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The 35th Annual TEC Awards, Starring Fred Armisen, Herbie Hancock, and Joni Mitchell

Geary Yelton

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One of the most anticipated events of the NAMM Show every year is the TEC Awards ceremony.

The Technical Excellence and Creativity (TEC) Awards are the NAMM organization’s way of acknowledging the achievements of companies that make pro audio products, as well as the musicians, recording engineers, and studio designers who use them.

Like every year, this year’s ceremony took place in a cavernous ballroom on the Anaheim Hilton’s second floor. VIPs were invited in, handed drink tickets, seated at giant round tables, and served a darn nice buffet-style dinner only 45 minutes before the rabble were admitted.

Fifteen minutes later, the show began when the house band for the night (featuring guitarists Elliot Easton, Steve Lukather, and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter) played a medley of hits by the Ventures, including “Walk Don’t Run” and “Hawaii Five-O.” Jeff then presented TEC’s Music for Life Award to Ventures rhythm guitarist Don Wilson.

Courtesy of Getty Images for NAMM

The night’s emcee was Fred Armisen. You know Fred from Saturday Night Live and Portlandia, and sometimes he plays drums on Seth Meyers. His jokes were a mix of dry humor and prop gags, and though most of them fell flat, many in the audience politely laughed and clapped.

Courtesy of Getty Images for NAMM

Successive personalities from the music and audio technology worlds followed Fred on stage. Presenters included luminaries like Lisa Loeb and Andrew Huang and music industry insiders like Maureen Droney and Leland Sklar. Pensado’s Place hosts Dave Pensado and Herb Trawick received the TEC Hall of Fame Award and paid tribute to recording engineer Ed Cherney and other industry figures who passed away since last year’s TEC Awards. 

Courtesy of Getty Images for NAMM

Among the winners for technical achievement were the Moog One and Spectrasonics Omnisphere, as well as Korg’s minilogue xd, Avid Pro Tools, and Universal Audio’s reverb plug-in Capitol Chambers. Everyone had a wonderful time, as one group of engineers and executives after another hurried onstage to accept their awards.

The evening’s culmination was when Joni Mitchell received the annual Les Paul Innovation Award for lifetime achievement. Personally, I was thrilled to even be in the same room with this trailblazing and influential artist. Her career has progressed from folk to rock to jazz, every album different from the last, boasting some of the finest musicians of her generation.

Courtesy of Getty Images for NAMM

After a video presentation of Joni’s career highlights, Herbie Hancock took to the stage to heap praise on her accomplishments. Because she’s been in delicate health, the 76-year-old composer/performer stood at her table as Herbie strolled down to her tableside and presented her award, lauding her all the way. After her acceptance, four singers each performed one of her songs, with Suzanne Santo and Weyes Blood capturing Joni’s vocal essence at her very best. Eyes moistened as the ceremony charmed the entire room. It was actually quite moving. I wish you could have been there.

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