Phil Ramone: As Remembered By Family and Friends
May 1, 2013 9:00 AM
As Remembered By Family and Friends
Some years ago, Phil asked me to engineer a tribute to Brian Wilson at Radio City Music Hall with many high powered artists performing Brian's songs, all there because Phil asked them to be. During Paul Simon's song, there was a musical confusion, not by Paul but by the band, one that really made the song fall down, Paul vocally trying to steer the band back where they should be, but at the end it was a mess. Paul came off stage, calling for Phil, asking if the song could be repaired, edited in the remix with what we had. Otherwise, he would have to go out and perform it again, something he very much did not want to do. Phil came to my truck and asked me to play it, keep in mind this is in the middle of a performance and a packed house at RCMH. He listened to the troubled part, and at the same time I said "No, no way", he said "Yes it can be done, tell Paul it will be fine.”
The next month, while we were remixing the project in the studio, the Paul song came up. I had forgotten all about it and when I listened even then I could not hear how we could fix it. Phil quickly pointed to a note here, a half phrase there, a seemingly disconnected string, rearranged them into a complete and faultless musical take. The thing is that he heard it that night, under the gun, he heard the music rearranged in his head and knew it could be done. Engineer, producer, Musical Genius was Phil Ramone, I am honored to have been his friend.
Phil was an inspiration—and he will remain so. He always kept an open mind and he often saw the value of new technologies—and talent--before others did. One example is that when people were shocked that Esperanza Spalding seemed to come out of nowhere in 2010 to win Best New Artist, I knew that Phil had been on to her, and had worked with her, several years prior to that. He could be a hard taskmaster for those who worked for him, but I think all of them will say he drove them to be their best in ways that changed their lives. He was extraordinarily perceptive, and often incredibly kind, including to me personally during a very difficult time which his words helped get me through. At the memorial held for him at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles, listening to the stories people told, it suddenly became obvious to me that in some very cosmic way, Phil was really very much about love.
Phil Ramone was my friend, partner, voice of wisdom and always reason. Phil was always kind and caring. I saw first hand that the music and the people making it came first. Phil served the music his entire life. His work was perfect all of the time. His humanity, kindness and encouragement brought out the best of everyone that had the privilege of being in his company. Phil was also fearless. He had the biggest balls of anybody I ever knew. . Phil could fuck somebody up if they needed it.
I still can't believe that he's not going to be on the other side of the phone, the other side of the studio glass, or the other side of the table. Our lives are richer because of his legacy, but poorer that he's gone.
"Phil had the unique ability to be an island of sanity in a sea of insanity"
"One of the great joys of mixing is to be able to work quickly." Phil said this to me just a few months ago; that mixing should be a pleasurable experience and that having everything in order before getting down to work allows one to focus on the art and craft without the tedium of technical distraction or unfinished production. He’d remind me that mixing a song was a performance in it's own right and that working in complete top-to-bottom passes enabled my own real-time interaction with the music to become part of the song itself.
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