Track selection: Blue Blues Blues
Jackie McLean (as) Tina Brooks (ts) Freddie Redd (p) Paul Chambers (b) Louis Hayes (d) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, August 13, 1960
The story so far…
For anyone who has been following the story, last year I managed to get a 1st press of this holy grail record, but without a cover – the seller said it could not be found. Even so it was a fairly aggressive auction, seems a few other collectors took the same view as me – a record to die for, 1st pressing excellent condition, and cost me a big number even without a cover. By way of a clue a Swedish seller had just that week sold an EX copy for nearly £500.
LJC poster Christian, (bless you, Chris!) kindly passed me a link to a German seller who was selling a G-minus grade copy of 4045, but with an “acceptable” VG original cover. Not many people are going to go for a G minus vinyl : could even put your stylus at risk .
Seemed a simple enough plan. To summarise: 1 original record + 1 original cover = 1 happy Londonjazzcollector
I dithered a long while. At the start it was pretty expensive for a cover, over 100 euro, but over the space of a few months it failed to sell, was relisted several times, and the asking price had fallen by half from ridiculous to only totally unreasonable. It’s like a lot of things in the collecting game: finally, it is not about price, it’s about whether you want it or you don’t. A record needs a cover. A decision had to be made.
I decided to go for it, pushed the buy it now button, and it was not long after that an earthquake of 4.9 Richter shook my building. The gods must have been following the story too. Thor and Odin, both keen Danish jazz collectors as it happens, quaffing tankards of nectar, wagering what I would do. Their rumbling tummies must have shaken the very ground. Time to send out for more pizza. And indeed, the gods went on to have the last laugh. But I already had a pretty clear idea of the best use of my my G-minus record:
What I hadn’t factored in that the G-minus vinyl was a “Review Copy” I know the theory of Test Pressings and Review Copies. First few copies off the stamper are, in theory, the best possible quality pressing. Each time 100 tons of pressure flattens that warm vinyl biscuit, the stamper grooves begin to wear down, losing precious information. A couple of thousand repetitions latter, last off the stamper, holy grail or not, it sounds dull and flat. I knew it made a difference, I just didn’t know how much of a difference.
I read somewhere Deutchegramaphon prided themselves on pressing no more than 3,000 from a stamper, while American plants thought nothing of pressing 6,000 or may be even 10,000 copies of a pop record, figuring no-one could tell the difference. No idea where Plastylite drew the line.
The moment of truth came when my hi-fi guru (every record collector should have one), who had meticulously washed and cleaned the G-minus for me, urged me compare the review copy of 4045 with my prized coverless 1st press, and with my King Japan pressing. Which will sound best?
Do we really need to do this, I asked. It’s obvious.
A couple of bottles of Rose were brought into service, to ensure critical listening faculties were suitably fine-tuned.
First impressions, OMG the review copy sounded stunning. Ignoring the minor scuffs and a few tics, the sound was breathtaking. Fresh, lively, articulate, possibly one if not the best sounding Blue Note I own. That’s surprise number one. But surely, the coverless excellent press will wipe the floor with it! Bound to, stands to reason.
Moment of truth, on goes the coverless first press. Oh dear. We laugh. It is quieter, more restrained, lacking the rich tonal colour and intensity of the review copy, worthy, but totally lacking excitement. No comparison, the review copy just won it, hands down. Surprise two.
On went the King Japanese press. The same music, but the bottom-end was a little muddy, smudged, and as a result the music is harder to follow. Not in any sense bad, if you had never heard anything else, you would be quite happy. But when you can make the comparison, just not as good as the Blue Note originals. Comparison can be a dangerous thing. I once asked a sociable question. “Hows the wife?” I asked. “Compared to who’s?” came the reply.
This was pure sadism: the review copy sounded better. Fact. It wasn’t meant to turn out this way, I just wanted an acceptable cover. It doesn’t matter that it has a few clicks and pops. It delivers the excitement you want, in spades, Tina Brooks and Jackie Mclean in the room, rip-roaring, racing, music brought to life. Blue Blues Blues just swings!
Some hard lessons to learn
The cover is stamped “not for sale” and the record labels also have “Review copy not for sale” stamped on one side. In the collector world, these marks considerably reduce the value of the record. How wrong can you be? Very. The most important thing of all about a record is how it sounds, yet no-one can tell you that. It’s something you have to find out for yourself, the hard way.
The fact the review copy is marked, though not really as bad as G minus suggests, is not a deciding factor. Of course a rubbish record can be marked too, but a high quality pressing can overcome a moderate amount of vinyl defects.
Not everything is as described. The G-minus could have been just that. Plenty are. But this was probably graded on how it looked and not how it played.
There are probably more lessons to learn from this experience, but the Chuck Berry song about sums it up for me. “You Never Can Tell”.