Jazz On The High Seas
An open sound reinforcement approach in defiance
of “land-locked” audio laws
The “Jazz Cruise” has been producing floating jazz parties for
20 years, beginning onboard the S/S Norway, and now on the Holland
America line. The annual presentation, originally created by Anita
Berry, offers a combination of top-name jazz entertainment and exotic
ports of call that has proven very successful.
At the same time, providing sound reinforcement for the Jazz Cruise has
presented challenges. In addition to diverse and sometimes very difficult
venues, the mix engineers aren’t jazz aficionados, and with three stages
providing a minimum of 12 hours of jazz per day over the course of 10
days, this problem is magnified. Many mixers seem to lose the drive to
do their best long before their shift is up. However, the music director
for the most recent cruise, Cherrie Scheets, helped improve the situation
by booking a more diverse mix of entertainers, which seemed to lessen
the usual psychosis that occurs after 10 days of mixing.
Departing the port at Fort Lauderdale, Florida aboard the ms Maasdam,
with a lot of jazz and open seas ahead, the sound reinforcement team realized
that if we didn’t follow the so-called laws of “ballroom acoustic physics”,
it could really be an interesting gig. And why not? After all, we were
at sea! Thus it was agreed to put away our tightly shaped microphone and
loudspeaker plans that had always worked well in the past. Instead, we
opted to open up the entire field by using mostly omnidirectional and
wide-pattern cardioid microphones, coupled with conical loudspeaker dispersion
- all in defiance of “land-locked” audio laws!
The three main showrooms hosting the performances were very diverse. Thus
while our mic designs and approaches could be, and in fact were, very
similar for each stage, the sound reinforcement approach for each room
was quite different.
The Rembrandt Lounge offers a classic theatre design, seating about 500,
and the space presents a good acoustic signature without a sound system.
Nonetheless, a house system was necessary and indeed deployed, anchored
by Meyer Sound UPA full-range loudspeakers installed in the proscenium
arch and hung in a center cluster. Compact UM-1P ultra-compact loudspeakers,
employed for delay and spot needs, proved more than adequate. No supplemental
system was needed.
The large musical groups - each with more than 20 members - featured in
this venue included the Count Basie Orchestra, directed by Grover Mitchell
and featuring Butch Miles on drums, as well as Frank Capp and the Juggernaut
with vocalist Barbara Morrison. Several new DPA microphone capsules were
used at the stage. Two DPA 4023 compact cardioid mics, placed on DPA CAP
1250 Flamingo stands left and right, nicely and fully captured the entire
blend of band.
Flamingo mic stands with DPA 4028's on a Leslie cabinet.
We decided to mic the big band as an orchestra. The same blending
philosophy applies and saves a lot of time in the changeover. In
addition, this was much simpler than putting a mic on every single
player/instrument, and the results proved pleasing.
With the Count Basie Orchestra, solo mics were positioned out front,
while for Frank Capp, a solo mic was placed in each instrument section.
A side note is that the Flamingo stands (both 1250 and model 750,
which is smaller) offer a high-tech yet elegant look, and it never
hurts to be aesthetically - in addition to sonically - pleasing.
For capturing the Yamaha grand piano, the initial approach was
two DPA 4028 compact wide cardioids placed on a pair of Flamingo
1250 stands in ORTF stereo mode, six inches off the strings and
12 inches back from the hammers, as well as parallel to them. But
we realized early on that only one 4028 was needed to cover the
entire piano. The 4028 is a wide cardioid (it uses the same capsule
as the DPA standard 4015 mic), so the single mic was able to capture
the entire piano sound. As the system was mono, the ORTF approach,
though it sounded wonderful, was unnecessary. The lid on the piano
was off for Count Basie, and opened on its short stick for Frank
Capp. The 4028 didn’t care.
For certain other acts, new DPA 4041 large diaphragm mics worked very
well in capturing overall sound on stage. Specifically, we noted that
4041 offers two noted advantages; it intensifies the sound without equalization
and also homogenizes the sound without compression. It’s a characteristic
that must be heard to be understood. If you place a single 4041 into a
mic grid, these attributes become apparent.
Frank Capp and Juggernaut at the Rembrandt.
Other than a pair of equalizers for the wedge monitors that we
supplied, and a spare use of the reverb unit in the ship’s system,
we used no exotic processing. The console here was the ship’s equipment,
including a Gamble EX 56-input console.
IS THIS THING ON?
The Ocean Bar, asymmetrical in shape, stands in sharp contrast to
the Rembrandt Lounge, with plenty of marble and alabaster surfaces
creating a “reverb chamber” effect. With a capacity of 150, it’s
a relatively open space.
The groups playing here were never more than a septet in size. We decided
to stick our necks out a bit by electing to use Tannoy i6 MP powered Dual
Concentric loudspeakers for both front of house and stage monitor applications.
The i6 MP is a fixed "contractor based" product, offering a 90-degree
conical pattern and using the same drivers as the Tannoy System 600 studio
monitor. They're not really intended as a portable sound reinforcement
speaker, and were new to us in this application. One i6 MP was set stage
right on a mic stand, another was set on a little wall running upstage
left to nearly center stage, covering the “center” of the room, and the
third was facing from stage left to that part of the room. The intended
effect, largely attained, was of a listening room with perfect articulation.
No subs were deemed necessary.
A look at the more open stage micing approach.
These loudspeakers worked quite well in this application, with
their 90-degrees conical dispersion completely covering the listening
area, while the response, as desired for an often subtle form like
jazz, proved clear and accurate. This system sailed through peaks
while also being capable of attaining a very intimate and dynamic
sound. After a few minutes of mixing, they blended so well with
the live instruments that one couldn’t really tell they were providing
The mic complement on stage included a DPA 4004 omni on another Yamaha
grand piano with its lid wide open. We used a Rowi clamp to attach this
mic to the frame of the piano on the bass string side, three quarters
of the way to the end of the piano, shooting across the bass and mid strings
at the high string area. Two DPA 4011s were used on the front line for
trumpet, trombone, and vocal. New DPA 4015 wide cardioid mics were selected
for all reeds, where they proved to have very good reach from distances
of one meter from the sources.
The audio crew relaxing at a stop in Oocho Rios, Jamaica. Left to
right Gary Baldassari, Gary Faller, Nils Warren, Morten Stove.
The 4015 has the normal proximity boost that usually occurs at
10 centimeters instead of from one meter away. This allows two musicians
to share a mic and blend naturally. These mics “warmed and fattened”
the sax sound, including alto and soprano, while not muddying up
the house mix. The response of the tenor sax with this mic was astonishing.
(Note that if you’re using monitors, be aware of the bass boost
that the 4015 produces.)
With only a single monitor for vocals needed on this stage (thanks
to the live acoustics), we didn’t hear enough to be able to elaborate
on the effect the 4015 has on monitors for brass. An interesting
side note is that certain brass players, such as Art Hoyle, Houston
Perso and Terell Stafford, discovered the value of this room’s acoustic
phenomena and played into it very effectively, producing a sound
akin to a plate reverb.
The console here was an Allen & Heath WZ16:2DX, with equalization from
dbx dual parametrics and a single TC Electronic M2000 effects processor
for a hint of “verb”.
The third venue, the Crow's Nest, with a capacity of about 250, is probably
best described as an anachoic chamber with glass windows. The room's signature
is dead and tight. We used a very similar mic complement and approach,
which presented an interesting contrast with the Ocean Bar. Groups ranged
from trios to quintets, and more on jam nights, or as guest performers
would pop in. There was a lot of cross-pollination as the performers would
occasionally drift between the venues when they weren’t otherwise engaged
and sit in.
Two DPA 4011s were positioned for high and low brass downstage center
left and right on stands with boom arms moved as needed, with a single
DPA 4015 for wind instruments. Results were very similar to those found
with the Ocean Bar, with the exception of the insertion of a TC Electronic
M2000 studio effects processor on the mic channels. The Gold Foil Plate
preset of this unit helped overcome the acoustic deadness, opening up
sound a bit more to give it a very natural signature.
A compact, stand-mounted Tannoy i6 MP, doing its thing.
Two Tannoy i6 MPs were used for monitors, one on the floor on a
short heavy-based mic stand pointing up, like a wedge, and one on
top of the bass rig, used as needed for the rear of stage. Again,
a gutsy premise.
Both the sound team and artists using these monitors, including
Carrie Smith, Marlena Shaw and Mary Stallings, really appreciated
their clarity and the fact that their wider dispersion allows a
singer to move more freely about the stage while still receiving
a present signal. Just a bit of equalization was needed for stability,
and that was it. The console here was a Midas Venice 240. Other
speakers included Mackie SRM450s.
We’ve already finished specifying the systems for next year’s Jazz Cruise
on Holland America, this time to be held on the ms Zaandam, departing
in early January from Port Canaveral, Florida. Two more stages will be
added, for a grand total of five, including the 217-seat Wajang Theatre.
It’ll require more audio crew, and, of course, more gear!
Recording the Eric Allison Quartet at the Crow’s Nest
by Gary Faller
The recording of the Eric Allison Quartet, produced by Allison and the
group, was done live over a three-day period. The quartet used the following
mic placement into a Midas Venice 240 console:
Piano: DPA 4003 with DPA preamp line out to the Midas
Bass: BSS AR-133 active direct box for pickup, DPA 4015
wide cardioid placed two feet away Drums: DPA 4015 between the snare,
rack tom, and floor tom
Saxophone: DPA 4021 cardioid
Vocals and Flute: DPA 4011 A-B stereo recording with a pair of
DPA 4004s (took the line out of the DPA 130-volt preamp into the Midas)
I placed the A-B record mics halfway between the ceiling and floor, with
the left 4004 directed at the piano and the right 4004 focused on the
drum kit. Aux 1 and 2 busses were used prefader to feed the DAT recorder.
(Allison carries a DAT on the road and records as many live performances
as possible for archival and material review. Some material makes it to
The live A-B stereo record was done while all of the DPA mics were in
a full FOH mix. The depth and stereo image from the A-B DPA 4004s provided
80 percent of the record mix. Very minor amounts of the close mics and
Yamaha reverb return were used, and only to tweak the record mix. This
was due to the lower ceiling of the room and its ambient noise. The arrangement
produced a stellar recording of the band and even pick up of the audience.
Sound Reinforcement Crew For Jazz Cruise
Gary Faller (Crow’s Nest mixing engineer)
Nils Warren (systems engineer)
Jim Fay (Rembrandt Room, mixing engineer)
Morten Støve (Rembrandt Room mixing engineer, co-owner of DPA Microphones)
Charlie Bertini (stage assistant)
Gary Baldassari (Ocean Bar mixing engineer)
Gary Baldassari is a studio, live sound, and broadcast recording engineer with particular expertise in surround sound recording and broadcast audio. He’s also a consultant for DPA Microphones. Nils Warren contributed to this report and supplied the photos. Also, our thanks to Charles Conte of Big Media Circus for his help with this article.
May 2003 Live Sound International