Serge Chaloff: Blue Serge (1956) Capitol/UK EMI

Photos updated text refreshed  January 28, 2020

Track selection 1: I’ve got the world on a string (Arlen/ Koehler)

.  .  .

Track selection 2: Stairway to the Stars (Maineck/Signorelli/Parish)

.  .  .


Serge Chaloff, baritone sax; Sonny Clark, piano; Leroy Vinnegar, bass; PhillyJoe Jones, drums, recorded Capitol Studios, Hollywood, CA, March 14, 1956

Spending the first part of his career in the 1940’s era of big swing bands, Serge Chaloff featured in Woody Herman’s Second Herd, known as the Four Brothers Band – three tenors: Zoot Sims, Stan Getz and Herbie Steward, and Chaloff doing the heavy lifting on baritone. The Second Herd was also known for being a junkie band, losing its trumpeter Sonny Berman to an overdose, age 21.  After Herman’s band dissolved Chaloff returned home to Boston, where it took some five years  to kick his heroin habit  and then embark on his own short recording career.

Chaloff Discography: consists of only three four albums with Chaloff as leader – Boston Blow Up (1954), Serge & Boots,  Fable of Mabel (1955) and Blue Serge (1956). Chaloff”s recording career was cut short in 1957  at the whim of cancer, age 33.

Sonny Clark, also an addict, managed a year shorter lifespan than Chaloff and a similarly short recording career, dead by the age of 32  in 1963.  Fellow addict Philly Joe Jones, master of the rim-click groove, present and correct on drums and Leroy Vinnegar, king of the walking bass, who in complete contrast, just kept walking until the ripe old age of 71.


Blue Serge is a masterpiece of precisely executed bop lines and tender renderings of ballads. Chaloff’s effective use of dynamics and vibrato captures the heart of tunes like “I’ve Got the World on a String” and “Stairway to the Stars.” The rapport of the group is impressive for musicians who had not previously worked with Chaloff, and apparently Chaloff decided to have the lights turned low while recording this session, which exudes a distinctly after-hours relaxed ambience.

The Baritone Sax

Chaloff was the first be-bop baritone – Charlie Parker transposed to match the sonority and range of the bigger horn, infused with the blues, at times fast, sweet, swinging, or melodic, though never free.

Compared to the piano and tenor saxophone there were not many masters of the baritone sax: Pepper Adams, Sahib Shihab and Gerry Mulligan is my order of preference, and some lesser players, but it’s a great instrument in anyone’s hands. Think of the opening of “Moanin’ ” (the raucous Mingus one, not the Bobby Timmons tune) and the Mingus Big Band 93’s  version on Nostalgia in Times Square (The Evil Silver Disk only)  rather than the more anodyne Blues and Roots Mingus original.. Ronnie Cuber’s baritone has big boots. Could any other instrument carry this tune?

The Cuber You tube instantly made me a convert to the instrument. It’s a beast, but Chaloff had it tamed.

Vinyl: Capitol T742 UK 1st pressing by EMI

The cover is one of those 30-second ideas during a Hollywood lunch. Serge… word association … “blue serge”, tailors dummy, add wholesome girlie posing with baritone sax, all bases covered, its a wrap. Freshen your Martini?

The matrix stamp immediately identifies EMI Hayes, Middx. It is stamped but follows the curve of the run-out groove, unlike rival Decca New Malden, which forms a straight line in the centre of the vinyl land. UK pressings of US recordings were usually re-mastered by a UK house engineer from copy of the master tape sent from the US, single track, or at most, two track, in the ’50s.  The roster of engineers was matched to styles of music (popular vocal, classical, jazz).  The 1st UK issue stands up fairly well to the US original, though from limited experience, the US sounds better.



Collectors Corner

Another collectible vinyl from the collection of the late Brian Clark.

The subject of an interesting problem of pricing a UK “original” pressing against a US original pressing. Nominally the same music from the same date on the same label, and both rare,  one is the original artefact, the other a copy, remastered from a copy tape, in another country. It’s that undefinable troublesome word “original” and how it affects value. I guess this record comes under the oxymoron “fairly unique”.

Update: I see “rival” blogger TimEnjoysRecords has posted an original US copy of Blue Serge. Great minds and all that.

The Capitol second pressing has a black/rainbow rim label, and there are copies on Popsike that claim this 1959 second release is “original”, but we all know, boys and girls, that the original US is the dark maroon, don’t we.

Blue Serge Capitol

23 thoughts on “Serge Chaloff: Blue Serge (1956) Capitol/UK EMI

    • For me the three unchallenged firsts, ex aequo, are Serge, Lars, Pepper, followed by Bob Gordon. Thereafter Gerry, for his work as composer, arranger primarily, and to a lesser degree, as barytone player.


  1. Pingback: Sonny Clark pianista e compositore | Jazz Hard…ente & Great Black Music

  2. I go to a lot of car boot sales and every once in a while something truly great turns up – like this exact pressing for £1. It was 6.50am, cold and misty. Sorry


    • So you should be!

      Back in the early ’90s my ex took a lot of my original ’60s rock and pop collection to a car boot sale, came back proudly declaring she sold the lot to a dealer for twenty quid. Thirty or more records, each of which would now be worth over a hundred quid. Smart woman eh?

      Just one of many mistakes made when younger.


  3. small addition: Chaloff’s albums were four, not three.
    Serge Chaloff-Boots Mussulli: Serge and Boots on Storyville 310, preceeding The Fable of Mable, Storyville 317, both 10″.


    • Updated to four records Dottore, thank you. I glossed over 10″ as outside my normal collecting range but you are quite right. My Fable of Mabel is a UK Contemporary Vogue 12″ LP but no doubt has a very large run-off area.


    • Caro Dottore:

      Actually, five: you omitted “Four Brothers” (VIK/RCA LX-1096, with Zoot Sims, Al Cohn and Herbie Stewart [1957]), He was not credited as a leader (there was no leaders — this was a jam session-style collaborative effort). From what I can determine, this was his final recording and was most likely issued after his death.


      • It is very dangerous claiming knowledge of anything on the Internet. If you say you don’t like strawberries, you suddenly get offers of marriage from strawberries. The minute you say so and so made three records, before the day is out he has made four, now it’s five. Thank you Bob, your knowledge is inexhaustible.

        All LJC statements from this moment on are declared to be tentative, little more than a wild guess really, and awaiting correction.


        • (Sigh). How I wish you were right, Andy [that my knowledge is inexhaustible].

          If that were the case, I would now live on my 1.000-acre hacienda in Monaco (the kingdom would be expanded for this specific purpose), surrounded by scantily (if at all) clad leggy brunettes with blue eyes, serving Chambertin, vintage 1985, and lobsters in truffle sauce with the sounds of Ike Quebec and Dexter Gordon flowing liberally in the background. Samba dancers and bacchanals optional.



  4. Here’s a video tribute to Serge which has as its soundtrack an original composition from the Rik van den Berg Reserge tribute CD which was written by tenor saxophonist Simon Rigter entitled Brothers. The solo order is Sjoerd Dijkhuizen, Jan Smit, Rik van den Bergh, Marco Kegel and Simon.


    • Another thought, LJC: to the roll-call of baritone greats must surely be added John Surman. Very different music to Chaloff, of course, but even so. And the one record I can think of which is an unalloyed classic and on which JS sticks to the baritone horn throughout is EXTRAPOLATION, with John McLaughlin from (I think) 1969. A wonderful Brit jazz record.


      • There is a curious fact about barytonsax-players. I agree that there is not many of them that has made their mark among outstanding players. The curious fact is that Britain has two of the best in the business, I’m talking about Ronnie Ross and John Surman.


        • And not to forget Harry Klein another excellent baritone from UK. A rather forgotten figure of Brit Jazz but a superb player and a great character. Worth checking out his 1950s recordings if you can find them. (Mainly on 45rpm EPs, so probably off limits for LJC!)


          • Klein is on a number of Tommy Whittle quintets, mainly on Tempo records and not only on 45rpm, but also LP. A very accomplished artist. And what to say about the leader, Tommy Whittle? A real fiesta. What an excellent group he led!


            • I recall seeing the Whittle Tempo album a while back. Refreshing my memory confirmed it is probably the most expensive British Jazz record on record, extraordinarily rare, looks like just four copies have ever been auctioned, including these three here, one over £2,000:

              Perhaps Universal/Decca will honour us with a “Tempo Boxset”? In my lifetime, please!


  5. Thanks for the link–yeah I’ve got a copy of this one–wonderful record. I’m fortunate to have a copy of “Boston Blow Up” as well that has yet to appear on the blog. Looks like you got some nice titles from that collection, congrats.


  6. Awesome selection again, Andy! (are you reading my mind?). This is right up there with Ben Webster’s ‘Music for Loving’ , Ike Quebec’s “Blue and Sentimental”, Coltrane’s ‘Ballads” and “Lush Life” , Billie Holiday’s “Lady in Satin” and Bill Evans’ “Left to Right” in my “Music to foreplay by” Jazzopaedia volume. There is not a weak second in this session. It is all good to the last drop. Chaloff is clearly and unequivocally at the peak of his game here. Too bad the game wouldn’t last very long.

    The only problem I have with the album has nothing to do with the performance per se, but, rather, with the production, which is – in my humble view – a bit dated (and, on American pressings at least, exacerbated by somewhat thin and reedy sound — on multiple copies I’d owned over the years, Vinegar’s bass was all but inaudible). But then, we are talking 1956 West Coast sound here. How contemporary can production and arrangement sound after nearly 60 years?

    I see you reviewed a British copy. Although I have never held in my hands the original British pressing, based on my experience with British vs, American Capitol originals — Miles Davis’ Birth of Cool comes to mind — I would pick British over American ANYTIME. In the interest of full disclosure, I should add that, while I love Capitol’s ’50s and early ’60s Pop, Rock and Country pressings, I think their instrumental Jazz titles suffer from every production and engineering flaw imaginable and should be avoided like a leper.

    Funny, I wrote this even before I realized that Rudolf commented to the same effect. I am in complete agreement with his post.

    This is AN ESSENTIAL entry in any self-respecting Jazz collection. No Jazz collection – or, for that matter, MUSIC collection, is complete without Blue Serge. When it comes to Jazz Ballads and instrumental torch songs START RIGHT HERE and then work your way down.


  7. this British version IS unique.I guess that the sound is better than the original US version. I have a French version with a different cover and liners by Jean Wagner. The cover is a magnificent picture of Serge by Herman Leonard in black and white with a title in red “Mémorial Serge Chaloff”. The label is not turquoise, but the later rainbow Capitol used. Catalogue number unchanged T 742. The Dutch pressing by Bovema in Haarlem was identical to the US version, but soft cover mentioning “Printed in the USA”.I guess they just reproduced it. The vinyl over 220 grammes, solid those Dutch!


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