Fitting the Entire Sea in a Box

Concert by the Sea, one of the best-selling jazz records of all-time and arguably pianist Erroll Garner’s greatest concert album, was restored, remastered and reissued last year in a special box set featuring 11 previously unreleased tracks. The work was performed at The Magic Shop in Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood, where a team led by studio owner Steve Rosenthal, a four-time Grammy-winner who is nominated this year for the project, has spent the last few years digitizing and restoring Garner’s entire archive.
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New York, NY—Concert by the Sea, one of the best-selling jazz records of all-time and arguably pianist Erroll Garner’s greatest concert album, was restored, remastered and reissued last year in a special box set featuring 11 previously unreleased tracks. The work was performed at The Magic Shop in Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood, where a team led by studio owner Steve Rosenthal, a four-time Grammy-winner who is nominated this year for the project, has spent the last few years digitizing and restoring Garner’s entire archive.

Rosenthal reports that Garner and his longtime manager and agent, the late civil-rights advocate Martha Glaser, who were both from Pittsburgh, PA, were very diligent about retaining all of the pianist’s assets and professional materials. “They were able to put together and hold onto this incredible treasure trove of music, which could have been easily lost by now,” he says.

The archive, comprising approximately 3,000 audio assets, includes almost every conceivable recording format, according to Rosenthal. “The archive starts in 1937. Martha was still working on things into the '90s, when she was digitizing to DATs and F1s. So it runs the gamut of all the different formats that existed during this time period.”

Rosenthal was initially hired to restore and help curate the archive. “When we were going through the paperwork and the contracts, it became clear there was a second part to Concert by the Sea. But, no one knew where the tapes were, as invariably happens. It took a lot of research and visits to nine different storage lockers here in the city.” Various tape sets were found in the Sony archive, mislabeled; at Stanford; and in producer George Avakian’s collection at the New York Public Library.

It might be a daunting task for some, but Rosenthal has won Grammy Awards for his contributions to historical album projects by Woody Guthrie, Alan Lomax and the Rolling Stones. “I have had to put together a team who can really work on finding, digitizing and cataloging material. Considering how unhealthy the studio business is, this part of my business is very healthy. It’s really been a fascinating adjunct to what goes on at the Magic Shop.”

The exact details of the concert recording, which was made in Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA, on September 19, 1955, have been subject to rumors over the ensuing 60 years, but Rosenthal’s research has helped clarify events. “We believe it was recorded on an Ampex mono machine. I did all-new transfers with Jamie Howarth and John Chester from Plangent Processes at the Magic Shop using my ATR 102 with a nice mono headstack, a Plangent headstack and Plangent electronics.”

He continues, “It’s a wonderful system and really helps to cure problems that we thought were incurable for many years.” The Plangent process removes wow, flutter and other artifacts, and corrects speed instability by referencing the bias signal.

“You could say that the piano that night wasn’t 440—and it probably wasn’t—but at least we now know the tape is playing at the right speed. As an archivist, preservation and restoration engineer, that’s a really important part to be able to say with certainty,” says Rosenthal. Jessica Thompson, now at Coast Mastering, mastered the project along with Howarth. “Jessica did a wonderful job; she worked really hard, really long hours. A project like this takes months of work, because we want to get it as good as we possibly can.”

Rosenthal comments that the track selection on the original release was very conservative. “So what you’re getting with these 11 tracks that were left off is a more adventurous, fiery side of the playing, which has really stood the test of time.”

Released in 1956, Concert by the Sea reportedly sold over 225,000 in its first year. The new box set, released jointly by Sony Legacy and Octave Music Publishing, features that album plus the original concert in its entirety, including an introduction by promoter Jimmy Lyons and an interview with the trio of musicians. It debuted on the Billboard Jazz Album chart at Number One.

The complete archive of professional materials, including a telephone book that the diminutive Garner used to raise his sitting position, has been given to the University of Pittsburgh Library System by his estate. “We created a searchable database for all the music. Kids are listening to the music already, writing about it and learning about it,” says Rosenthal.

His work on the archive continues. “There are lots of 3-track and 4-track, half-inch, unmixed session recordings from top-rate studios, one-of-a-kind acetates that people have not heard, along with lots of masters. I’m fashioning some releases that are going to come out soon. It’s a wonderful outcome where we can continue to release material from the archive so that people can hear all of this unreleased Erroll Garner material, and the archive itself is safe.”

He adds, “This is a part of my work that I’ve really been enjoying. I really am hoping to continue to do more of these large preservation archives. I think that we’re putting together a clear pathway for people who are not part of the label system to be able to digitize, preserve and make accessible archival material.”

The Magic Shop
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