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Tom Dowd Dies

Tom Dowd, a recording innovator who worked with John Coltrane and helped establish Atlantic Records, died of emphysema on Sun., Oct. 27 in Aventura, Fla. He was 77.

Dowd was the son of a Manhattan theater producer father and an opera singer mother. He studied both piano and violin in his teens and, being somewhat of a prodigy, graduated high school at 16. After attending Columbia University for two years Dowd enlisted in the Army at 18, but he was told to return to Columbia to work on the Manhattan Project, which produced the atomic bomb.

After World War II Dowd worked as an engineer on the Voice of America radio program and later became a freelance sound engineer. Hired in the early 1950s by the then-independent Atlantic label, Dowd became a creative force at the company, suggesting they switch from recording onto acetate discs to magnetic tape. A pioneer of multi-track recording techniques, Dowd also had the label buy the second 8-track tape recorder ever produced.

Dowd stayed at Atlantic for over 25 years and perfected a recording technique that allowed instruments to sound full and loud on tape without sacrificing a natural sound. He engineered John Coltrane’s Giant Steps and recorded other Atlantic jazz artists like Charles Mingus and Ornette Coleman. Dowd also either engineered or produced the radio perennials “Stand By Me” (Ben E. King), “Respect” (Aretha Franklin) and “Layla” (Derek and the Dominos). After leaving Atlantic in 1967, Dowd moved to Miami and took freelance producer gigs, mostly at Criteria Sound Studios.

Dowd is survived by his wife, Cheryl, a daughter, two sons and a grandson.

A documentary called Tom Dowd and the Language of

Music
is scheduled for release in early 2003.

Originally Published