Bruce Swedien, a Shaper of Michael Jackson’s Sound, Dies at 86


Bruce Swedien, a Grammy Award-winning recording engineer best known for his collaboration with Michael Jackson and the producer Quincy Jones on the hit albums “Thriller” and “Off the Wall,” died on Nov. 16 in Gainesville, Fla. He was 86.

His daughter Roberta Swedien said the cause of death, in a hospital, was complications of surgery for a broken hip. He had also tested positive for Covid-19 but was asymptomatic.

Raised by parents who were professional musicians and encouraged his love of music, Mr. Swedien (pronounced swe-DEEN) was a masterly studio technician who, in a career of nearly 60 years, captured the sound of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Barbra Streisand, Dinah Washington, Jackie Wilson, Sarah Vaughan and Jennifer Lopez.

His most fruitful partnerships were with Mr. Jackson and Mr. Jones. Mr. Swedien met Mr. Jones in Chicago in the 1950s and worked with him on several projects, including records by Billy Eckstine and Dinah Washington, and then on “The Wiz,” the 1978 film adaptation of the Broadway musical based on “The Wizard of Oz.” Mr. Jackson played the Scarecrow; Mr. Jones was the film’s music supervisor and arranger; Mr. Swedien was the music recording engineer.

By 1979 they were working on “Off the Wall,” the first of their many ventures with Mr. Jackson. Mr. Swedien would win three of his Grammys for engineering Mr. Jackson’s next three albums, “Thriller,” “Bad” and “Dangerous”; his other two were for his work on Mr. Jones’s “Q’s Jook Joint” and “Back on the Block.”

“I thought to myself, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to give that trombone solo a unique sonic image?’” he told Sound on Sound. “So I told the soloist that, when it was time for him to solo, he should get up and tiptoe over into the corner of the studio, and play his solo into the corner, away from all the mics. He did that and everyone went bananas! I’m still so proud of that recording.”

In addition to his daughter Roberta, Mr. Swedien, who lived in Ocala, Fla., is survived by another daughter, Julie Johnson, and his wife, Beatrice (Anderson) Swedien, a close partner in his work since they married as teenagers.

After Mr. Swedien’s death, Mr. Jones said on Instagram that he was “without question the absolute best engineer in the business” and a “sonic genius.”



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