Oliver Nelson Main Stem (1961) Prestige



Track Selection: Main Stem (Ellington)


Kicking off the shoes with the very catchy Ellington composition, Main Stem (1942). The title refers, I believe, to the trunk of the Mississipi River, which runs from New Orleans to St Louis. It’s like the Grand Union Canal from Watford to Bletchley, only on a slightly grander scale. Once this riff gets under your skin, it’s so insistent, it will take major surgery to get it back out. Doodla deedla du daa, Doodla deedla du daa…


Joe Newman (t) Oliver Nelson (ts, as) Hank Jones (p) George Duvivier (b) Charlie Persip (ds) Ray Barretto (congas) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, August 25, 1961

Nelson chronology:  Screamin’ The Blues (1960); Straight Ahead (1961);The Blues And The Abstract Truth (1961): Afro/American Sketches (1962); More Blues And The Abstract Truth (1964)



The title track, Main Stem is priceless – a ‘ ripsnortin’ up-tempo  bluesy swinger with a great rhythm section straining at the leash, everyone having fun, Nelson helps himself to a large solo space to stretch out.  Nelson gives is just as much  if not more push, as the Ellington original, with a  much smaller musician inventory.

“I still break out into a sweat when I hear this. No one did this kind of high-intensity swing better than Duke!!” – YouTube commentator , unusually articulate for a YouTube commenter: he can spell sweat. And doesn’t swear Friggin’ Grate!

Oliver’s  skills as a soloist were often overlooked because of his more prominent role as a composer-arranger. He had fine command of both alto and tenor, along with a “composer’s” approach to improvisation, much as you find with Benny Golson, who also morphed into a composer/arranger career.

Exit, Stage Left:  By 1967, Nelson had moved to Los Angeles,  working for  the studios, writing for television and movies, and probably paid a lot better than occasional performing work. He occasionally appeared with a big band, wrote a few ambitious works, but  was largely lost to jazz a few years before his unexpected death at age 43 from a heart attack.

Vinyl: Prestige 7236 Bergenfield NJ Fireworks label, mono, vinyl weight a healthy 156 gm

Go to love the NJ Fireworks label For catalogue numbers above 7140 NJ is the first pressing, unless it has a second later catalogue number assigned. This is pretty much certainly the first pressing. Shoe on the other foot, there is actually a UK Esquire release of Main Stem, but its nice for balance that an US original came to hand first.


Collector’s Corner

Source: North London records store. Not hard to guess, as there are only two to my knowledge still standing: this was the one with the rather cranky eccentric owner. I proposed haggling with him when he cut me short to announce he had just reduced the price (true, he had) and it was take it, or leave it and get out of my shop. Well if you put it like that. Harrumph. Cash? No! That’s the price! Get out! I paid.

Interesting approach to marketing: treat ’em rough. How much is that doggie in the window? Not for sale, go away. No really, how much, for the one with the waggly tail? I’m busy, go away, don’t waste my time, I’m trying to run a pet shop here, can’t you see?

Doppelganger!! That morning I had seen the same Prestige Main Stem,  how unlikely is that to see two copies in one day? only the incredibly rare Black/Silver fireworks (stereo) in a central London store.That is the first I have ever seen in the flesh. Reasonable price but for one thing – a test play on the shop hi-fi revealed a pressing on recycled vinyl. The second the needle hit the vinyl ssschhsschhss the whole way through the album, one of the worst I had heard. What a tragedy. No deal.

So a few stops up the Northern Line, when I saw the self-same Oliver Nelson Main Stem on original labels in mono, at a lower price,  I fell to my knees (metaphorically) and kissed the North London ground. Yessss. I am meant to have this record. It may not be a trophy hunters holy grail, but its good enough for me.

Doodla deedla du daa, Doodla deedla du daa…Main Stem!

2 thoughts on “Oliver Nelson Main Stem (1961) Prestige

  1. Just a wee qualification: The Mississippi River is the main stem of a network of inland navigable waterways which form a system of about 12,350 miles in length, not including the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway of 1,173 miles.

    It runs from Minnesota (headwater) to the Gulf of Mexico, by way of St. Louis, MO and then New Orleans.

    A fitting context for framing Oliver Nelson, himself born in St. Louis, and who later graduated from the city’s pre eminent university:


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