Back right around the time life was returning to the new normal after the great intermission, I made contact with Jim Beard again and offered him a bottle of his favorite bourbon to finally agree on a date for an interview. Jim had plans to tour with Steely Dan, and I was busy with life. We exchanged a few more emails, but the interview never happened. Sadly, I’ve learned Jim has passed away. I first heard from social media and subsequently announced on DEADLINE [1]

I’ll come back and look at Jim’s life and contributions at some point, but for now, I wanted to just mark his passing by posting a link to the “Song In The Sun” album and film he made with Creed. The film is unique in many ways. First, the film was made for distribution via laserdisc, a full 5 years before the invention of the DVD. Second, the sound was recorded and engineered by Rudy Van Gelder using full 24-bit digital recording equipment. The sound is remarkably crisp and full, even on the laserdisc where the video is effectively analog while the sound is CD quality digital.

The film itself was a masterpiece of work by Pete Turner. It is full of color and it still pops out on the screen even today. It’s possibly the best example of digital filmmaking from the early ’90s in almost any genre. Part MTV, part film, part album.

When I spoke with Jim briefly in December 2020, he seemed willing to be interviewed but was also somewhat bashful and reserved about his role. He was offered a record deal by Creed off the back of a new recording and film contract via CTI Wave, a Tokyo-based subsidiary of the Saison Group. At the time, Saison owned Intercontinental Hotels, department stores, a supermarket chain, Discport Records, and the Wave Records retail chain.

Clipping from Billboard magazine, Sept. 21st, 1991

It would be unique for its time, 24-track digital recording. The film was designed to match the pre-existing music tracks. Cinematographers Pete Turner and Gordon Waterman picked visual images and motifs, and Turner’s color-saturated scenes dominate, mixed with everyday apartment scenes shot in black and white. As well as the ants, Turner’s touch can be seen in many frames, including iconic shots of a pencil, instruments, lilies, and a very bright red dress! Rob Atkins worked with Pete Turner and did photographs for the album.

At pretty much the same time Jim was doing the sessions for “Song Of The Sun,” he was also recording Wayne Krantz’s “Signals” album. They share a similar period sound. Jim had just come off a significant period of touring with Wayne Shorter to support Shorter’s 1985 album “Atlantis.” Beard went on to work with John Scofield, and the influences of both are clearly seen on “Song Of The Sun” – chordal harmony, fluid melodies crafted into Beard’s own compositions.

Creed let Jim pick the sidemen and soloists, and Jim went with his favorites, Wayne Shorter, Toots Thielemans, and Michael Brecker, all of whom were available for the sessions in May and June of 1990. Taylor didn’t launch his revised CTI until October 1990. At that time, Jim Beard got involved in another Taylor project, Chroma, and the pseudo-live sessions for “Music On The Edge” and overdub sessions. Beard’s album “Song Of The Sun” charted in the jazz top-40 throughout the summer of 1991.

The film wasn’t available until late 1991 and the CD entered the Billboard “Top Contemporary Jazz Albums” chart on July 6th, 1991. Do you have any memories of Jim that you’d like to share? Leave a comment below, or use the contact form to get in touch.

March 6th, 2024 3pm added link to Deadline announcement, minor rewording.
March 6th, 2024 3:30pm Added date of CD entering charts

2 Replies to “Jim Beard and the Keyboard In the Sky”

    1. Thanks John. It is a sad loss. Since I started writing here it has been about musicians who died and were older than me, or for those that were younger, like Wes, it was relatively a long time ago. Jim was younger than me.

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