Photo: Sam Jones
Jazz isn't the first genre that comes to mind when one thinks of beautiful and intense light shows, Plexiglas stage risers, music stands that dynamically display sheet music on flat-panel monitors, a Wi-Fi network for backstage Internet access or a digital front-of-house console that remembers every audio parameter and can be fully reset between songs. But then again, Harry Connick Jr. is no ordinary jazz artist.
A consummate singer, pianist and entertainer who likes to push the envelope of performance and technology, Connick and his live sound crew have upped the ante for the artist's latest road jaunt by embracing an all-digital audio path based around a DiGiCo D5 console. Mix caught up with the tour in mid-May 2004.
Pictured (front row, L-R): Ted Jonas and Gregg Rubin. Back row (L-R): Mike Wenning, Alan Alford and Randy Cole
At the center of the audio team is Gregg Rubin, Connick's live and studio engineer with a career-long affinity for analog technology — and a burning curiosity to explore the digital domain. Rubin had been happy with the setup on Connick's previous tour, which was centered on a Midas XL4 console. However, he and the rest of the audio crew reached a point where the high-tech orientation of the show warranted a new look at the console configuration. Plus, given the sonic benefits of stageside mic pre's with a MADI link to FOH, the decision to go with one thin fiber-optic cable instead of hundreds of feet of analog snake was easy.
“The difference has been awesome,” Rubin says. “There's virtually no extraneous noise from any of the mics. We haven't had to track down a hum since the beginning of the tour.”
The D5 also offers space savings over a comparable analog board and the preamp racks are onstage. All of the effects processing — expect for Tube-Tech CL-1B compressors (vocals) and XTA DP-226s (crossovers, house EQ and delays) — takes place in the console. “We've gone down to two racks at the mix position from five.”
The D5 also offers an unprecedented level of control. “You can create a selective snapshot of any or all of the mix parameters so you can change only the effects or only the gates, for instance, without affecting anything else on the board,” Rubin explains. “With a jazz band, you don't want to rely too heavily on presets because you have to be ready to react to the spontaneity of the band, but sometimes you could use a little help.”
Rubin makes extensive use of the D5's delay architecture: “The abundance of delays on inputs and groups allows for a certain degree of time alignment: tightening up the horn section, making up for the fact that there will be bleed when you're talking about a dynamic big band, even with fairly close-miking.”
Rubin also uses the D5's delays when making a reference CD of each show. “The stereo mix is delayed to a [Shure] VP88 [stereo mic] at the mix position, pointed to the stage. The stereo bus and mic signals are mixed and sent down a stereo aux to the burner. The delay allows me to keep the mic level fairly high — depending on my distance to the stage and the acoustics of the room — with minimal time slur.”
Connick's touring rig employs a JBL VerTec Series line array with Lab.gruppen amplification, a Midas XL4 monitor console (which was previously used for FOH), and EAW 850 and SM200 stage monitors, Galaxy Audio Hot Spots and Crown amps. This lineup helps Rubin achieve his ultimate goal: “You just want the band to sound larger than life.”
Mics include Neumann KK105 wireless (with Sennheiser SKM5000 N RF system) and Neumann KMS105 wired units for vocals; Shure KSM32s and Schertler pickups for piano; Neumann KM185s and Electro-Voice RE-20s for bass; Neumann KM184s and Shure Beta 52s, Beta 98s and SM57s for drums; Neumann TLM193s for saxes; Neumann TLM127s for trombones; Royer R-122s for trumpets; and Sennheiser MKE-4, Audio Technica ATM-35s and Shure Beta 98HC for instrument RFs.
Besides Rubin, the crew comprises monitor engineer/production manager Ted Jonas (of Jonas Productions), audio crew chief/stage manager Alan Alford, audio system tech Randy Cole and monitor tech Mike Wenning.