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.

SIMPLE METHODS

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 output.

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”.

INTERESTING CONTRASTS

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 CD release.)

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

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