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Superstar Quartet at SFJAZZ Center

Bobby Hutcherson, David Sanborn, Billy Hart, Joey DeFrancesco In Concert

From left: Joey DeFrancesco, Bobby Hutcherson, Billy Hart, David Sanborn

Photo: Scott Chernis

In late February Mix caught an inspired concert in SFJAZZ Center’s Miner Auditorium (profiled in Mix’s April 2013 issue), presented by vibraphonist and NEA Jazz Master Bobby Hutcherson, saxophonist David Sanborn, organist Joey DeFrancesco and drummer Billy Hart. Billed as the Superstar Quartet, the four musicians enraptured the audience with original songs from their forthcoming album on Blue Note Records, Enjoy The View, due to be released on June 24.

Visiting front-of-house engineer Steve Guest, who came to work with the Superstar Quartet by way of his experience with Sanborn, mixed his second set of shows in the venue one year after his first visit. “This is a great place to do a jazz show—one of the best in the world,” he says.

Audio engineer Masanori Yura, a 2009 Grammy Award winner for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album, is SFJAZZ Center’s head audio engineer and works with visiting engineers. “This is an easy room to mix, but also an easy room to mess up,” Yura laughs, “because you can hear everything. Of course, it is important to produce a quality sound and balanced mix, but mixing at the right volume is [just] as crucial, and I think that Steve was right on it and did a great job maintaining the comfortable level, still powerful enough to feel the energy from the stage. We don’t want the audience to listen to the P.A. [which is a Meyer Sound system]. We want the audience to listen to the music as all the sound coming from the stage. Keep it organic!”

Guest adds, “There are many times during the show when there are hardly any microphones open other than the vibe mics, because it’s predominantly acoustic. I only fill in some holes. Dave is usually in the P.A. The vibes are always in the P.A. The drums and the Leslie mics [a pair of KM 184s] come up and down, depending on how dynamic the song is.

“The room is so nice, acoustically, I’m not really putting a full mix up in the P.A.,” Guest continues. “If someone’s focus is what’s coming out of there [the loudspeakers], as opposed to what’s coming from there [the stage], then I think that’s wrong. Your focus should always be there [the stage]. It’s almost like I shouldn’t be heard, which is counterintuitive! I want the sound system to go away, to disappear, and you’re just listening to a band play. It’s not completely like that, but that’s what you shoot for. And if you get close to it I think people enjoy themselves more because they’re just taking in the music and they’re not listening to a sound system. It’s a better illusion!” [Laughs]

From left: Joey DeFrancesco, Billy Hart, Bobby Hutcherson, David Sanborn

Photo: Scott Chernis

“The [overall] sound was mixed around a pair of [Neumann] KM184s on vibraphone that was set up as X/Y configuration above the instrument,” Yura explains. “Steve dialed in to keep the balance and dynamics maintained, and still produced articulate sound.”

Guest says that the X/Y configuration is “more coherent because the arrival time for everything is in one spot. My approach was to get the vibes sounding as good as I could get them to sound by themselves and then fill in the rest of the band. You have to start with the vibes because they’re the hardest to reproduce.”

Guest notes that Sanborn plays into a Shure SM98 miniature electret condenser microphone housed in a custom-built mount that was originally designed for the trumpet. “It’s quite bright because of the way the clamp clips onto the belt,” Guest says. “Normally, the more modern horn microphones clip to the edge of the bell flange and aim into the bell. This thing goes straight down the barrel, so it’s quite bright, and part of my exercise is to soften and warm that up. And he’s been using that ever since I’ve known him—same clip, same microphone.”

Sanborn also recently adopted in-ear monitors and mixes them on a PreSonus StudioLive digital mixer by his side onstage. “His sax mic hits a Y-cable: one leg goes directly to his mixer, so his sax is always consistent,” Guest says. “Every time he puts his ear monitors in, it’s the same, because it really doesn’t go through the monitor desk. So he gets hit directly. The other leg of the Y-cable goes to the P.A. system, which does go to the monitor desk and [FOH], like any other microphone. But he always gets his sax in his ears. Then the monitor desk feeds some stems to his mixer, and he can make his own mix for his ear monitors.”

Guest mixed the show on SFJAZZ Center’s Avid Venue Profile console, while SFJAZZ stage technician Martin Carmona handled monitor duties on the Center’s SC48. “I don’t want to carry a whole lot of gear, so I try to use stock plug-ins,” Guest says. “I can usually get what I need out of a compressor by manipulating the attack/release sidechains, and the same thing with gates: I use the sidechains. Other than that, it would be more types of effects processing, which I probably would like. If I could carry around my own reverb, it would be the [Bricasti] M1. If I’m presented with a particular audio problem, I can usually solve it with what’s in [the console]. If I need a bigger voodoo than that, I’ve got other problems.”