----- Forwarded by Dick Spottswood/dick/AmericanU on 01/14/2011 01:10 AM
Fw: NYT obit for Jack Towers Jan 13, 2011
01/14/2011 01:09 AM
January 13, 2011
Jack Towers Dies at 96; Remastered Jazz Recordings
By DANIEL E. SLOTNIK
Jack Towers was an expert at remastering early jazz recordings for
definitive collections by the Smithsonian Institution and Time-Life. But
may be best remembered for an original recording he made in 1940, a rarity
that sat in his basement for 38 years, heard by almost no one.
The recording - later to win a Grammy - was of a Duke Ellington Orchestra
concert at the Crystal Ballroom in Fargo, N.D., on Nov. 7, 1940. He and a
fellow broadcast engineer, Dick Burris, neither of them well versed in
recording music, used a portable disc cutter attached to three microphones
one in front of the band by the reed section, one a bit higher, and
by the piano, bass and guitar - to capture the concert on 16-inch
acetate-coated aluminum discs.
Mr. Towers promised Ellington and the William Morris Agency, which booked
the orchestra, that he would not use the recording for commercial
"We had no thoughts other than just the thrill of being there, recording,
and having something we could play for our own amazement," Mr. Towers is
quoted as saying in the North Dakota State University magazine in 2001.
had no thoughts whatsoever of recording anything that anybody would be
listening to 40 or 50 or 60 years down the line."
Mr. Towers died on Dec. 28 in Rockville, Md., at 96. The cause was
complications of Parkinson's disease, said his daughter, Jean L. Kemp.
His recording remained largely unknown beyond jazz experts and Ellington
aficionados, who occasionally asked for a personal copy, to keep and to
treasure. But after bootleg copies appeared in Europe and lawyers
Mr. Towers with repercussions, the Ellington family decided to release it
"Duke Ellington at Fargo, 1940 Live" was issued as a three-record set by
Book-of-the-Month Club in 1978, and critics were ecstatic at the rare live
glimpse of the orchestra during what many consider its peak. It won a
in 1980 for best jazz instrumental performance by a big band.
Mr. Towers was credited, along with Mr. Burris, as recording engineer on
late-1978 release and subsequent reissues.
In a 1980 interview with NPR, Mr. Towers, who lived in Ashton, Md., said
that when a friend told him his music was up for a Grammy: "I just
see this old 40-year-old recording really competing with these really top
bands in the land right now. And I watched the Grammy program out of
interest, and when they actually announced the Duke Ellington Fargo 1940
just took the wind out of my sails."
Dan Morgenstern, director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers
University, called the record "a milestone in the Ellington recorded
Mr. Towers worked as a radio broadcaster for the United States Department
Agriculture. He retired in 1974 and spent his time restoring old jazz
recordings. The process was painstaking: it involved carefully selecting
styluses to generate the best sound from old discs, recording them on tape
and then removing minuscule pops and hisses from the tapes by hand.
"He had wonderful ears, and wonderful hands that remained steady until the
end," Mr. Morgenstern said.
Mr. Towers restored the work of many prominent early jazz musicians for
seminal reissue projects by the Smithsonian and Time-Life. His work
chronologically and stylistically into the early days of bebop and
recordings by Dizzy Gillespie.
Jack Howard Towers was born on Nov. 15, 1914, in Bradley, S.D. He attended
South Dakota State University and served in the Army from 1942 to 1946.
Besides his daughter Jean, of Ashton, Md., Mr. Towers is survived by his
wife, Rhoda Sime Towers; another daughter, Martha Caudill, also of Ashton;
and one grandchild.
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