I will always have a soft spot for the TEC Awards. They’re now the NAMM TEC Awards, and they’ve grown in size, stature and production values since the NAMM Foundation acquired the show from the TEC Foundation (and Mix magazine) a few years back. NAMM has done a fantastic job in expanding the event, and I still love going each year. But to me, they’ll always simply be the TEC Awards, alternating between the Marriott Marquis in midtown Manhattan and the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, on the Saturday night of AES.
My first TEC Awards was in 1989. I remember because it was my first full year as an editor at Mix, and I flew from San Francisco to JFK two days after the 7.1 Loma Prieta earthquake, and then cabbed it to the Marriott Marquis, just in time for the show. I was a spectator that night. But from that point on I was in the inner circle, and I loved every bit of it.
I would help George Petersen manage the nomination process back in the office; help Karen Dunn with the program book, and Karen and Jane Byer on any and all logistics that came up; help write promo and marketing copy with Hillel Resner; and help write the script with Mix co-founder David Schwartz and Mix editor Blair Jackson. I would watch and learn as Jeff Turner wheeled in the sponsors.
Then, on the day of the show, I was allowed to shed my editor duties on the show floor and spend the day at the technical setup, rehearsal and run-through.
I would liaise with the show producer Rick xxxxxx and watch the amazing Larry Batiste work out the cues while conducting the smokin’ hot 2 Cold Chili Bone TEC Band. And, on the night of the show, I would stay in constant touch with Karen Dunn to find and escort the presenters, manage the stage wearing a tuxedo and a Clear-Com, and take care of the teleprompter, emcee and the awards themselves. Sometimes my dear friend Joanne Zola helped out backstage. It was a heckuva lot of fun.
Over the years I’ve been to good shows and so-so shows, nights that stretched to four painful hours and nights where the three hours flew by. I’ve heard all the grumblings about it being rigged (it’s not) and I’ve seen boutique manufacturers slay Goliath in a Mic Preamp category. It’s not an editor’s-choice event. From the beginning, the nominations were by committee, and the voting was opened to all qualified readers of Mix. But the thing that impressed me most, in all those years of working behind the scenes, is how committed each and everyone who worked on TEC was to the founding principle of Technical Excellence & Creativity.
Which brings me to this year’s NAMM TEC Awards and the Hall of Fame presentation to Leslie Ann Jones. Few people in recording epitomize the pursuit of technical excellence and creativity like Leslie. Her background is well-documented—the daughter of composer Spike Jones and singer Helen Grayco, the early years in the Bay Area under the tutelage of Wally Heider, David Rubinson and the gang at the Automatt. Then on to Captitol and then her current stretch as director of recording at Skywalker Sound. She first recorded Herbie Hancock back in San Francisco; he gave a wonderful tribute speech leading up to her induction speech.
And Leslie gave a marvelous speech. She thanked her father, her mother (who was in the audience), those who gave her a start and those who taught her along the way. She was gracious and she was inspiring, revealing a career path that wasn’t always easy, but that she seized at every moment—except for that one time where she had a tennis date and shocked the studio manager by turning down a last-minute Saturday gig; her point being, she also knew the importance of living a well-balanced life. She felt blessed, she said, echoing Hamilton, to have been in the room where it happens, throughout her career.
So there I was on a Saturday night in late January 2019 at the TEC Awards, watching Leslie Ann on stage. Through the years I had been backstage for Sir George Martin, Brian Wilson, Phil Spector, Stevie Wonder, Neil Young, Tom Dowd, Al Schmitt and so many others. Legends all. And my friend Leslie Ann belongs right there with them. It’s different when someone you know gets a Hall of Fame Award. I had to dab my eyes throughout the speech, because I admire all sides of Leslie Ann.
She has exquisite taste in music, art, food, wine and culture, and she maintains a backpacker/activist’s approach to life and what truly matters. She volunteers in her community, she serves on national boards and she has, just by being herself, become a role model for now two generations of women entering the world of music and recording. She’s also one of the top engineers and producers on the planet. She’s been a neighbor and friend in Oakland for more than a couple decades. She’s one of my heroes.
Congratulations, Leslie Ann. I’m proud to be your friend.