Pioneering Sound Engineer Jack Renner, Co-Founder of Telarc Label, Dies at 84


Jack Renner, co-founder and former president of the Telarc record label, a favorite among classical music audiophiles and an early adopter of the compact disc, died on June 19 at his home in Rhode Island following a battle with cancer. He was 84.

Renner's death was reported July 3 by Classical music site Gramophone. His daughter confirmed his passing with the New York Times days later.

The eastern Ohio native started his music career as a trumpeter and school teacher but later turned his attention to audio engineering and in 1977 started Telarc in Cleveland with Robert Woods, a fellow Ohioan.

The label quickly gained a reputation for its superior sound quality ("The Telarc Sound") and released recordings of various classical ensembles, including the Cleveland Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. Telarc later branched out into jazz and blues, with releases by the likes of Oscar Peterson, John Pizzarelli and Junior Wells.

Telarc was the first label to sign Chinese piano prodigy Lang Lang, releasing his first two live albums in the early 2000s before he moved to Deutsche Grammophon.

"Artists find they get a more personalized kind of treatment here," Renner told Billboard in 1998. "I'll talk to them about material, work with them in the studio and move quickly toward our goals. We don't have to spend endless board meetings on small decisions."

On challenges facing independent labels, especially ones with a specialized focus such as Telarc, Renner said, "We don't have a Madonna to sell, or anything that's usually dangled in front of (retail) buyers. And there are times when a product can really do well for us is hidden more than it should be."

The label was widely known for embracing newer recording techniques, such as the direct-to-disc method over traditional tape. According to Renner, Telarc made history in the late 1970s with the first commercial digital recording of symphonic music in the U.S., featuring the Cleveland Symphonic Winds.

Renner personally earned 11 Grammy Awards over the course of his career as a sound engineer, while Telarc has won dozens more.

In 1996, Telarc merged with another indie, Heads Up, and in 2005 both smaller labels were acquired by Concord Records, where they continue to operate. Renner left Telarc soon after the acquisition. For three decades he also taught audio at the Cleveland Institute of Music.

Renner is survived by his wife, Barbara Pease Renner, a daughter and two sons.