Seven-time Grammy-winning engineer Al Schmitt has a career that spans four decades. He received seven Grammys for Best Engineering (for work with Henry Mancini [two releases], Steely Dan, George Benson, Toto, Natalie Cole, and Quincy Jones) and two Grammy nominations (for Toto's Tambu and Dr. John's After Glow). Schmitt also engineered and produced one of the final recordings of Sam Cooke (Sam Cooke at the Copa). Schmitt's engineering and mixing skills are showcased on over 150 gold and platinum albums.
As a child living in New York City, Schmitt would catch the subway on weekends to spend the day at his uncle's recording studio, observing different engineering techniques. At 19, Schmitt began working with Tom Dowd at Apex Studios in New York City. He later worked at Atlantic Records and Prestige Records, and after moving to California, he started working at Radio Recorders. RCA Records hired Schmitt as a staff producer for their label and a staff engineer at their Hollywood studio. This let Schmitt develop his wide-ranging engineering skills by working with the various pop, jazz, classical, and country artists that were signed to the label as well as other artists who recorded at the studio. He produced Sam Cooke, the Jefferson Airplane, the Limelighters, and Eddie Fisher, among others, before going into independent production in 1966.
Sam Cooke at the Copa, a 1964 RCA Records release engineered and produced by Schmitt, is a relatively forgotten treasure of Cooke's catalog. Originally released in mono (since most consumers of that day owned one-speaker phonograph players), the live recording of Cooke's performance at the famed Copacabana in New York City is a startling testament to both the talents of Cooke, Schmitt, and others, and the musical direction of arranger Rene Hall. Schmitt's policy of non-embellishment (no distracting audio effects, just capture the performance) serves to make the stereo version almost a transitory experience as you not only hear Cooke and the musicians, but the responsive audience as well.
The number of sessions Schmitt has been involved in could probably fill an encyclopedia, and includes his work with Al Jarreau, Diane Schuur, David Benoit, Diane Krall, Joe Sample, and Yasuka Agawa. His engineering talents are displayed on releases by Ray Charles, David Grusin, Natalie Cole, Luther Vandross, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Vanessa Williams, Toni Braxton, Madonna, Anita Baker, Frank Sinatra, and John Raitt. Schmitt was a 1997 inductee into the Technical Excellence and Creativity Awards Hall of Fame. With the help of studio designer Vincent Van Haaff, Schmitt refurbished the classic recording studio the Village (formerly the Village Recorder) in the summer of 1998. ~ Ed Hogan, Rovi