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In Memoriam: Phil Ramone (1934-2013)

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Phil Ramone 1Today, The Second Disc remembers Phil Ramone.

The multiple Grammy-winning producer, 79, died on Saturday, leaving behind a legacy of song from artists ranging from Barbra Streisand to Paul McCartney, Barry Manilow to The Band.  Yet unlike so many of his contemporaries, Phil Ramone didn’t have a signature style.  Instead of molding a band or singer to a preferred sonic specialty, he was a true architect of sound, tailoring each production to the individual artist.  Ramone was equally comfortable with pop, rock, jazz, R&B, and the worlds of Broadway and Hollywood, not to mention classical – the genre in which Ramone started his love affair with music, as a Juilliard-trained violin prodigy.

Phil Ramone modestly titled his 2007 memoir Making Records, because that’s precisely what he did, from the day he and partner Jack Arnold opened the doors of New York’s A&R Studios in 1959.  Prior to that, he had been mentored by Charles Leighton at JAC Recording.  At A&R, Ramone perfected the art of engineering.  He earned his first Grammy for Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto’s immortal Getz/Gilberto, and soon A&R was the preferred destination for producers Burt Bacharach and Hal David to craft their movies-in-miniature with Dionne Warwick.  Ramone’s eclectic C.V. as an engineer and later, producer, took in pop princesses (Lesley Gore), folkies (Peter, Paul and Mary), jazz legends (Tony Bennett), superstars (Barbra Streisand), Beatles (Paul McCartney), Geniuses (Ray Charles), and Chairmen (Frank Sinatra), as well as everyone in between.

Chicago, Phoebe Snow, Kenny Loggins, Carly Simon, B.J. Thomas, Liza Minnelli, Rod Stewart, and of course, Paul Simon and Billy Joel all logged studio time with Phil Ramone at the console.  With Simon, Ramone helmed such beloved albums as There Goes Rhymin’ Simon and Still Crazy After All These Years, still cornerstones of the singer-songwriter’s catalogue.  With Joel, Ramone embarked on a seven-album, nine-year partnership that remains one of the most successful in rock history.  The duo also hold a place in the history books, as Joel’s 52nd Street, produced by Ramone, became the first commercially released compact disc when it hit stores in Japan on October 1, 1982.

To every project, Ramone brought an understated, subtle touch of class that squarely put the emphasis on music and sound: making each musician and singer’s contribution heard, cleanly and resonantly.  Even a partial list of songs with Ramone’s involvement is staggering: “Times of Your Life,” “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” “It Never Rains in Southern California,” “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” “Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star is Born),” “Loves Me Like a Rock,” “Just the Way You Are,” “Afternoon Delight,” “Poetry Man,” “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” “Maniac.”

Phil Ramone could have ushered in 2013 basking in the glow of acclaimed recent albums from Dionne Warwick and Tony Bennett, but he remained active.  At the time of his death, he was working on a variety of characteristically diverse projects with artists such as George Michael and Glee star Matthew Morrison.  Bette Midler eulogized him as “kind beyond words,” echoing the sentiments of so many others.  Ben Folds called him “brilliant, generous, talented,” while Tony Bennett noted his “wonderful sense of humor and deep love of music.”  To celebrate the career of the legendary Phil Ramone, Mike and I have each contributed a playlist of ten favorite projects on which he worked.  These aren’t necessarily his most significant, or his most famous, though some might indeed be.  Taken together, they simply represent twenty slices of the versatility, dynamism and sheer hallmark of quality that made Phil Ramone an in-demand talent, and sympathetic collaborator of so many, for over fifty years.

If there’s a rock-and-roll heaven, you know they’ve got one helluva band, true.  But now there’s one helluva producer sitting at the desk.

Hit the jump for two interactive Phil Ramone Top 10s! Read the rest of this entry »