He worked with big bands and small ensembles; played clarinet and recorded raucous guitar; headed up small, tight-knit TV audio crews and large, film-style videogame teams. In a music and recording career that spanned 50-plus years, Murray Allen saw and heard it all. He passed away January 19 in his San Francisco home. He was 76 years old.
Born and raised in Chicago, Allen was playing piano by age 6 and clarinet by 8. When he was 13, he was being paid to play music, though his academic interests leaned toward physics. At 16, he fronted his own band with a regular gig at the Morraine Hotel in Chicago; after high school, he enrolled at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Those two threads — music and science — would remain in balance throughout his life, the former tapping his creative side, the latter making him one of the recording industry's foremost problem-solvers.
As a player, he performed with the likes of Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and Stevie Wonder. As an engineer, he recorded Ramsey Lewis, Stan Kenton, Steve Allen, Duke Ellington and hundreds of others. In the early 1970s, he became president of Universal Recording in Chicago and brought in a string of major recording and post-production projects during the next decade and a half. At its peak, Universal employed just over 400 people. Imagine that in today's climate.
Allen led many other audio lives during the years: president of SPARS, director of the groundbreaking audio in the Grammy telecasts, head of audio for leading videogame designer Electronic Arts. As one Mix writer said, “Murray never looked for ways to make what he did look good; Murray looked for ways to make any project the best it could be.” That's a fitting tribute to anyone who worked a life in audio.
With assistance from SPARS, a few thoughts on Murray Allen:
“Murray had forgotten more about the recording industry than a lot of people who are in it today know. Somehow I can hear Murray saying to God, “You can't record a choir that way; here, let me show you how.” Murray Allen: good musician, good recordist, great guy. — Mike King, Audio Recording Unlimited
“Murray was responsible for one of the happiest days of my life when he offered me my first job in recording at Universal Recording in 1975. The pro audio community has felt a large drop-out with the loss of Murray Allen.” —Bob Bennett
“I recall early contacts with Murray when he hosted our students as interns and entry-level employees at Universal Recording and at EA, and his continued contributions to conferences, conventions, seminars and workshops for the AES. He was always available, and genuinely concerned with the training and development of qualified students.” — Roy Pritts, University of Colorado at Denver
“Murray had an appreciation for great things, without compromise, and respect for those who ‘got it done.’ I'll never forget my last visit to EA. I noticed a trumpet on Murray's table. Being a trumpet player, I asked about it. He told me that he played the lead on ‘Tequila.’ Murray's legend lives on in more ways than one.” — Phil Wagner, SSL president
“I interviewed Murray for his position at EA. I instantly knew he was the right man for the job; what I didn't know was how much I would come to love and respect him as a person, friend and even as a ‘second father.’ He was always the first one in the office, doing side gigs and constantly traveling the world. It seemed like most people half his age also had half his energy. ” — Don Veca, audio development director, Electronic Arts
“A pioneer, a true pro and a class act. I have fond memories of our conversations over the years, unique insights peppered with war stories and a scamp's sense of humor. He will be greatly missed.” — David Schwartz, Mix co-founder
“We lost a great friend in Murray. Besides being extremely skilled in the art, science and business of recording, he was a gifted storyteller. I will miss the ‘good old days’ of having a drink with Murray and talking about life in and out of the recording business.” — Steve Lawson, Friendly Voice
“He was always contemporary no matter how many years he spent in our business. He always pushed himself and everyone around him to explore new frontiers, always striving for excellence. He was also a committed volunteer, having spent many years contributing his time and talent to the Recording Academy and SPARS, among others. Every time I saw Murray, I learned something new.”
— Leslie Ann Jones, Skywalker Sound
“Murray Allen was a true Recording Man. He and I loved to do record dates. Murray was a fantastic flautist, clarinetist and high-caliber musician. He was also a businessman to the core. Murray made a very positive footprint on the industry that we love so much.”
— Bruce Swedien