Audio engineer Jack Towers, who restored classic jazz recordings and cut a historic Grammy-winning 1940 live recording of Duke Ellington’s orchestra, died Dec. 23 in Rockville, Md., of complications from Parkinson’s disease. He was 96.
Towers was a student broadcaster when he and fellow jazz buff Dick Burris got permission to record Ellington’s show at the Crystal Ballroom in Fargo, N.D. The Nov. 7, 1940, performance featured the bandleader’s legendary unit of the era, which included tenor saxophonist Ben Webster and bassist Jimmy Blanton.
Towers and Burris used a portable machine to cut the set on 16-inch discs. The rare concert document remained largely untouched until 1978, when “The Duke at Fargo, 1940 Live” was issued on LP. Acclaimed as a major archival find, the album received the jazz instrumental performance Grammy in 1980.
Towers was radio supervisor for the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture from 1941 to 1974, when he refocused his career on audio restoration. The great British engineer John R.T. Davies was considered one of his few professional peers.
He painstakingly worked on material from the hot jazz and big band era and restored sides by such bebop artists as saxophonist Charlie Parker, whose nightclub recordings cut by enthusiast Dean Benedetti were issued by Mosaic Records in a Towers-mastered seven-CD set.
Towers is survived by his wife, Rhoda; two daughters; and a granddaughter.