Blakey, Byrd and Coltrane on Bethlehem (“Art Blakey Big Band”1957)


Track Selection: “Tippin’ ” (Donald Byrd)

The Artists

Bethlehem BCP 6027 Art Blakey (d) Donald Byrd (t) John Coltrane (ts) Walter Bishop (p) Wendell Marshall (b) Recorded New York City, December 1957. Other tracks include Sahib Shihab (as) Al Cohn (ts)  Bill Slapin (bars) Bill Hardman (t) Idrees Sulieman (t) Recorded in New York City, December, 1957, produced by Lee Kraft. (Reissued on CD as “John Coltrane: The Lee Kraft Sessions)

The Music

The selected track “Tippin'” features terrifyingly fast tenor fingering from one young John Coltrane. His solo technique even at this early stage is awesome – a melodic structure of anchor-points, each a launchpad for a rapid-fire musical mystery ride, leaving you breathless on arrival at the next point, only to throw you out into space again for the next excursion, an ever more daring white-knuckle musical rollercoaster.

A dream team line up, with Coltrane and Byrd with not-the-jazz-Messengers. I am still overwhelmed by listening to the scope and big band scale of this record. And it’s not Blue Note.

The Record

This astonishing line-up is fired at you from your speakers in what Bethlehem modestly call “Micro Cosmic Sound”. Put on your Sun Ra glasses and cosmic ray-deflecting tinfoil hat! Astonishing articulate physically electrifying sound. Probably one of the best if not THE best pressing I have ever heard. Since the last time I wrote that, about Tempo as I recall.

I knew of the name Bethlehem, held in reverence by old codgers from US Jazz Collector – chaps  who seem to have been collecting jazz since the Founding Fathers disembarked the Mayflower and headed straight for Fred Cohen’s New York Jazz Centre, King James Bible and Fred’s Guide under arm.

“Gadzooks!  Goody Cohen, what is this ear I see?”

“Tis no “ear” Sire, tis the symbol of the Plaftylite Company, purveyors of fine music. When someone invents the hi fidelity gramophone a hundred years hence, these black discs will provide your descendants with a most excellent musical listening experience”

“Excellent, I’ll take them. They’re so costly on Ye Bay. American Express?”

“Not yet invented Sire. America, that is. We take gold if that is any help”.

Witchcraft is as good an explanation as any for the audio quality. And unbelievably it is stereo. And good stereo. 1957-8 and good stereo would you believe?

Vintage Vinyl Stuff: labels, run-out and cover

My first genuine Bethlehem pressing. Those labels are beautiful Something about graphic design of this period. It is so delightfully uncomplicated and utilitarian.

Deep Groove, 1957, an early pressing if not a first, what more can one ask? No RVG.

Strange “Y” shaped symbols on the run-out. Runes of some kind possibly.

If pressing vinyl was their strongest suite, graphic design and typography was not. The title looks like Comic sans, corporate America’s most hated faux-friendly font in Powerpoint, though I like the Fifties Sci Fi Micro Cosmic Sound logo.

Collectors Notes

I have no idea which of my eBay searches hooked my auction up, as I wasn’t searching on Bethlehem, Blakey, Byrd or Coltrane. It could have been the presence of Sahib Shihab somewhere in the description, but up it came, with no bidders and two days to run, usually a sign that its not on other collector’s radar. Surprised me as Coltrane was mentioned, but I suspect the “Blakey Big Band” moniker put off those of the DJ Persuasion. Big Band is hot, not cool.The clock ticked away, the  auction came and went, and mine as sole bidder.How I like it.

Another copy  at the time of writing, is on “buy now”, a trifle more expensive than my score, but I must say still astonishing value for what I consider one of the best pressings I have ever heard.

I for one will be looking for more Bethlehem in future. That audio quality is up there with original Blue Note, Columbia Six-eye and Tempo.This stuff is worse than narcotics, I need another audio fix, and soon.

9 thoughts on “Blakey, Byrd and Coltrane on Bethlehem (“Art Blakey Big Band”1957)

  1. Was listening to this LP last night and vaguely recalled that you had reviewed it in the past. Nice stuff, sounds fantastic. Dear readers, don’t forget about this one!

    • I was merely in “short trousers” when I wrote about this one JoeL, in 2011. Gosh how time flies, but it still reads good. The rip is from the original Numark plastic turntable, and not bad at that too. LondonDustCollector needs to take a bow.

  2. mmmm, parallel lives.
    wrong my first wife, anyone right?
    wrong with some musicians, Mobley as I admitted.
    fortunately hit on the right way.
    hope to live long enough to know (almost) all I like in music.
    Bethlehem is a very nice label, an entire jazz catalogue, a couple of Mingus, Charlie Mariano, Sal Salvador, Chris Connor, Frank Socolow.
    First issues had a different label design, the so-called “laurel” until a number I don’t know, then the one you showed up here.
    Prices are lower than Blue Note, music is interesting, anyway rare on the market.

    • Definitely parallel – second wives with many shoes. All this excellent jazz, and it’s not Blue Note. Sigh. Another door opens, another room, damn it, a whole new house to explore. But Bethlehem prices are lower? I guess all one has to do is find them.

  3. wellcome into the Bethlehem bunch.
    in a recent post you considered big bands less interesting than small groups: I am of the same idea, but had just listened to this one and wanted to attract your attention on this particular record as an interesting chance to know a different hard bop.
    you got it!
    I’ve mono, of course, but I’m sure that stereo Bethlehems are much rarer than mono.
    CD version is double with alternate takes of all the sessions.

    • Dott, I have been wrong about many things throughout my life, not exclusively music either. Fortunately being wrong has not so far been fatal. The saving grace is that I feel free to change when something better comes along, be it a better idea, or a type of music I thought I didn’t like. The only problem is going to be that Bethlehem is even rarer than Blue Note. This may be a rod for my own back. But its great music isn’t it?

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