Producers work behind the scenes and are the unsung heroes of music. While some producers receive public notoriety like Brian Eno and George Martin; others like Teo Macero remain known mainly to music scholars and serious audiophiles. In 2008, when Macero died, The New York Times ran an obituary with the tagline: "Teo Macero, 82, Record Producer," as if readers would need that crucial bit of vocational data. Indeed, Macero is best known for his work on Miles Davis's masterpieces Kind of Blue and Bitches Brew. He was also a composer, whose approach to music takes into account the big picture rather than attention to minute detail.
Macero was ahead of his time. He incorporated electronic effects and electronic media in ways that made Bitches Brew as momentous and groundbreaking an album as it is. The embrace of new technology is therefore a hallmark of Macero's style. He "used techniques partly inspired by composers like Edgard Varese, who had been using tape-editing and electronic effects to help shape the music," and turned those techniques into his own by applying them to jazz (Ratliff, 2008). Jazz had previously been squarely within the acoustic domain. Even after Macero's influence, jazz returned to its trademark minimalist post-production. As Ratliff (2008) puts it, "Such techniques were then new to jazz and have largely remained separate from it since."
What Macero did with Bitches Brew and other Miles Davis recordings was to elevate them to a new dimension. Macero was experimental at a time when listening audiences hungered for avant-garde sound, which is why his productions proved both trendy and timeless. In fact, Macero is now credited with fomenting a bitches brew of producers who also rely heavily on electronics in the post-production process: a brew that includes luminaries like Brian Eno and German band Can as well as Radiohead (Ratliff, 2008). While the electronic, heady sounds of Radiohead might seem completely natural and appropriate for the genre, the application of electronic elements to traditional jazz was less obvious.
Teo Macero was born Attilio Joseph Macero on October 30, 1925 in Glens Falls, New York. Macero served in the United States Navy before pursuing a music career at the prestigious Juilliard School of Music, from where he graduated in 1953 with the added honor of the BMI Student Composers Award ("Teo Macero," n.d.). Armed with both Bachelor's and Master's Degrees in composition, Macero went on to work with jazz almost exclusively. Macero had formed Juiliard's first official jazz group ("Teo Macero," n.d.).
Macero's introduction to and appreciation of jazz stemmed in no small part fro the fact that his parents owned a nightclub called Macero's Tavern. Macero's Tavern hosted African-American jazz musicians, who young Teo heard throughout his childhood. By the time Teo was eight years old, he learned how to play the saxophone and began writing music ("Teo Macero," n.d.). Macero formed a school dance band at age 13. When he was in the Navy, music also permeated his life and he joined the Navy band.
Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copeland sponsored Macero for not one, but two Guggenheim Fellowships. He taught music at the New York Institute for the Blind, and performed live at Carnegie Hall. Also during the 1950s, Macero began working closely with bassist Charles Mingus as a saxophone player as well as a composer ("Teo Macero," n.d.). After working with Mingus, Teo Macero went on to work with hundreds of musicians including Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Leonard Bernstein, Andre Kostelantez, Dave Brubeck, Count Basie, Paul Horn, Tony Bennett, Mahalia Jackson, Simon and Garfunkel, Gato Barbieri, Ramsey Lewis, and Robert Palmer ("Teo Macero," n.d.).
Most of Macero's career was spent with Columbia Records. He began working at Columbia as editor and producer in 1957, and during this time there produced more than 3000 albums ("Teo Macero," n.d.). His production roster is supplemented by an impressive compositional portfolio: " He has written numerous compositions for the concert halls, over 50 films, and many television productions. He has written at least one opera, and over 50 ballets," ("Teo Macero," n.d.). Macero also produced the musical scores for Broadway plays including Bye Birdie and A Chorus Line, and also produced Simon and Garfunkel in the soundtrack to the film The Graduate. Macero was creative until the very end of his life, willing to experiment. He "recently worked with DJ Logic and Vernon Reid on new recordings, and he has his own music company TeoMusic which has released a number of albums of an interesting and varied nature," ("Teo Macero").
It might seem counterintuitive to compare Teo Macero with Sir George Martin. After all, the latter has been dubbed the "fifth Beatle," placing Martin firmly in the realm of popular music and culture, rather than jazz and the avant-garde. Martin enjoys a place in the Rock and Roll hall of fame as a result; Macero does not. Both had prolific and eclectic careers, but occupy completely different realms of music. However, the two share more in common than is immediately apparent. "Macero has often been compared to Beatles producer Sir George Martin in his influence on the history of jazz music recording," ("Teo Macero," n.d.).
Biographical Introduction: Sir George Martin
George Henry Martin was born in Highbury, North London on January 3, 1926, making him a near exact contemporary of Teo Macero. Like Macero, Martin started playing music at a young age. Martin's parents were not, however, musicians or club owners as Macero's were. Martin's father was a carpenter and his family was working class.
Martin started with the piano, which was an expensive instrument for a working class family and therefore highlights the extent of Martin's enthusiasm and talents. During his formal music education, Martin would later incorporate the oboe into his musical repertoire. Just as Macero had been inspired to emulate jazz musicians playing in his parents' club, Martin was "enraptured" by the BBC Symphony Orchestra when it came to his school with Sir Adrian Boult (Martin, 2012). Martin's love for classical music continues throughout his eclectic career.
At age fifteen, Martin started a band with classmates called The Four Tune Tellers ("Sir George Martin: Biography," n.d.). Both Macero and Martin seem to have cultivated a keen interest in composition over the mechanics of playing throughout their careers. Also like Macero, Martin served in the Navy for a while, although Martin seems to have not pursued his musical interests while in the service but only before and after his stint with Britain's Fleet Air Arm.
Between 1947 and 1950, George Martin attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. After graduation, Martin landed his first jobs with the BBC and EMI. He was placed in charge of the EMI Parlophone label in 1955, as a young executive producer. Unlike Macero, Martin did not exclusively produce jazz. Martin focused on classical and baroque recordings and later, comedy and novelty productions. These included recordings of the Goons, Rolf Harris, Flanders and Swann and, most successfully, the Beyond the Fringe show, starring Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller ("George Martin," n.d.). Martin did not leave jazz by the wayside, though. During his work with classical and comedy recordings, Martin also produced several jazz records as well.
As head of the Parlophone label, Martin made $3,000 per year "with no royalties on his productions or bonuses based on the performance of his work or signings," ("Sir George Martin: Biography," n.d.). The musicians he worked with were not nearly as renowned as those on American record labels until Martin met the Beatles. Some of the musicians he worked with at Parlophone included Cleo Laine, Johnny Dankworth, Humphrey Lyttelton and Stan Getz ("Sir George Martin: Biography," n.d.). Martin stopped producing for Parlophone in 1965, largely because of the time-consuming nature of working with the prolific Beatles.
Like Macero, Martin was becoming seduced by the possibilities that electronic production offered. In 1962, Martin produced an electronic dance single entitled "Time Beat." The single was released under Martin's pseudonym Ray Cathode, and recorded at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop ("George Martin," n.d.). Not soon thereafter, Martin pursued a career in music production in earnest, actively seeking out bands to work with and manage. This is how he found the Beatles.
From the first meeting between George Martin, John Lennon, and Paul McCartney, the relationship between Martin and the Beatles remained one of the most fruitful in pop music history. Just as Macero had done with jazz, Martin infused creative, electronic elements into the studio recordings. Yet Martin also incorporated elements from his classical training into the Beatles' signature sound. The results included clever arrangements such as the string quartet in Yesterday, Eleanor Rigby, A Day in the Life, and Penny Lane. Unique post-production effects were also used on Strawberry Fields and Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite. Both the Yellow Submarine and Abbey Road albums were Martin productions, bearing the producer's signature creative orchestration and quirky mash-up sounds.