want baby?

BJ—Welcome to Jazz Tracks.

TM—Yeah, well this is Miles. I┐m back from the dead. I never went away.

BJ—How are you, man?

TM—I┐m ok—I┐m alive. I think Miles must still be alive too because of the way everybody is still playing his music. But it┐s a shame that he has to die and everybody says ┐Oh my, this guy was really a genius.┐ He was a genius back in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. I mean, it┐s the year 2001.

BJ—Absolutely. Well we can all say we are blessed to be here. I understand that you were hired as a tape editor and eventually became Miles┐ primary producer.

TM—That┐s right.

BJ—Can you tell us about the work you did before your association with Miles?

TM—Well, I was a music editor for CBS for about 8 or 9 months. I was working with a lot of major artists: (Leonard) Bernstein, lots of classical people, jazz people, Michel Legrand. I was doing all the editing. In those days the musician, the artist wasn┐t even allowed in the editing room. Only when he came back and we┐d play him the master tape. That was it. If he didn┐t like it then we would have to go back in and do it again. But then I was doing very well. I was making about 18,000 bucks a year and that was in the late 50s, early 60s. That was a lot of money.

BJ—That┐s a lot of money to some people now.

TM—That┐s true and so they offered me a job as a producer. Irving Townsend and Mitch Miller said would you like to come down and be a producer. I had been playing around with Mingus and Monk even though I was the music editor at Columbia. I said, ┐Yeah, what does it pay?┐ He said, ┐Seventy-five hundred dollars┐. I said I┐d take the job, so I took a cut in salary. And I said, ┐Yeah, that┐s what I would really like to do.┐ In about a year I was making $20-25,000. I had an unlimited expense account that wouldn┐t quit and I had a lot of major artists. I had Miles and (Dave) Brubeck. Brubeck was the first one I did, and then Miles. I had Duke and J.J. Johnson, Lambert Hendricks & Ross. I worked with Mahalia Jackson. I worked with Thelonius Monk and all the great people at Columbia.

BJ—That┐s amazing. Your initial experience in the studio in editing came out of your time spent at Juilliard. How different was that experience in comparison with your time at Columbia?

TM—Well it was more academic at Juilliard and I worked in the acoustic department for 75 cents per hour, so I had a lot of experience. Then I made my own, produced my first record with Mingus on the Debut label… 1950. I think it was ┐52 or ┐53. I was doing experimental things even at Juilliard at the time like recording my tracks and then taking a track and then coming back and playing it back on another turntable. Over dubbing it because in those days we only had acetate. Every time you did that it kept getting a little slower and slower. So when I did my first date with Charles for the Debut label, we did a lot of over dubbing. One piece was completely over dubbed.

BJ—Which piece was that?

TM—It was called ┐Explorations┐ which is a 12-tone piece with just me playing. I mean that was unheard of in those days, an old saxophone piece. I had the scores written out. I would improvise where I felt I should improvised and then I did that on a thing called… it was one track on that first record that I did for Columbia. Gee, I can┐t even think of the name of the record. I cut and paste the whole piece together and I didn┐t like what I had done so I went up and took it up to the studio. I over dubbed the saxophone alto solo and baritone. I had a lot of chances to experiment with the engineers. It was really wonderful and I became a producer. I had a lot of fun.

BJ—Wow… your first foray into this was for Debut Records with Charles Mingus?

TM—That┐s right. I was working with Charles. We were doing a lot of recordings and concerts together. That was a great experience. Charles was like a brother to me, I used to stay there and eat with him. I would say, ┐ Charles, you know we got to start making some money. I can't live off of 15 dollars a night.┐

BJ—He(Mingus) also loved to spend time in the post-production studio and Miles hated it.

TM—Oh, He didn┐t like that at all.

BJ—Tell me, how much did you learn from seeing the process that a Mingus for instance might bring to an editing room that you were able to apply later on to ┐Bitches Brew┐?

TM—Well, the actual recordings were done there. Any manipulations that I wanted to do, I could do later on. It was very difficult to do it at the time until you had the final track. It was just part of my training as Juilliard as a composer and experimenting. I had them invent some equipment for me at CBS, which I used for Miles┐ record. That┐s why I don┐t like what they┐ve done to the reissues. They said ┐Well look, we were trying to approximate it, but they don┐t have the same equipment which I have in my possession. The inventions that were made, I have them now. I bought them from Columbia.

BJ—So why didn┐t they get you to do this instead of Bob Belden?

TM—Well, they didn┐t want me to touch the tapes. They wanted me to supervise it. I said, ┐What does that mean?┐ They said nothing. They didn┐t want me to touch the tapes. They didn┐t want me to do the mixing, I said, ┐Look here, I made these records! I know what the hell I┐m doing, you know!┐ I mean you take a look at ┐Jack Johnson┐ and all the other things that we put together. ┐Bitches Brew┐ and ┐In A Silent Way.┐ All the creative editing we did. These artists were never there! Miles was (never) there. He came four times in 29 years or something like that, to the editing room. I would just make it and send it to him. I┐d say, ┐Do you like it Miles?┐ He would say, ┐Yeah I like that Teo. I knew you were going to do that.┐ I would say, ┐Yeah, you knew I was going to do that.┐ He would say, ┐Take that piece out, you know.┐ I would say, ┐Miles, just leave it to me, will you! Jesus Christ! I got a headache!┐ You know there is so much music going on, you expect me to go back and count the bars, and try to figure out where that should go? Just leave it to me and if you don┐t like it, fine! I┐ll do it again.

BJ—What was Miles thinking about when he called his project ┐Bitches Brew┐?

TM—I thought he was kidding.

BJ—You thought he was kidding?

TM—You never knew whether Miles was kidding or not. I never took him too seriously. We got along well. We had some arguments about music in the studio. When he would say he wanted it this way, I said, ┐Fine, I can dig it. Good, let┐s do it. Whatever you want to do… I┐m right there. I┐m right behind you 100%. If those birds at CBS don┐t like it, I┐ll scream bloody murder. And that┐s what I use to have to do! ┐Bitches Brew!┐ Man, we can┐t put that on a record!┐ I said, ┐Look, put that on the record. Miles wants it, I want it, that┐s the way it go. We had as producers almost complete control because the sales people would have to take whatever we gave them. But nowadays, they tell you what they want, which is a mistake. That┐s why music is in such bad shape today.

BJ—Tell me, how did the approach of recording Bitches Brew differ from all the previous sessions that you┐ve done with Miles?

TM—Well, he would bring a sketch in or somebody would bring a sketch in. I never stopped the tape machine. That was the whole thing. I used to go out there and stand right next to him. I didn┐t care about the takes. If it broke down, fine. Some of them I didn┐t number. I just let it roll. This is a job for me later on. Once in awhile I┐d say, That might be take three or maybe it was take one, I don┐t know! We just let it roll. I┐d get it all together and then listen to it. I would say, ┐Hey Miles, I┐ll send you up a little piece of this and see if you like it. I would send him up an acetate or whatever it was and he would listen to it. He┐d say, ┐Yeah ok, and I would make the record.

BJ—A lot of people feel that the splicing of a recording session is anti-jazz because the spontaneity of the creativity is gone. What do you say to people who are critical of that aspect?

TM—Well it┐s just like taking a book. If you┐re a great writer (I don┐t know), like Ernest Hemingway. They all had proofreaders. They all had editors and everything else. If you don┐t want to listen to the editor, that┐s one thing. You can put out a book with all the mistakes in it. You can put out a movie with all of the mistakes in it. You can leave in all of the things you wanted to throw out. But if you had a good editor and a guy that you dug working with, you can communicate with him either verbally or just nodding what ever, that┐s the way it should go. You just can┐t put a record out today or you couldn┐t put a record out even then and have it prefect unless you edited the record. These artists were very careful about what they wanted on their record. That┐s why when they put these reissues out and they put all these out takes and everything else on the great records, it┐s a mistake!

BJ—What do you think about the whole reissue industry? Do you think that it has hurt the industry in any way?

TM—I think so. I think it has hurt the industry in a tremendous way. Because people who bought the original record say the vinyl sounds much better than the CD. They put all the mistakes back in. Sure, it┐s good for the musicians because they can make some more money but the point is that it┐s not good for the artist. The artist don┐t want to put out a thing that is kind of sloppy, Mingus and Monk and Duke; can you imagine Duke Ellington putting out a sloppy record? Believe it, he would be the first to say, ┐Teo, that doesn┐t go.┐ If he didn┐t like something he would object to it and we wouldn┐t do it.

BJ—I would imagine for the completist, this is probably a good thing that we have reissues, but for the artist themselves when you go into a recording studio and you record a project, there are some things that will fall by the way side because they┐re not as good. There are some things that you┐re going to say is a keeper.

TM—There where a lot of times when there was a lot of solo┐s on Miles records. Listen to them. What do you hear? You hear Miles Davis. You don┐t hear fifteen courses of tenor. You don┐t hear fifteen courses of guitar. You don┐t hear fifteen courses of keyboard. You hear Miles! Miles is always there! We are selling Miles. We are not selling Chick Corea at the moment. Sure, some of the stuff might have been good or might not have been good like the ┐Plugged Nickel.┐ There were some things that we put out earlier that were very good. Then we reissue the records with all the mistakes in it. I think it┐s a disservice to the artist. You just can┐t put all that crap back in. I said to them, ┐Look, if you want me to do it (I still have a contract with them) to do it. I don┐t know if it┐s a valid contract with them anymore. I said, ┐What you should do is to take out all these things and make it archival. Put them in a separate record. A companion record. Don┐t destroy the original record. Just leave it as is. Put it out as a companion and sell it for a dollar more or what ever you might want to do. Don┐t try to splice it back into the original because the out takes won┐t sound as good.

BJ—I hear you, it is all about the integrity of the compositions and the musicians. Teo, I heard Bitches Brew when I was fourteen years old, I didn┐t know what it was. The record was given to me by a women who I was in love with (laughing). She said she couldn┐t make heads or tails of the music. I put it on and I couldn┐t figure it out either. I looked at the art work, at the liner notes and noticed the care with which all this was put together. I thought, ┐Maybe I don┐t understand this now but I┐m going to put this away and keep it and come back to it. I spoke with drummer Lenny white a few years ago and he directed me to ┐Spanish Key┐ and it unlocked Bitches Brew for me. Tell me, what was your favorite composition during this session and why?

TM—Gee it┐s hard to say. After I put the records together, I seldom play them. I don┐t think I played that record in fifteen, twenty years?

BJ—Is there any particular anecdote that you can share with us about those sessions?

TM—The fact is, the musicians where bewildered. They didn┐t know what was really happening. You talk to some of them and they┐d say man we didn┐t know what … it┐s like a mystery… we didn┐t even hear the playbacks. There were a lot of times when I wouldn┐t even play it back. And I would say to them, ┐Come on, let┐s go on. I think we got something here and we┐ll work it out later on or whatever.┐ If you talk to some of these guys, they will tell you when they left the studio, they where a little bewildered. Then when they heard it, I think Lenny White was the first who heard it somewhere and said, ┐Oh man! I┐m on that record!┐ It was the way I cut it up. I think I did it as a composer. I did it as Miles would have wanted it done. He didn┐t say I want it cut here, I would say this is fine up to this point. Now we┐re going here. Now we┐re going there. It┐s just like when we finished ┐In A Silent Way. ┐ when we finished editing the record I called up Miles and said, ┐Miles, you got to get your tail down here this is a gigantic job, I got forty-eight reels of two tracks, mixed.

BJ—Forty-eight reels of tapes. Oh my!

TM—It was forty-eight reels. Two piles here. I said, "I'll cut it down." That was one of the rare times he came to the studio. We sat there all day and cut the record down to two reels. On each reel was about 7 1/2 to 8 mins on one side and the other had about 8 or 9 mins. Then Miles got up and said, ┐That┐s my record.┐ I said, ┐Good luck, good luck Charley.┐ I said, ┐You┐re gonna be a laughing stock.┐ They are going to crucify me they will say, ┐Hey, Teo. You must have lost your marbles to let the artist do this. I said, to Miles, ┐Just leave it with me for a couple of days. I┐ll think it over in my head and see what the heck needs to be done.┐

BJ—This music during this time period was so different, than anything ever. Did you think that this record would have the kind of impact on music today that it has had?

TM—I thought that Miles┐ music would have a lot of impact just like Duke had a lot of impact. So did Monk and so did Mingus. These artists were just great and I knew that they had a lot to offer, because I was with them all the time. When I finished with those two reels from the day with Miles all the cutting, I used the same material over and over again on the first side. I did the second side the same way. It became ┐In A Silent Way.┐ And you say, geeze, how was this done? Even Joe Zawinul never to this day thanked me for it, but it ok. And now they┐re going back and reissue all the crap that was there and I think that it is a disservice to Miles. This is the way he wanted it. He didn┐t want anymore. That was it! When we did Bitches Brew there was a lot of stuff that was thrown out. Cut out of the master. And I said if this is what he wants, this is what he is going to get!

BJ—Its kind of ironic and also interesting to me, that Miles would accuse John Coltrane of playing too much; not knowing how to edit himself. Yet in the late 60s and early 70s he not only made these long extended compositions, of course in his own minimalist style, it took up complete sides of the albums (not to mention making two record sets which where more expensive to purchase and really not popular in those days).

TM—Well, there should have done some editing done, I think the records would have been much better. I listen to some of the early Trane things now. I have to go back and listen to a couple of them. There should have been some editing done but I don┐t think the producers were capable of doing it. I just don┐t think they had the ability to convince the artist that this is bad. It┐s okay but I can make it better. It┐s like rephrasing or something like an editor would do a book or a motion picture. A producer would do that. I think there┐s a lot of things that Trane could have done a lot better. In fact even today when you listen to the records and you hear these guys playing fifteen choruses you say what for? When you get back to the 78s and the 45s, that was really a great barometer for the artist. When they played eight bars or when Parker played a course of twelve bars you knew it! I mean it was fantastic!

BJ—I think the technology was driving the artistic thing that was happening with the musicians. I know in the beginning, you could only get about three minutes on a complete side. Therefore, the editing process in terms of the compositions had to be tailored to the technology. Once the technology became better, the musicians got out of control. Would you say that?

TM—Absolutely, because now they want to be not only the performer, they want to be the engineer, the director, the arranger. They want to do the whole thing. When they do that with me I just walk out. I say, ┐You don┐t need me. Do what you want to do. If you want to play fifteen choruses of that and it sounds like hell, that┐s up to you.┐ I mean listen to these records coming out and there are some wonderful moments in them but then there┐s other times when it just dies. And you think why do that. I don┐t think most of us are capable of composing enough music or playing enough music to capture us for twenty minutes. Unless it is a visual thing. If you see someone on stage or on TV that┐s a little different. There┐s a lot of emotional things going on between the visual and the ears.

BJ—It┐s is a different kind of energy. I have always thought that it┐s nice that we have all these recordings, but it is always a great thing to go to a concert and see the music being brewed. You┐ve worked with Miles longer than anyone else.

TM—About 29 years beginning in 1959. I think I did the first record before ┐So What.┐ I also did some experimental things with him and Leonard Bernstein on a thing called ┐What Is Jazz┐ and there was a record after that I produced the ┐Kind of Blue┐ album and on and on. Even the ┐Kind of Blue┐ album. They went back and put in the alternate tracks. It┐s not right.

BJ—You really have a problem with that. There was a speed correction also done to the mastering.

TM—Yeah I know that. It┐s like they were criticizing me. Miles didn┐t object to it. Gil (Evans) didn┐t object to it. The musicians didn┐t object to it. It was some body at Columbia that said they discovered it. Now if you listen to the original its much better it┐s a better groove.

BJ—Do you think that the technology today, the recording process… I can imagine that you think it┐s better? Digital versus analog?

TM—No. Absolutely not, because you don┐t have the same harmonic structure that you had in the old analog. It┐s just not the same. We┐re all forced to use it, but I don┐t like it. I just went to Europe and I came back. I was over there getting a lifetime achievement award. (That┐s something they wouldn┐t even give me here. I had to go to Europe to be recognized) But anyway over there what they┐re buying is all the old analog records. They want the originals even though there┐s a little hiss and some crackle because there┐s magic! You put on an old analog record and compare it to a CD. Adjust the levels and you will hear that the analog is much better.

BJ—I know for me just a lay person listener and not being an engineer, but for me when I listen to an analog recording my albums, I will not get rid of my albums because it seems to be an airiness around the sound that you don┐t really pick up on a CD.

TM—Absolutely, that┐s right it is because of the frequency. The frequency responses are are a lot different. I remember when they first informed us of CD┐s at CBS. They called me in to listen to it, and to see if I liked it. I said, ┐Yeah, I like it, it┐s nice and quite but It ain┐t happening for me. It┐ too tight. You have to mix it a little differently. That┐s why my records I think if you listen by CD┐s they are mixed differently there not mixed like a regular CD. I┐m treating it like the old analog. What we use to do is if something didn┐t work they would put something on a card saying at two minutes in, we have to add a little more bass, we have to add this and that. Every track would be different. These things would be constant. On the other hand, when you listen to a CD it┐s just not the same. They don┐t take the pains of the equalizing. They figure that its all going to come out in the mix, well it doesn┐t, It doesn┐t at all.

BJ—Well I tell you what, just because it┐s old doesn┐t mean it┐s bad. Just because it┐s new, doesn┐t mean it┐s better.

TM—Absolutely right!

BJ—Teo, I would really like to have you back again, and I would really like to explore your music the stuff you┐ve done post-Miles Davis. Would you do that for us?

TM—Absolutely. I would be glad to.

BJ—And thank you so much for sharing your insights and your opinions about technology and the new technology. It┐s all good.

TM—I┐m sure a lot of people don┐t think I know what I┐m talking about but my ears tell me differently.

BJ—Well, you were there… HELLO!

TM—Hello there. Thank you Bobby.

BJ—You┐re welcome.