Posted: Feb 22, 2008
Teo Macero, 82, Record Producer, Dies
By BEN RATLIFF
Published: February 22, 2008
Teo Macero, a record producer, composer and saxophonist most famous for his role in producing a series of albums by Miles Davis in the late 1960s and early 1970s, including editing that almost amounted to creating compositions after the recordings, died on Tuesday in Riverhead, N.Y. He was 82 and lived in Quogue, N.Y.
His death followed a long illness, his stepdaughter, Suzie Lightbourn, said.
Helping to build Miles Davis albums like “Bitches Brew,” “In a Silent Way” and “Get Up With It,” Mr. Macero (pronounced TEE-oh mah-SEH-roh) used techniques partly inspired by composers like Edgard Varèse, who had been using tape-editing and electronic effects to help shape the music. Such techniques were then new to jazz and have largely remained separate from it since. But the electric-jazz albums he helped Davis create — especially “Bitches Brew,” which remains one of the best-selling albums by a jazz artist — have deeper echoes in almost 40 years of experimental pop, like work by Can, Brian Eno and Radiohead.
Davis’s routine in the late 1960s was to record a lot of music in the studio with a band, much of it improvised and based on themes and even mere chords that he would introduce on the spot. Later Mr. Macero, with Davis’s help, would splice together vamps and bits and pieces of improvisation.
For example, Mr. Macero isolated a little melodic improvisation Davis played on the trumpet for “Shhh/Peaceful” on “In a Silent Way” and used it as the theme, placing it at the beginning and the end of the piece. Even live recordings he sometimes treated as drafts; the first track of Davis’s “Live at Fillmore East,” from 1970, contains a snippet pasted in from a different song.
Mr. Macero strongly believed that the finished versions of Davis’s LPs, with all their intricate splices and sequencing — done on tape with a razor blade, in the days before digital editing — were the work of art, the entire point of the exercise. He opposed the current practice of releasing boxed sets that include all the material recorded in the studio, including alternate and unreleased takes. Mr. Macero was not involved in Columbia’s extensive reissuing of Davis’s work for the label, in lavish boxed sets from the mid-’90s until last year.
Attilio Joseph Macero was born and raised in Glens Falls, N.Y. He served in the Navy, then moved to New York in 1948 to attend the Juilliard School of Music, where he studied with the composer Henry Brant. In 1953 he became involved with Charles Mingus in the cooperative organization called the Jazz Composers Workshop; he played in Mingus’s other groups and put out his own records on Debut Records, the label founded by Mingus and Max Roach.
While simultaneously working as a tenor saxophonist — with Mingus, Teddy Charles and the Sandole Brothers, among others — and composing modern classical music as well as working in the classical-to-jazz idiom then called Third Stream, he joined Columbia Records in 1957. He was first hired as a music editor; in 1959 he became a staff producer.
At Columbia he worked with artists like J. J. Johnson, Mahalia Jackson, Johnny Mathis, Thelonious Monk and Dave Brubeck, for whom he produced the famous album “Time Out.” He also produced Broadway cast albums like “A Chorus Line” and film soundtracks.
Mr. Macero left Columbia in 1975. He later worked with the singer Robert Palmer, the Lounge Lizards, Vernon Reid, D.J. Logic and others.
Besides Ms. Lightbourn, of Morristown, N.J., he is survived by his wife, Jeanne, of Quogue, N.Y., and his sister, Lydia Edwards of Sarasota, Fla., and Queensbury, N.Y.