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Streisand At the Vanguard

RARE PERFORMANCE SHOWCASES AN INTIMATE SOUND, NEW ALBUM 11/01/2009 7:00 AM Eastern

Streisand performed for an elite audience at the Village Vanguard.

Mix magazine's behind-the-scenes access to Barbra Streisand's performance at the Village Vanguard came from Jim Flynn, whose Jim Flynn Rentals (JFR) provided most of the equipment used to capture the concert. After 15 years in business, serving many of New York City's big-name studios, JFR is also the audio resource for ABC-TV's Good Morning America program and numerous other broadcast/recording events.
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In 1961, Barbra Streisand took the stage at the Village Vanguard, Max Gordon's once-eclectic music club in New York City's Greenwich Village that had gone all-jazz four years earlier. It was an audition for Gordon, set up by a mutual friend who also managed to coax Miles Davis and his group to back her. Gordon was reportedly unimpressed. Two years later, Streisand's debut album won two Grammy Awards.

At the time, Streisand was building a reputation in the Village as a rising star on the scene, singing in clubs like The Lion and The Bon Soir. Forty-eight years later, Streisand is now the Number One best-selling female recording artist in history, with 50 Gold, 30 Platinum and 13 multi-Platinum albums, and a slew of Grammy, Emmy, Oscar, Tony and Golden Globe Awards. In recent years, Streisand's concerts have filled arenas, but on a warm evening last September, 120 or so people crammed themselves into the Village Vanguard — now one of New York City's most venerable jazz venues — to hear Streisand celebrate the release of Love Is the Answer, her new album of jazz standards and classics.

There to capture this singular event was Jim Flynn, Streisand's executive producer/A&R liaison Jay Landers, and engineer/mixers Dave Reitzas and Isaiah Abolin. Flynn supplied most of the recording gear through his company and had also scouted the club with Abolin for several months leading up to the show, choosing equipment and plotting cable runs. Abolin, whose discography ranges from the two most recent Mars Volta albums to cast recordings of The Little Mermaid and West Side Story, had been suggested to Landers (also an executive producer and A&R executive for Bette Midler) a couple of months earlier through a mutual friend. Reitzas, whose work on live and studio recordings with Streisand since 1993 has earned 10 Grammy Award nominations — and who is well-known for his work with artists including Madonna, Andrea Bocelli, Celine Dion, Natalie Cole and Ricky Martin — came onboard closer to show time. Two assistant engineers, Derik Lee and Jesse Singer, were also on the crew.

“Old-Time” Microphone

The team recorded to a Digidesign Pro Tools HD3 system, backing everything up to a Tascam X-48 hard disk recorder using a 100-foot 32-channel snake that ran from stage boxes in the club to an All Mobile Video trailer shell that they would use as the remote control room. “We wanted to keep all the cable runs to a minimum to avoid degrading the signal,” says Flynn, who prefers to keep cable runs between mic pre's and recording system under two meters. “One main concern was having a home run directly from [Streisand's] microphone to a separate splitter.”

Inside the club, Flynn, Abolin and Reitzas conferred on microphone choices. Reitzas brought with him an Audio-Technica AE5400 handheld condenser mic. “I did the recording for Barbra's 1994, 2000 and 2006 concerts, and the FOH mixer had been using a Sennheiser microphone with a Neumann capsule in it, but I always had a problem with it in terms of rejection, and this gig was going to be in a very small club with her right in there with the musicians,” Reitzas explains. “So for this show, I decided to use something else, and the 5400 sounded nice and full, with great presence and good rejection qualities. No leakage at all.” Flynn adds that the choice of a wired vocal microphone was deliberate. “It was part of re-creating the 1960s ambience of the club,” he says. Streisand actually commented on it from stage during the show, referring to it as an “old-time wired microphone.”

Abolin chose eight Millennia HD-3V mic pre's, in part for their sound and because they could be easily stacked, as well as the fact that they could send a split of the signal to the Mackie 1604 mixer that would be used to make a stereo mix to be sent to two channels of the Pro Tools rig and to the video crew's cameras. The All Mobile Video unit was quite cramped, but at least it presented an isolated space where the team could monitor the recording; an earlier plan was to try to record from the club itself, whose sound booth Flynn described as “a closet.” “The remote unit was small, so we knew there was no chance of having a real console to sit behind, but at least I would be out of the club and off of headphones,” Abolin says.

Jim Flynn, of Jim Flynn Rentals, provided equipment.

Jim Flynn, of Jim Flynn Rentals, provided equipment.

Reitzas also brought along his Brauner VM1, which was used on the acoustic bass, along with a clipped-on DPA 4061. On drums, a pair of Audio-Technica AT4060s was used for overheads, AE3000s on the toms and an AT4041 for the bottom of the snare. The baby grand was miked with a pair of AKG 414s.

The live nature of the recording and the intimacy of the club's interior meant that the engineers also put a lot of emphasis on audience mics. Reitzas, Abolin and Flynn agreed on a pair each of Schoeps MK 2s and MK 4s, hanging on stereo bars over the seating area. Reitzas also stuck an Audio-Technica PZM boundary microphone to one of the walls. “I'll usually use that on the floor in front of the drum kit, but it worked well bringing more of the audience in,” he says.

Processing was fairly minimal. Reitzas brought along four channels of NTI PreQ3 that were used sparingly on the snare, the overhead drum mics and Streisand's microphone. As the show went on, Reitzas added a touch of reverb from a Bricasti M7. “I'd cut it in between songs when she was talking,” he says.

The Unexpected Mix

The show was intended to herald Streisand's return to her cabaret roots, but the audio recording and a high-definition video of the event would serve various purposes, the most immediate of which was to get promotional video clips of the performance to media outlets, including the CBS Morning Show, YouTube and AOL music channels. To that end, Flynn had set up a mix room in a suite at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, with a second 16 I/O Pro Tools HD system ready to run, as well as a Big Ben word clock, a Dangerous Music summing box, the Bricasti M7 reverb unit hooked up via AES, and an SSL stereo compressor and GML 8200 parametric EQ on the sum outputs of the Dangerous, with a Benchmark DAC1 for monitoring the mix. Reitzas and Abolin sped uptown in separate cabs to the Waldorf carrying the hard drives and the same Genelec 8050 monitors used in the remote unit. “We had a new Mac Pro with tons of memory for handling plug-ins and the Waves Diamond bundle, which we used to remove some of the noise in the bass and guitar DI boxes,” says Abolin. Other plug-ins included Brainworx EQ and Altiverb.

The plan was to mix in the box, which they began doing around midnight. But around 3 a.m., word came that CBS needed the footage sooner than expected. “Like, ‘now,’” Reitzas recalls. They realized they would have to go with the live mix done through the 1604 mixer. However, it now seems, that was where the magic had been waiting all along. “I printed a version [of the live mix] and listened to it against the video, and it was perfect just as it was,” says Reitzas, reliving the intensity of sitting in the tightly confined remote truck, intently watching Streisand perform on a small video monitor as his fingers subtly responded on the Mackie's faders. “The process of recording, to me, is always filled with emotion. We're not recording just to do a mix later on. What goes down at that moment should be great when it goes down. Some of the best mixes I've ever done were rough mixes. The reason a rough mix always trumps a regular mix is that it comes right from the heart.”

Forty-eight years is a long time between club gigs, but Streisand pulled it off brilliantly, as the recording illustrates. “As fate would have it, when she did that audition four decades ago, she didn't get the gig,” says Jay Landers. “So now, as The Beatles say at the end of Let It Be, last week she finally passed the audition.”


Dan Daley is a journalist and author. He lives in Nashville and New York.