One of the most interesting ironies in life is that, as a member of the audience, the better the sound, the less you notice it.
Musicians, on the other hand, are hyper-aware of sound quality and place the highest value on a quality “sound guy” because they are very rare.
For the last several years, perhaps unbeknownst to them, the attendees at The Fox Jazz Festival have been treated to the highest quality sound by Gary Bomber and his company, Bomber Sound Productions.
“I initially met Gary at a couple of concerts I was performing in and I thought he did a great job,” said Fox Jazz Festival artistic director and WAMI Hall of Fame pianist-composer John Harmon. “He also does the sound for the Jazz at The Trout series and we get the full package with Gary. In addition to his great work, he is such an easy guy to get along with. He is a very likable guy. As a musician, I’ve learned to trust Gary implicitly.”
While the outdoor venue – and the weather – pose unique challenges, the Fox Jazz Festival has special meaning for Bomber.
“It was and still is an honor to get the call,” he said. “It’s the only time I wonder if I’m qualified to work with musicians so good. I make sure that I am doing work comparable to the quality of the musicians. I like working with great musicians and I just like the sound of jazz, it’s a lot more real to me. It has more of an acoustic sound and there are more acoustic instruments, things that sound good.”
Bomber is also an electronics technician for Rock Garden Studios in Appleton. Owner Marc Golde is a big fan.
“I’ve known Gary since 2004,” Golde said. “I had just purchased my first professional recording console.
Unbeknownst to me, I got the great deal on it because it was a fixer-upper. I needed someone who could restore it. Try finding that person. Carl Garrow, who worked as a repair tech at Henri’s Music, suggested Gary. He’s been my restoration tech and a great friend ever since. The unique thing about Gary is that he’s not only an audiophile, but a degreed electronics technician. He knows what’s going on with sound from the inside out. I don’t know any other sound guys who tune their own speaker cabinets, for instance. He not only knows when things sound good or bad, but why they do.”
“Most of all, I like working with Gary because he’s a fun guy to be around. Live sound can be very stressful. You gotta’ have a sense of humor,” he added. “I work with Gary on the flip side of the live sound profession. Rock Garden Studio wouldn’t be what it is if it wasn’t for him. I sometimes wonder if I’d even be in business.”
Janet Planet has known and worked with Bomber for over ten years.
“My nickname for Gary is ‘Gabe,” Planet said. “There are many stories as to why I call him Gabe, but in a nutshell it’s inspired by Gabriel, the angel who is best known as a messenger sent from God. Gary delivers and goes beyond the call of duty with an attitude of giving. In a way, his demeanor of angelic proportions is a message…to be good, kind and considerate always, at work and beyond. He really knows is stuff and maintains his focus under pressure. There is no pressure like the pressure of running sound at a major event. Just think, the booth is typically positioned out front in the audience, and the person behind the controls can be subjected to the mass attack of opinions in a sea of spectators. But, Gary shows up early to be sure that everything is hauled in and all the lines are run. He’ll even precede the gig a day or even a week earlier and work out specific logistics so that when the musicians arrive, everything is in place.”
Some sound companies expect the artist or the artist’s management to do the work.
“Outside of a stage plot I think the specifics should be communicated by the expert,” Planet said “There can be so many variables that need that expert eye and can get lost in translation if there are too many channels of communication negotiating. One of Gary’s most desirable attributes is that fact that once he’s up and running, he allows the musicians to create their own dynamics. My husband, Tom Washatka, and I often talk about this and we’ve come to the conclusion that the best sound people are the ones that don’t touch the board except for some tweaks once the music starts. The worst situations I’ve been in are the ones where the sound tech feels they need to ‘play the band’ by turning knobs, adding effects, compressions, limiters and eq’s during a performance. It’s very hard to create your own musical dynamics when you’re fighting a ‘knob turner.’”
A good sound person will also know how to set monitors and ring out the frequencies that feed back, Gary is also known for his ability to repair gear.
“Many people don’t know this about Gary. He was a portrait lighting designer,” Planet revealed. “His ability to run sound and make it LOOK GOOD is unmatched. He understands back lighting and how to create visual scenes that enhance the music. Many sound companies have a separate crew for both lighting and sound but Gary does both. He’s conscientious, he gives the musicians and the venues exactly what they need, he’s extremely talented and knows the literal ins and outs of his craft as a sound and lighting technician,” Planet said. He’s fair, honest and giving. He’s ‘Gabe.’”
The Inquisition urges everyone to attend FJF and not notice how good Bomber truly is. It is a distinct pleasure.