It was recently announced that Cosimo Matassa will receive the National Recording Academy’s prestigious Trustees Award for his contribution as a record producer. He is to be honored at a ceremony to be held in Los Angeles the day before the Grammy Awards ceremony, which will be broadcast February 11. Matassa plans to attend both ceremonies.
Matassa is a casual kind of guy who is usually seen wearing his “uniform” of a sweatshirt, cap and slacks. His relaxed attitude played a significant part in his success in the studio, producing hits from great artists Fats Domino, Little Richard and three nominees for this year’s Grammys: Allen Toussaint, Mac Rebennack and Irma Thomas. That he and these artists are being recognized this year—over 40 years after they stood before the well-placed microphones in his J&M Studios on North Rampart Street—speaks of the significance and endurance of their work.
“It supports what I’ve said all along,” says Matassa. “A lot of great performers have made me look good. You can be the best engineer in the world, but if there’s nobody in the room really performing, what have you got? A great reproduction of a poor performance.”
It’s true that the wealth of musicians in New Orleans was at the heart of this city’s R&B era of the 1950s and ’60s, yet Matassa’s deep appreciation of them and their art and his welcoming attitude in a time of racial turbulence created an atmosphere ripe for creativity. His recording style, which the academy deemed “essential to the development of New Orleans rhythm and blues, rock and soul,” has even been dubbed the “Cosimo sound.”
Matassa, who through the years has won numerous accolades and this month was presented the local Louis Prima Award by 13th Italian-American Association, is in good company with previous Trustees Award honorees including Sam Phillips, Dick Clark and even Walt Disney.
“I’m really proud to get in with that bunch,” Matassa says with a smile mentioning fellow honorees Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn and Ahmet Ertegun. “I was really pleased, of course.”
Matassa and his wife will take a train to Los Angeles, finding it a more comfortable means of travel than flying. “The train trip is enjoyable and you get three meals a day plus the scenery. Unfortunately, half of it will be desert,” says Matassa, who is bouncing back from a recent an aortal valve replacement. Rather than an artificial valve, which requires ongoing rejection drugs, a pig’s valve was used. “I tell people
I’m not kosher anymore,” says Matassa, laughing.
He looks forward to seeing his old friends at the Grammy ceremonies though he regrets that Allen Toussaint and Irma Thomas are up against each other in the Contemporary Blues Album category. “It’s unfortunate that New Orleanians are competing against New Orleanans,” says Matassa.
He’s also grateful that the academy is recognizing his work. “It was a great way to make a living!” Matassa says.