Downsizing in Hollywood

by David Morgan
in On the Digital Edge
Catalina Jazz Club - small stage, big sounds.
Catalina Jazz Club - small stage, big sounds.

Mixing the Steve Gadd Band at the Catalina Jazz Club

It’s been a very long time since I worked a club gig. There have been many occasions when I have worked at club venues while on tour, but always using our tour audio FOH and monitor setups. So I am a bit out of practice. Still, I jumped at the chance to spend four nights at the Catalina Jazz Club (Hollywood, CA) mixing for my friends in the Steve Gadd Band. This fantastic jazz ensemble consists of Steve Gadd, drums; Walt Fowler, trumpet/flugelhorn; Jimmy Johnson, bass; Mike Landau, guitar; and Larry Goldings (now Kevin Hayes), keyboards. These men, of course, are each regulars in James Taylor’s All-Star Band and they are a significant part of my road family. I was extremely flattered when the guys had asked me to participate, and I was happy I could be there for them.

 

I have great memories of working in many clubs around L.A. during the 1970s. Mixing in those diverse environments was a great learning experience. My local live mixing career peaked when I landed the house soundman job at the Palomino Club in North Hollywood, CA. At that time, “The Pal” was L.A.’s only dedicated country music venue, and it seemed everyone from Nashville or Texas performed there. With an old spotlight on my left side and a brand new 24-channel Yamaha PM1000 console in front of me, I loved working there. As things turned out, performing competently in my position at the Palomino created the opportunity to finally make the jump into touring audio.

The Rig

Before I contacted anyone, I began a little online research about the Catalina Jazz Club in the hope of finding an audio specification. But I quickly discovered that no technical information is available on its website. So I went back to Google and searched for images that might show some pieces of the installed audio gear. From the photos I found, it was apparent that the club had a single console setup to mix house and monitors. The room looked L-shaped and I could discern several small clusters of audio boxes plus some satellite enclosures. Further research led me to a press release about Sound Image (Escondido, CA) doing the Catalina audio installation using Line 6 speaker systems.

A Line 6 press release read as follows: “The installation provides full coverage of the club’s L-shaped audience area, with a total of six StageSource L3m and three L2t loudspeakers hung from the ceiling, augmented by six L3s subwoofers. The L3m mains are 1,400-watt, full-range, three-way speakers, and each covers a specific zone, while the three L2t cabinets cover specific target areas with their 800-watt, 2-way, full range speakers. Covering the bottom end, six L3s subwoofers are aimed outward from the stage to provide bass reinforcement for the entire room.”

The coverage of the Line 6 P.A. looked good. Adding in a 32-channel Midas Verona 320 analog console made everything look even better. I assumed I would have to provide the five mono monitor mixes from that FOH desk as well. I hoped I would be up to the challenge. It has also been many years since I mixed monitors in any format. I think the last occasion was about 20 years ago when Lionel Richie and his band decided to make the changeover to in-ear monitors. On that first day of rehearsal, I was entrusted with selling them on that decision. That was a daunting day for a career FOH specialist. However, I knew that spending four days working in the company of friends at the Catalina would be far, far less stressful.

Next, I contacted Joel Greggain, the house audio person at the Catalina Club. He gave me a good rundown of the gear he had there and what I could expect to hear from the room. Joel also assured me that he would spend the first day with me to get the show up and running on the house equipment. In his overview, Joel informed me that all outputs from the Midas console were routed through a dbx multiprocessor in the FOH outboard rack. Among its various routing and signal processing functions, that unit provided the graphic EQ for the stage monitors and various elements of the house P.A. The EQs were controlled by a rack-mount 1/3-octave remote head and were individually selectable via a panel of switches above the remote head.

Miking the Band

I decided to bring a few of my own mics into town with me. The house piano is a nine-foot Yamaha grand, for which I would provide an Earthworks PM40 mic system and a Barcus Berry 4000XL pickup. I could get a warm, realistic piano sound from the PM40 system in the house mix while adding a bit more articulation and brightness from the 4000XL in the monitor mixes. I also brought a couple of Shure KSM313 ribbon mics to use on Walt Fowler’s trumpet and Mike Laundau’s dry guitar amp. Mike uses a second amp exclusively for effects and I brought an Audio Technica AT4047 for that application. Lastly, I provided a Neumann KM-185 for hi-hat and two Shure KSM44s for overheads. My emphasis was on employing warm, smooth mics in this bright performance space.

The remainder of the transducers came from the house locker. We used a Shure Beta 52 for bass drum, a Shure SM57 for snare, a second SM57 for the guitar dry amp (right next to the ribbon mic), Sennheiser e604s on the four toms and a C414 for the Rhodes amp. We used a couple of Sennheiser e800 Series vocal mics with on/off switches for Steve Gadd’s talk between songs and for Kevin Hayes’ occasional vocals at the keyboards. With the stage patch done, Joel and I set out to the FOH console.

We determined a reasonable layout for the 22 stage inputs on the 32-channel Midas Verona 320 console. I then asked that four compressors be inserted on the Kick, Bass DI, Trumpet and Piano Vocal inputs. Finally, I requested two reverbs: a short plate for drums and a medium hall for trumpet, piano and vocal. It turned out that both of those algorithms were already dialed up on the outboard devices. Each effect sounded good to me when I listened to the returns that came up on the bank of eight stereo inputs to the right of the master section. After Joel and I ran through a fast line check, I turned my attention to the P.A.

The System Performance

The compact Line 6 enclosures sounded just fine to me after performing a series of gentle manipulations to the house equalization curves. I then dialed in a desirable subwoofer level and pulled out a bit of 63 Hz to smooth out the low-end response. In this small, 235-seat venue, my goal was to make the installed system sound as natural and transparent as possible. Working in this club situation, I hoped to find a subtle balance between the speaker output level and the level of the instruments, both amplified and acoustic, coming from the stage.

My intention was to blur the lines separating these sound sources as much as possible and attempt to create the illusion that all sounds were emanating directly from the players on stage. I definitely did not want the sound system to overpower the music and become the focus of the audience’s attention, nor did I want the instruments to sound unnatural or artificially enhanced. I also wanted the band’s dynamics to remain mostly unrestricted. The compressors were set for low ratios and minimal threshold settings. I believe that people come to a jazz venue like the Catalina to hear the musicians, not the sound system. I wanted to be as clear a window as possible in the presentation of the music.

When the musicians arrived for sound check, I asked Joel to help me with the monitor mixes. Because he has the most experience with the Line 6 enclosures we were using for wedges, Joel went on stage while I drove the console. I used all the starting EQ curves for the wedge mixes and took instruction from Joel and the band members to build their mixes. We were able to get the five mixes into a workable state very quickly, and the band was off and running with rehearsal. A few changes were made to each monitor mix as the afternoon went on, but the day was generally extremely smooth and painless. We were all eagerly looking forward to the first show.

It’s Showtime!

When the lights went down and the musicians took to the stage, it was apparent that the decisions Joel and I had made during the day had worked out very well. Before taking his leave, Joel stayed for the first couple of songs to be sure that all was going well. The installed system performed admirably for us every night and the audience response was uniformly positive. The band played exceptionally well throughout each of the eight shows performed over the four-day run. It was a bit unusual to be looking at these guys and not hear a single James Taylor song. But the Steve Gadd Band is a formidable performing unit when playing their own outstanding compositions. I hope I have the pleasure of mixing the guys in this format again very soon. Thanks again to all at the Catalina Jazz Club for treating us so well!

Safe Travels!

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