BluesWax Sittin’ In With
The Master of the Remaster
By Robert Putignano
Last week Senior Contributing Editor Robert Putignano began his conversation with Joe Tarantino. Tarantino is certainly not a household name, but maybe he should be, his twenty-five years at Fantasy records (now Concord) has enhanced the sound of so many classic recordings on Stax, Fantasy, Milestone, Prestige, and others. Most of us grew up with many of this label’s albums, but until you’ve listened to the “Remasters” series engineered by Tarantino, you won’t believe what you missed. Joe manages to unearth sounds that I never knew existed, it’s a remarkable flashback experience that needs to be acknowledged.
Robert Putignano for BluesWax: Do you get to choose which recordings get remastered, and do you research the original sessions for the bonus tracks?
Joe Tarantino: Unfortunately I do not. I just get the orders from up above to do the work.
BW: I presume that these orders from up above come from knowledgeable music people? The reason I’m asking is that Joel Dorn used to tell me that some of the Rhino compilations came from guys like Lenny and Squiggy, otherwise known as the bean-counting accountants who were more about saving money as opposed to music quality. But I think he was a bit upset that they cut back on using him as much as they did.
JT: That’s too funny about Dorn, but I have to say that’s not the case here, these people really know the music.
BW: As you are pretty much a behind-the-scenes guy, it’s a shame that you don’t get the appropriate credit for the good work you do. Some of us still seriously listen to the music and enjoy great-sounding records. I have a hard time with MP3s.
JT: Thankfully technology keeps evolving. Nowadays when you convert analog to digital these albums sound a lot more musical, but you may recall that in the early days of CDs they sounded pretty brittle.
BW: I’d call it more clinical and cold sounding. I remember some of the first CDs I purchased and I said to myself, “These don’t sound good, in fact they sound awful.”
JT: Yeah, back then the only good thing was that you didn’t have to get up and flip the vinyl. [Laughs]
BW: True, some were so bad sounding that I started using them for coasters and went back to the vinyl. But I have to totally agree with you that in more recent years, CDs do sound more natural and robust.
JT: Plus, in my situation, having done this for a long time – experience counts a bit too as you get the knack after some time.
BW: I’m sure, and I can hear it clearly.
JT: I also had a lot, if not all of Isaac Hayes records and used to listen to them over and over.
BW: My first intro to Isaac came from FM radio with “Hot Buttered Soul.”
JT: Oh yeah, I always loved Isaac, especially his rap chats and long tracks. So working on those albums decades later meant a lot to me.
BW: And to me, too! Afflicted audiophiles need to know, what’s next from the Concord/Stax vaults?
JT: We’ve just finished a “very best of” series that includes Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, and Bill Evans. The next Stax album due out is the fiftieth anniversary of Green Onions in glorious mono; it really sounds great!
BW: Stax must have had great engineers and used good recording studios, as a lot of those records really sound crisp and clear. I’ve been told that having a good original source reference really makes a big difference, giving you more to work with to make the records sound so full and vibrant?
JT: No doubt. Plus the tapes needed to be stored in good order for them to retain the good sound, too.
BW: Aha, not being at your end of the game, I never thought about the tapes. I bet you have a lot of fun with the Rudy Van Gelder recordings on Prestige.
JT: Oh, yeah!
BW: Van Gelder had to be thirty years ahead of anyone else for making tremendous sounding records from way back in time. I recall a late fifties Coleman Hawkins record he made in his parents living room that sounds amazing.
JT: Rudy was, and still is amazing, he’s my engineering idol. Plus in the seventies with all the stuff he recorded for the CTI label. I still drool over them.
BW: Melvin Sparks always told me that Rudy was the first guy who was able to capture the B3 correctly, but he wouldn’t tell anyone how he did it.
JT: I heard that if you asked him too many questions he’d throw you out of his studio.
BW: I was at Van Gelder’s twice and was told don’t stare at anything, and definitely don’t touch anything.
JT: Considering all the great music Rudy recorded, I would get chills being there.
BW: What are some of your favorite remastering jobs?
JT: What first comes to mind is Bill Evans at the Village Vanguard, where we recreated the entire weekend of the concert and put them in order. When I was in New York I got to go to the Vanguard and for me it was like going to church. Just the vibe in the room alone; I got to work that room on tape, but not in real time.
BW: That must have been like an out-of-body experience.
BW: It’s great to hear that you get a thrill out of doing all of this. What music did you grow up with?
JT: Bay Area FM radio. Remember when they used to play entire sides of an album? KSAN being one of them and another one prior to KSAN where the DJs left to form KSAN, those were the days; I was born and raised in San Francisco.
BW: Is there anymore stuff in the vaults with Merl Saunders and Jerry Garcia?
JT: I think there might be a few more. That was good music.
BW: I was fortunate to see those guys a few times at the Bottom Line concert club in New York.
JT: I dug them, and appreciated Merl a lot, too.
BW: What a smile Saunders had, I always thought he mightily influenced Jerry about soul, jazz, and R&B.
Bob turns and looks at you: Joe Tarantino is a name you should be more familiar with, read the liner notes, and do your homework. Listen to your music on decent stereos, and not all the time on damn computer-generated MP3s! Be a serious listener, as it’s a rewarding experience.
BW: Would you consider yourself an audiophile?
JT: Kind of, sort of. But a lot of it was too expensive for me.
BW: Doing what you’ve done and continue to do, that is enhancing the sounds on recordings. Is it a good living?
JT: It’s decent. But it’s more a labor of love.
BW: There are too many labors of love in this business!
JT: Plus we hear all of these great musicians in clubs who are making fifty bucks a night, which is sad.
BW: I agree. I just heard that bassist Chuck Rainey has been sidelined by a stroke, and couldn’t believe that he’s in need of benefit, that’s just not right! They had to do one for Cornell Dupree before he passed, too. That’s scary as these guys were on thousands of recordings for major artists. Cats like that made the main performer sound so much better, but you are an equal to those musicians as you too enhance the music.
JT: Thank you Bob, that’s really appreciated.
BW: You’ve woken up my ears to so much music that I thought I knew so well, but now [because of your work] I hear and absorb so much more.
JT: Thanks again Bob, it’s good to know that there are still some people out there listening closely.
BW: That would be me, and hopefully many others, thank you for all that you do Joe, keep the good music coming.
JT: Thank you so much, you’ve got my home phone number, call me anytime to talk music.
BW: That’s appreciated, but be careful Joe, as I might hit you up to wander those historic recording vaults with you!
Bob Putignano is a senior contributing editor at BluesWax, a contributing writer at Blues Revue, and the heart and soul of Sounds of Blue.
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