The Godfather of contemporary Sound Design, Abe Jacob
Without Mr. Abe Jacob, I would be lost and drowned, deep in the art of sound, without having been able to express my creative thoughts and ideas for live entertainment sound. Abe is a pathfinder, mentor, and a gentleman. Any one of these is hard to find in an individual, and yet, he has shared so much with those of us lucky enough to work with him.
— Jonathan Deans, sound designer
Not too long ago — maybe three years — Abe came by a show I was doing to say hi. It was an afternoon rehearsal, and the director's attention was mainly on adjusting some lighting. We had time to chat without the pressure of needing to give 100% from the sound department. His cell phone vibrated, and he saw it was a call he had to take. He looked around apprehensively, knelt down behind the console in his expensive slacks, and took the call with a hushed voice. He didn't want anyone from the production to see someone connected to the sound department so crass as to take a phone call during a rehearsal. I looked around at some of the other crewmembers blabbing away on their phones and smiled at this giant of the industry who'd never lost his civility, pride in his profession, and his respect for the theatre.
This isn't a big story, but it made me reflect on what “class” is and reminded me that the great ones are great for more reasons than their knowledge of a particular technical area. For this reason, among many, I'm glad I know Abe Jacob.
PS - I wore a jacket to work the next day.
— Brian Ronan, sound designer
Abe, along with so many other things, gave me my first mixing job where I would meet my future wife. He brought me to New York to mix my first Broadway show, which would lead to getting married and having two children. I would say that's quite a gift he's given me.
— Steve Kennedy, sound designer
While the list of sound design projects, productions, and awards associated with Abe Jacob is long and impressive, it is the numerous sound design careers that Abe started and/or mentored that is his life's accomplishment. Yes, Abe single-handedly transformed theatrical sound design from the bastard child of commercial theatre into a respected art form that this year, at long last, will be considered for the coveted Tony Award…Those who will be nominated this year, along with the legions of others touched by the gravel-voiced audio guru, represent Abe's tireless and selfless dedication to the improvement of sound design in the theatre.
The list of Abe's protégés includes many of the most creative and successful theatrical sound designers of the last 25 years: Otts Munderloh, Tony Meola, Jon Weston, David Shapiro, Duncan Edwards, Lew Mead, and Kurt Fisher, to name but a few. The progeny from these first-generation acolytes is a who's who of modern theatrical sound design.
I, too, benefited from Abe's knowledge and generosity, having worked with him on several productions, including what may very well have been the loudest musical of all time, Juno and Avos at City Center in New York City.
Congratulations Abe, and thank you.
— Daryl Bornstein, audio producer and sound designer
I was working in Lincoln Center Plaza a few years ago, and I heard someone call my name. I looked up at the upper level of the State Theatre and there was Abe waving at me.
— Bob Rendon, VP, PRG Audio
As an old friend of Abe, I simply wanted to make the clarification that the title of “Godfather of Sound” came about when Abe admittedly got younger. The original title, which never really stuck, mostly because of its inference, was “Grandfather of Sound.”
I wish all the best in tribute to such a youthfully spirited man, for his credentials and past successes are truly inspiring!
Congratulations! And for working with the Beatles: “I'm not worthy. I'm not worthy!”
— Vinnie Macri, Media Numerics
So what can you say about Abe? He not only is a pioneering sound designer and technologist but a quick-witted renaissance man whom I am proud to call a friend. He has been a mentor for me, as well as countless others, offering me employment and counsel, and a great dinner companion to boot. I started in Abe's office organizing show bibles from Cats and Superstar, as well as his utility bills. I was so thrilled to be working for the Godfather of Sound Design that I commuted two hours each way by train to do so. After I rebuilt all his Filemaker Pro files, I got to send out dues bills for IATSE 922, giving me back-door contacts to pretty much any sound designer that I could hope to meet. Later, Abe would start sending me to the shop to pull and prep his shows, and I was always amazed at the way problems would get solved or how gear would suddenly appear because the show was “for Abe.” Who else has the gravitas to warrant opening the shop at 1am for an emergency Cadac service call?
He had an affinity for certain gear — is any other sound designer as linked to the history and development of the Meyer Sound UPA? — but was always eager to find new technologies that his peers had employed. More times than I can count, if I were working with another designer, the phone would ring. It would be Abe, asking what gear they were using, just “surveying the field.”
In the early ‘90s, I didn't know anyone else who had Meyer HD-1s as his living room speakers, yet preferred a single condenser mic, 2½ drum sticks high over the snare as drum over-heads. It worked for Peter, Paul, and Mary, and for Jimi Hendrix, so why throw that out?
I remember, while in production for the 20th anniversary tour of Evita, Abe fussing over the array of prop microphones for the balcony of the Casa Rosada. He wanted to exactly recreate his prop dressing work from the original production. In fact, there may have been more conversations among the entire design team arguing over whom, in fact, had done what 20 years ago than talking about what was actually happening that day.
For countless hours at the New York City Opera, at Broadway theatres, at summer stock barns, and in many, many restaurants (including his), Abe has been delivering the goods, one show at a time. He has been, and continues to be, one of the greats of the sound design community. It has been my privilege to have worked with and for him.
Abe, congratulations on this milestone!
— Christopher Cronin, technical supervisor, Sound Associates, Inc.
I met Abe back in the ‘60s (before he was known as Abe), when he was working for McCune Sound in San Francisco, and I was working for the much smaller competition, Swanson Sound, in Oakland. Abe was going on the road a lot with The Mamas and The Papas and with Peter, Paul, and Mary (for whom he designed a great mic stand with one base that supported multiple mics and had a nice neat cable bundle, all of which made for a very clean setup that minimized the amount of equipment that got between the audience and the performers. They still use a variation on that stand today.) One evening, we were chatting, and he told me about a setup he had done in a ballroom in San Francisco. They were doing a musical in-the-round. Aarrgghh! The problem was, of course, that the actors faced away from three-quarters of the audience at all times in a room that should never have been used for live theatre in the first place. Abe hung four speakers, one mid-way along each side of the square stage, and put up only four microphones, again, one on each side. He then routed the sound to the three-quarters of the audience away from which the actor was facing. In other words, an actor facing north had sound coming out of the south-facing speaker and, to a lesser extent, from the east and west speakers, but nothing from the north, and so on around the stage. Plus, by its nature, it required less manual level control. I have always thought it was a clever idea, and it has inspired me to look beyond the “normal” setup ideas to find approaches to system design that best serve the audience and performers.
— John Groper, Electrosonic Systems Inc.
Pleasant memories of Abe extend from originally meeting him at the Monterey Pop Festival through some very stimulating winter evenings spent together at an historic inn in Red Hook, NY, where we were both staying while working on an IBM industrial show in the early ‘90s. He has always been a gentleman, friend, and, best of all, a superior mentor throughout.
— Charlie Richmond, Richmond Sound Design
Do you remember August 14, 1970, the night we spent walking the red-light district in Amsterdam while on a reconnaissance for a future production of Hair? Just thought I would remind you.
— Love and with great admiration,
Jules Fisher, lighting designer
When we first started working together over 30 years ago, it was immediately apparent that your singular focus on pushing the collective imagination for what Broadway sound could be was visionary. Throughout the years, it has been your extraordinary ability to bring this vision to the stage — whether it is by working with companies to invent new tools or simply by inspiring several generations of performers, directors, and audiences — that continues to amaze us all.
On a more personal note, we are deeply grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with you to create new technologies and for your unwavering support of our ideas and our products…
Abe, congratulations on this much-deserved recognition! Your contributions cannot be overstated. We look forward to working with and being inspired by you for years to come.
— All our best,
Helen and John Meyer, Meyer Sound Laboratories, Inc.
QUOTABLE QUOTES FROM ABE
As Told To Jim van Bergen, PRG Audio
“A sound designer must be many things to accomplish the job. You must not only be an accomplished designer, but also a politician, ambassador, and arbiter of taste in serving the production and the director's and producer's visions. In truth, the sound designer is a juggler, trying to keep as many balls in the air at one time as possible…without losing his own.”
Once I introduced a colleague to Abe. In classic fashion, I misspoke and wrongly introduced him as “the Grandfather of Theatrical Sound Design.” Abe politely corrected me, and then laughed, saying, “Please don't make me feel any older than I already do.”
The Broadway sound community had an informal wake for Charlie Bugbee (sound designer of Arcadia and a Broadway mixer who died quite young in his career) in the back room at McHale's, another Broadway institution that is no longer with us. Charlie's untimely passing shook us all, and we grouped together to mourn. Abe summed up both the size and intimacy of the sound design community that came together with his dry wit. He looked around and remarked, “One well-placed grenade, and the entire Broadway sound industry would be gone in an instant. It shows you how much Charlie meant to all of us, and no matter if we have different viewpoints or methodology in our work, we all need and respect one another,” and he proceeded to toast Charlie again.
“Just remember, everything depends on you, so don't muck it up! Have a good show.” — Abe's classic dry wit spoken to me on opening night, Pirates of Penzance, New York City Opera, 2007.