Desert Island Jazz
Lee Brenkman (2010)
If children should be seen but not heard, then was sound engineer extraordinaire Lee Brenkman exceptionally good or bad? After all, he's seldom seen, but while he himself is seldom heard, the results of his work are heard very often indeed.

Lee is proud to have been, first, the nerd in elementary school who threaded the 16mm projectors and the reel-to-reel tape machines, and, later, that geeky guy in high school who was much better at setting up and operating PA systems than at playing the clarinet and saxophone. When he realized that he got paid for the former but not the latter, his future became clear.

Among the things Lee learned at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, was that winters there were even colder than in his native Colorado, so he tried his luck here in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1960s.

Through Chet Helms's Family Dog, he got to know numerous jazz musicians still active on the Bay Area scene. After the dog was put to sleep, as it were, Lee became the touring sound man for the eclectic folk rock band Lamb, managed by Bill Graham. He was in on the ground floor at the Great American Music Hall (an association that continues almost 40 years later), where one of his first tasks was to "fix the sound" for the Bill Evans Trio. Another association going back decades is Stanford Jazz Workshop.

Like so many people who are not only talented but also work hard, Lee was "lucky" in his early contacts. He's recorded not "just" jazz, but world music before it was World Music, and Bluegrass before it became a dirty word. He comments that at the time he had no idea how good his first musicians in those genres were: surely all Indian musicians were as good as Ravi Shankar and Alla Rakha, and all Bluegrass musicians as good as Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs?

Lee modestly describes himself as having a "two-take attention span" which, naturally makes him not the best choice as engineer in a recording studio, where it's possible to tinker indefinitely until either the artist runs out of patience or the producer runs out of money. Instead, he loves to work at live concerts (see the associations above), about which he says "What recording work I do is mixed directly to stereo, on site and very much 'in the moment'. That's, quite coincidentally the name of Jim Bennett's KCSM program to which I am a frequent and happy contributor."

Some musical associations that likewise go back decades are Anthony Brown and Mark Izu. Commercial recordings which Lee engineered include the former's Asian-American Orchestra, Faye Carol, The Ed Blackwell Project, Trudy Pitts, Horace-Scope, and—another early "lucky" encounter—Hampton Hawes.

Looking for Lee Brenkman? Don't search for a web site: he doesn't have one. Rather, when you're at a concert, turn around and peer at the back of the room: likely as not, the man wearing the headphones is him.
Pick Artist Album Song Label
# 1 Count Basie Chairman of the Board Blues in Hoss' Flat Roulette
# 2 Hampton Hawes Playin' in the Yard Playin' in the Yard Prestige
# 3 Sonny Rollins Don't Stop the Carnival Autumn Nocturne Milestone
# 4 Carmen McRae and Betty Carter The Carmen McRae/Betty Carter Duets But Beautiful Verve
# 5 Duke Ellington and His Orchestra The Yale Concert A Johnny Hodges Medley: Warm Valley/Drag Fantasy
# 6 The Bill Evans Trio You Must Believe in Spring Theme from M*A*S*H (Suicide Is Painless) Warner Bros
# 7 Oregon Out of the Woods Witchi-Tai-To Discovery
Book The collected works of Mark Twain
Luxury Item "Something to keep the beer cold"
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