Helen Humes – Getting the Balance Right on Mean to Me

More Helen Humes

More Getting the Balance Right on Mean to Me


Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises

Mean to Me is a favorite test track for side one, with real Demo Disc quality sound. Roy DuNann at Contemporary was able to get all his brass players together in one room, sounding right as a group as well as individual voices. The piano, bass, and drums that accompany them are perfectly woven into the fabric of the arrangement. What makes this song so good is that when the brass really starts to let loose later in the song, with the right equipment and the right room you can get the kind of sound that is so powerful you would almost swear it’s live.

Helen was recorded in a booth for this album, and her voice is slightly veiled relative to the other musicians playing in the much larger room required for so many players. When you get the brass correct, the trick is to get her voice to become as transparent and palpable as possible without screwing up the tonality of the brass instruments.

The natural inclination is to brighten the sound up to make her voice more clear. But you will be made painfully aware that brighter is not better when the brass gets too “hot” and practically tears your head off. The balance between voice and brass is key to the proper reproduction of this album.

Once you have achieved that balance, tweak for transparency while guarding against too much upper midrange or top end. (Which means watch out for audiophile wires that can fool you!)

Our Hot Stamper Commentary (from 2008!)

Later Pressings Have The Real Sound

We prefer later pressings of this album to the Black Label originals, which sound tube mastered and have a bit of echo added to them. The later pressings offer superior clarity and resolution. I wouldn’t say one is necessarily better than the other, but this seems to be the more accurate reproduction of what happened in the recording session, and I know this is the one I would rather listen to.

Without a doubt it’s one of my all time favorite jazz albums. The amazing Marty Paich (Art Pepper Plus Eleven) did the arrangements for this group of top musicians, which includes Art Pepper, Ben Webster, Barney Kessel, Shelly Manne, Jack Sheldon and Leroy Vinnegar, just to name the ones whose work I know well. Does it get any better?

My Favorite Big Band Vocal Album Ever

This is my favorite Big Band Vocal album ever. It belongs in any serious record collection.

After years of playing and enjoying various pressings of this album, I made quite a fortuitous discovery recently — the OJC pressing of this record was never remastered by the OJC people (Phil De Lancie, ugh!), but instead was a real Contemporary label mastering job.

That explains why the OJC of this record sounds so good.

Or does it? Not really! We have other copies with the same stampers that are not nearly as good sounding. You’ve got to have good mastering and you’ve got to have good pressing, and the only way to know whether you have both is to play the record. It’s what Hot Stampers are all about.