Wherefore art thou, in-tune piano?

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A fairly straight ahead jazz CD showed up unannounced in my mailbox in the last few days.  Turns out that on this studio date the album’s producer forgot to call in the piano tech to the studio, as the entire upper third of the piano ended up being horribly out of tune.  Give the pianist on this album credit though, he didn’t shy away from the bad notes.  It always blows me away when the piano on a studio recording is out of tune, and for whatever reason this has not been a rare occurance in jazz records I’ve heard in the last few years.  It seems like a healthy percentage of new jazz albums I’ve heard recently have pianos that are at least slightly out of tune.  Why anyone would put the massive amounts of time, hard work, and money it takes to record a CD – which unless you’re Anthony Braxton doesn’t happen often – and then forget to make sure the piano is in good working order is beyond me.    I can’t imagine too many people who are recording a straight-ahead jazz record who think to themself: “self, I think what would really make this record special is to make sure the piano is out of tune.”  How hard is it to call in the local piano tech?  And while your average non-musician, but knowledgeable, jazz fan might not know that the individual notes on the piano are not in tune with themselves, or that particular notes are 20 cents sharp, they should be able to tell that something’s just not right-because it’s not gonna sound good, however you explain it.  It’s understandable when live recordings have pianos that are out of tune – it’s not the pianist’s or the band leader’s fault that the club doesn’t keep its piano tuned.  But unless you’re Tom Waits, and you really want that busted-ass, slouchy, worn out honky tonk piano sound, I would suggest getting the recording studio’s piano tuned before making your record.  Please. 

P.S. For an example on how to record a piano correctly, just check out Francois Couturier’s new album on ECM called Un Jour Si Blanc, which I’m listening to right now.  Good lord the people at ECM sure do know how to make a piano sound good on a recording.

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