I had an interesting conversation with one of my favorite singers, Aubrey Tadman, about why it seems that CDs recorded "live" produce better recordings compared to recordings by the same musician that are cut in a "studio". I am sure many of you have purchased CDs recorded by an artist who you heard singing "live"in a club or restaurant. You loved the artist's performance but when you got home and listened to one of their recorded CDs, it just didn't have the exact effect on you as did the live performance, right?
I would like to offer some reasons that cause this difference. First, music is art and in great music and works of art, producing a perfect reproduction of your subject or written notes in a song, can be great but seldom outstanding. Most time the beauty in art and music is found in the embodiment of emotion that the painter or singer adds to the subject. Also, sometimes slight imperfections in art and music can enhance the value to the listener or viewer. Life is not perfect but real beauty in life can be found when we uncover the emotional spirit of the creator, unveiling not only the perfect parts but also the slightly bruised parts.
Consider the difference between two of the best singers of the Great American Songbook, Frank Sinatra and Vic Damone. Even Sinatra said more than once that Vic Damone had the best singing voice of anyone he had ever heard, and I have no argument with that. Damone has had a wonderful career, lots of fans and sold millions of records So what was missing in his recordings that put Sinatra on the top of the heap? I think the answer is Sinatra's ability to bring his life experiences both good and bad and inject them into his recordings. If anyone can record in a studio and instill emotional life into the cuts, Sinatra can; but to me, Sinatra's greatest recordings are the ones recorded live. They were not as perfect as his studio recordings. A Great performance like great art can sometimes create greater value with slight blemishes or imperfections. Listening audiences do not necessarily crave perfection but they do want emotional reality.
The last factor in the mix is the emotional lift that all performers get from an appreciative audience. If you ever played or sung for a live audience, you know exactly what I mean. Another friend of mine, the great bassist, Jim De Julio played in Sinatra's band in Vegas for years. Jim shared this story with me. Just before the curtain was set to go up, Jim would look over to the side and he would see Sinatra standing there waiting to come on. According to Jim, he would almost know exactly when the curtain would rise because he could see Sinatra's blue eyes actually getting bigger and this was Jim's signal that Frank was ready to roll. As great as Sinatra was, he always became bigger than life on stage and I believe it made his live recordings just the greatest!
I have attached a couple of YouTube recordings that I think support my point. The first is a live recording from Diana Krall from her "Live In Paris" CD. As you listen to this recording, I believe you can feel the emotion and love for great American Jazz coming straight from the audience to Diana and her band which impacted her performance. This is one of my all-time favorite "live" CDs and one of the reasons is the great supporting musicians that performed with her. I don't think it is possible to put a better Jazz group together than this one with the great Jeff Hamilton on Drums, the one and only John Clayton on Bass and the marvelous Anthony Wilson on Guitar.
Diane Krall "Live In Paris" CD
The second YouTube is of Ella Fitzgerald singing "Mack The Knife" from her 1960 classic "Ella In Berlin" recording. It's far from perfect but just a brilliant recording!