Last Wednesday night at the Pro-Shop, I was thrilled to welcome Thomas Z. Shepard, winner of 12 Grammys and a nominee for thirty five more. Tom is brilliant musician, artist and record producer, as well as a composer, conductor, music arranger and pianist.
Tom produced the original cast recordings of many of the Stephen Sondheim musicals, including Sweeney Todd, Company and Sunday in the Park with George. He also produced the original cast recordings of 1776, La Cage aux Folles and 42nd Street, among over a hundred others. He has also produced hundreds of classical music and popular music recordings.
Beginning in 1960, he worked for fourteen years for Columbia Records, eventually becoming co-director of CBS Masterworks. He joined RCA Records in 1974, where he was Division Vice President of RCA Red Seal, responsible for recording, signing and marketing of the label, until 1986.
He was then Vice President: Classical and Theatrical until 1989 for MCA Records in New York, where he created their classical and theatrical record line. He then became an independent producer, wrote, narrated and produced The WQXR/MCA Classics Listener's Guide and has lectured on musical theatre and classical music.
Tom’s work as a producer is captured in Company, a film by D.A. Pennebaker, about the recording of the cast album of the Broadway show, Company. For this film, Pennebaker and his crew took three hand-held cameras into the studio and filmed the singers, the orchestra and the control booth, then condensed the 18.5-hour recording session into a fast-moving 60 minutes.
You can see the intensity and sheer enjoyment on the faces of the cast, and Tom, along with show producer-director Harold Prince. Sondheim (a notorious perfectionist) becomes alternately exhilarated and exasperated as they listen and try to solve various problems. One very interesting moment is Elaine Stritch's exhausting, but now classic take after take of "The Ladies Who Lunch."
The Pro-Shop was spell bound, as Tom discussed in detail the recording of his various albums from the science to the artistry side. Everyone was full of questions and we went over time, which does not happen often. We ended up with so many songwriters in the room, no music was played, which is unusual. Tom took a CD from each student. He is always interested in new songwriters.
All of my Pro-Shop members are still talking about the magical evening, and they are full of appreciation for the Songwriters Guild of America for providing this opportunity. We heard Tom speak of the differences in the productions of Porgy and Bess, which had everyone surprised and interested, especially since most of our members had just seen the most recent production on Broadway, thanks to their membership in the Recording Academy. All want Tom to come back, and as soon as possible, he has agreed.