Faculty Profile: Rob Jaczko
For the past 21 years, Rob Jaczko ’83 has shared with Berklee’s Music Production and Engineering majors the experiences he gained working in top recording studios on big records. During the 16 years that he has chaired the MP&E department, Jaczko has seen Berklee-trained engineers as well as the college’s facilities flourish.
Jaczko’s passion for recording began with youthful visits to Media Sound Studios in New York where his uncle Don Cuminale was a technical maintenance engineer. Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Luther Vandross, and Frank Sinatra were among the studio’s clientele. “I was totally knocked out hearing the sounds and seeing the musicians and the consoles,” Jaczko recalls.
After graduating from high school, Jaczko, a drummer, accepted the advice of his parents and enrolled at Berklee. “Terri Lyne Carrington and Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts were students when I was here, and it had only been a few years since Steve Smith and Vinnie Colaiuta were here,” Jaczko says. “It was quickly evident to me that I was never going to pay the rent with my drumming skills.” He opted to major in audio recording and was part of the final class to graduate in that major. (Just a few months later, Don Puluse and Wayne Wadhams launched the MP&E Department.)
Seeking his first break, Jaczko interviewed at New York’s Media Sound and the Power Station. He was offered a job at Media Sound, but the combination of a New York City garbage strike, a heat wave, and a love interest in Massachusetts prompted Jaczko to instead take a position as a staff engineer at Blue Jay Recording Studios in Carlisle, Massachusetts. “Blue Jay was a great training ground for me,” he says. “We did a lot of work with Pat Metheny, the Cars, J. Geils, and Aerosmith, among others, and attracted work from New York.”
Another door opened after Ed Goodreau, the chief engineer at Blue Jay, took a job at A&M Studios in Los Angeles. A&M’s legendary chief engineer, Shelly Yakus, was impressed with Goodreau’s methods and asked him for names as he sought to hire more engineers. Goodreau recommended Jaczko.
“Out of the blue I got a call from Shelly,” Jaczko remembers. “He said, ‘I hear you want to move to L.A.’ I asked him who he heard that from and to tell me more. He arranged to fly me out there to see the studio. By the end of the day of my visit, Shelly offered me a job. I wasn’t looking to move, but it was an opportunity I knew I couldn’t turn down. I called my girlfriend and asked her if she’d marry me and move to L.A. because I’d been offered a job. She said yes to both.”
It was a sudden and atypical way to break into the business at that level, but with confidence in his abilities and six years of record-making experience, Jaczko dove in. He started at the iconic studio complex in January 1989. “The first session I was assigned to was Don Henley’s End of the Innocence album,” he says. “It was one of the biggest things going on in L.A. at the time. Seeing Hollywood’s uber-elite musicians, actors, actresses, rock stars, and politicians coming through there was unbelievable for me. As a staff engineer, I was thrown into the deep end of the pool. But I was ready.”
For the next six years, Jaczko made albums with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Barbra Streisand, James Brown, the Eurythmics, the Pretenders, Joe Cocker, Stan Getz, and many others. But after Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss sold the studio in 1992, and new technologies signaled the start of the home-studio era, Jaczko started to sense the fin de siècle. Big changes for the major studios followed.
“Looking at the arc of my career, I see that it was a great time for me to have been in that part of the business,” Jaczko says. “There has been a profound change in how artists work and studios survive these days. To have been exposed to those ‘temples of sound’ from my early days in New York through my time on staff at A&M was really fortunate. My wife and I figured that we’d had a great run out there and it was time to shift gears.”
With no firm plan, they returned to Boston in 1994. Jaczko visited Don Puluse and Bill Scheniman, who were heading the MP&E department. Scheniman asked Jaczko to consider teaching, and in the spring of 1995, he became a part-time faculty member. Within two years he was named assistant chair of the MP&E department, and in 2000, Jaczko became the department chair.
“It’s been a great journey in a time that was full of volatile changes in the business,” he says. “The college has really been supportive of our area. It’s been great to be leading the charge for education in the craft and hiring highly decorated faculty members like Susan Rogers, Prince Charles Alexander, and Leanne Ungar.”
Jaczko worked with designer John Storyk on Berklee’s newest recording facilities in Boston. “We had to submit detailed equipment lists, down to the patch cord four years in advance,” he says. “We had all hands on deck to help with the design and the curricular programming far in advance. We had to know where the curriculum was going to justify the cost of the tools we needed.” That process took Jaczko out of teaching for a few years, but he will teach again this academic year.
“I really missed the relationships that form when you spend 15 weeks in the trenches with the students,” he says. “Later, you help them with leads on jobs. Then they call years later to say, ‘Thank you. You changed my life.’”