Jackie McLean: Jackies Bag (1959/60) Blue Note

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Artists

Side 1: Donald Byrd (trumpet) Jackie McLean (alto sax) Sonny Clark (piano) Paul Chambers (bass) Philly Joe Jones (drums) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ, January 18, 1959

Side 1 selection: Blues Inn (Mclean)

Side 2: Blue Mitchell (trumpet) Jackie McLean (alto sax) Tina Brooks (tenor sax) Kenny Drew (piano) Paul Chambers (bass) Art Taylor (drums) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, September 1, 1960

Side 2 selection: Appointment in Ghana (McLean)

Year: 1959/60

1960 U-2 spy-plane pilot Francis Gary Powers shot down over Soviet airspace photographing missiles. Russia outraged at US spying, Powers eventually exchanged for Soviet spy, KGB Colonel Vilyam Fisher. What kind of spy spells his name as Vilyam?  US wins Master-Spy on points.

Music:

Different line up on Side one from Side two, sessions recorded eighteen months apart – a favourite Blue Note release trick. In between the two sessions McLean was forging a wider reputation through the stage play The Connection. I confess, despite the presence of Sonny Clark and Donald Byrd on the 1959 session, by heart is with the (some would argue) lesser 1960 “B-side”, Kenny Drew and Blue Mitchell, not unrelated to the appearance of Tina Brooks (that’s spelt Tina Brooks!! with two shriek marks)  As in the selection Appointment in Ghana, with Paul Chambers – the common link – absolutely firing on all four cylinders. Possibly more. Gosh, this track swings.

Mclean plays alto slightly sharp, with an urgency and an acidic biting tone which sets him apart from the other alto players, in contrast to Art  Peppers effortless lyricism, Lee Konitz dancing on air, Cannonball Adderley’s  bluesy swing, Eric Dolphy’s sheer adventurousness, Lou Donaldson’s relentless swing, Paul Desmond’s cool musicality, Phil Woods unstoppable flow, Sonny Stitt’s hang on tight rollercoaster ride.   An amazing instrument, which you can see coming, demands  an instant LJC poll.  Unfair include Charlie Parker as its so obvious, so the poll will have to be limited to other modern jazz alto players, and I am not going to include Kenny G or David Sanborn, because its my blog and I can do what I like. I know there are other great players but can’t include everyone.

Apart from Charlie Parker, who are your favourite alto saxophone players? Its a limited list, you get three votes for any of the twelve listed.

Both A and B sides of Jackies Bag serve up a good helping of Mclean’s bop period, following which he took on more adventurous players like Bobby Hutcherson and Grachan Moncur III helping to push in new directions. More on that in future posts.

Vinyl: BLP 4051 47W63rd labels, no DG, ear, RVG, mono

Despite its 1959-60 provenance it would not have been released until at least 1961, a prime candidate for the non-DG pressing dies, a first press – unless someone wants to tell me different and question the sellers claim.

Not my favourite Blue Note cover, as attentive LJC  followers will be aware. Sharp corners and very little ageing, quite remarkable condition. There is no such thing as a bad Blue Note cover, some say.

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Collector’s Corner

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Source: Ebay
Sellers Description:

THIS IS AN ORIGINAL PRESSING OF ‘ JACKIE’S BAG’  BLUE NOTE 4051 BY JACKIE MCLEAN.  47 WEST 63RD ADDRESS BOTH SIDES. RVG STAMP, ‘EAR’ AND ‘R’ ON LABEL.  NO DEEP GROOVE. RECORD (VISUALLY GRADED) IS IN VERY GOOD/EXCELLENT CONDITION WITH ONLY HAIRLINE MARKS ON TRACK 1 ON EACH SIDE. COVER IS IN EXCELLENT / NEAR MINT CONDITION WITH VERY MINOR WEAR TO THE CORNERS. 43 W61ST ADDRESS AT BOTTOM.

Only on Ebay do people write in CAPITALS all the time, probably because it’s  better suited to sellers hyperbole, shouting the virtues of the item, as in “MEGA RARE!!” and “TOP COPY!” –  get the collectors adrenaline and cash flowing, in a way  “mega-rare” doesn’t

I have had this record on a Japanese pressing for some years – stereo – rarely played it. No question, the original draws you in, demands you share in the musical experience, completely rewarding, worth every penny.

(Photos updated December 28, 2016)

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40 thoughts on “Jackie McLean: Jackies Bag (1959/60) Blue Note

  1. By the way, early Blue Note stereos do not suffer from the “hole in the middle” effect found on other labels, most notoriously on many Stereo/Contemporary and Atlantic releases – have a listen, for example, to Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things.” Blue Notes usually have a well-balanced sound stage.

  2. (Continued from below)

    Dean I think you are confusing monitoring (listening) and recording and mastering After I believe late 1958 all Blue Note sessions were recorded in Stereo only and mastered in stereo only, even if a single speaker was used for monitoring (listening). After July 1959 all Blue Note sessions were monitored using more than one speaker, which is when RVG moved his studio to Englewood Cliffs, which had 3 speakers in the control room and four in the studio.

    Jackies Bag is one of the recordings originally made and mastered for Stereo. The mono version was just a 50/50 fold down from the stereo tape. If you listen to both side by side then it is clear the mono is a compromise.

    • Robert

      Could you point to where you got the information on the two speaker monitoring as I understood it was much later before Rudy switched to two speakers. As Rudy was live mixing the the monitoring was de facto what he recording.

      So if the Blue Note masters at the time were recorded to a stereo machine, but the recording was being monitored in mono the following would be true. When the mastering took place it was then folded down into mono for the mono release. This mono lacquer would then in effect be what Rudy and Alfred would have heard as they recorded.
      The issue with phase cancellation, that is the problem with some stereo to mono fold downs is avoided by the fact that they monitored in mono.
      On the other hand the stereo master would have been recorded blind. By the time that it went to tape, neither Rudy or Alfred would know what it sounded like. This would have been alleviated slightly by Rudy’s knowledge of the studio.

      • Hi Dean, I have seen it mentioned in Cohen and elsewhere. But even with one monitor in the Studio he was still mastering a Stereo recording (i.e. placing of instruments) in the studio after late 1958, even if he couldn’t directly hear the result at the time. Regardless, as someone interested in hearing the sound as close to the original recording from the period the Stereo master is literally as close as you can get after late 1958. The mono is a fold down of the stereo.

        • Hi Robert
          I don’t think Cohen does say that, I think we’re talking closer to 1964.
          Stereo recorded this way does not produce a truer sound than the mono, but rather a sound that you prefer to the mono. Which in the end is all that matters.
          Dean

          • Cohen page 74, quoting RVG “When the Studio in Englewood Cliffs opened in July 1959 it had three speakers in the control room and four speakers in the studio…”

            I am actually on the fence about mono/stereo generally. I like both for different reasons.

            My preference when buying a pressing is for the one that is closest to the original master. Given the original master was always a Stereo master for Blue Note sessions after July 1958 then that is my preference. And lately my preference has been for the Music Matters pressings (both mono and Stereo) as they are much truer to the original master tapes than even original Blue Note pressings.

            • But elsewhere we have read from Rudy that he monitored in mono for this whole period. And if that is the case the stereo master was recorded blind, and is not necessarily sonically the best representation of what the producers intended.

              As someone who has worked with many master tapes down through the years, I think I can safely say that Music Matters are as distorted from the original master tapes as any other record. The whole process of mastering is a judgement call as to what sounds best on a home system in a room totally unrelated to the one where it was recorded. MM for instance – in the discs I have heard – seem to go for warmth over brightness, losing what for me is an essential part of any Blue Note recording the high end wash of cymbals.

              But every mastering engineer makes this decision as they are creating. The interesting thing is with Rudy Van Gelder is that he was the sound engineer and mastering engineer. So as he was recording he would be making judgement calls that could be applied to the mastering. I suspect that he knew exactly what he was recording and how it would master down to mono or stereo. Making neither intrinsically better or worse.

              • Van Gelder wasn’t always the recording and mastering engineer although his best recordings are when he did both.

                MM releases sound very well balanced to my ears. Cymbals splash and all. They are so lifelike sometimes you can actually discern what part of the cymbal is being struck!

                Get a copy of this in Stereo (original Blue Note or AP), amazing:

          • I think the following statement from SH, sums up my thinking on this pretty well:

            “I don’t care if he monitored with a crystal headphone set or two tin cans. Orson Welles edited CITIZEN KANE on a 4” Movieola screen. SO WHAT? Sigh.

            Engineer Rudy usually has carefully split a band with a horn on the left and a reed on the right, bass and piano in the middle and drums on the right with a nice bleed through to the middle and thick, swirling stereo reverb that encircles the band in a 360 degree angle. This was not done in a haphazard fashion; it was done in a delicate, deliberate manner, well thought out and well balanced for the best stereo impact…

            Don’t believe the legend, believe the tapes. Trust Steve on this…

            As I wrote in the other thread and as I keep trying to explain to the folks, certain cues are lost when RVG stereo tapes are folded down to mono. Also, all of the out of phase information that occurs when recording live CANCEL OUT in L+R mono. They vanish, poof! Nobody knows this more than RVG himself. The monos were good enough for a 1961 Webcor phonograph but just because that sound was a compromise back then doesn’t mean we are stuck with it now. The actual stereo (binaural) tapes reveal a sonic panorama “time machine” back to the past. We are lucky to have such a clear record of such amazing music.

            If you must hear it in mono, get a double Y chord and combine the channels of your turntable to L+R. Problem solved. But don’t gyp yourself and miss out on the fantastic lifelike stereo image that RVG created; it’s quite wonderful for that time (or any time)”.

            http://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/question-vintage-van-gelder-blue-note-lps-stereo-or-mono-titles-which-are-better.123788/page-4#post-2874549

  3. Five votes for Albert Ayler!? As far I know he started off on alto but switched to tenor – although can be heard on alto on the badly recorded live album at Greenwich Village.

  4. Anthony Braxton and Lee Konitz in the same line-up? – how Konitz would not like that. I think that opens up a can of worms – Roscoe Mitchell, Henry Threadgill, and John Zorn? Only joking LJC.
    For me it has to be Ornette, Eric and Art in that order.

  5. Charlie Mariano fourth from the bottom?!?!

    Tsk, tsk, tsk….

    Andy, you have your work cut out for you. Hell hath no fury like St. Peter meeting the departed souls of the uninformed Jazz enthusiasts….

    • The order of poll entries on the voting form is random, Bob. The poll results however are the voice of the people, and as I expected, Eric Dolphy was out in front when last I looked. I like Charlie, but the competition is very strong.

  6. At the risk of buggering up your poll, LJC, I’d say there is a very strong case for including Anthony Braxton.

    • Leader of the Awkward Tendency again Alun? Why am I not surprised. Well, as its you, Braxton added tail end charlie to the poll. Funnily enough I have never listened to Braxton, obviously my omission, but I’ll take it on trust. We’ll see how many other jazzers cross the ballot paper.

  7. proud of Andrew’s first pressing fundamentalist appellation, I’m sad to confirm 4051 should have dg both sides, being 4058, Hank Mobley Roll Call, the last double sided dg pressing in continuos sequence. double dg will still be used on these issues: 4060, 4063-4064, 4067-4071, 4074, 4090, 4097, 4104, 4106, 4108, 4123, 4128-4129, 4141, 4146, 4152, 4157, 4162, 4164, 4168, 4170, 4179, 4185, 4198, 4201, 4207.

    • If its any consolation a first pressing doesn’t get away from the fact that all mono releases of this title are fold downs from the original Stereo recording! You may as well press the mono button on your amp and be done with it.

      • Robert, they were recorded in stereo, but monitored in mono, and then folded down for the cut. The effect is the same as mixing to mono. Not quite the same as a fold down from a record recorded specifically in stereo.

        • Also you can clearly see here in image of the actual master tape box, the note ” Mono Master made 50/50 from Stereo”:

        • And finally, I leave you with this from Steve Hoffman:

          “If you listen to an RVG fold-down in mono, you are missing all the essential room cues that make the music sound live. Trust me, I’ve heard hundreds of these actual master tapes. Not one of them benefits from a left plus right fold down. It goes from something that sounds like real live music to something that sounds like an old record, instantly”

          http://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/blue-note-lps-mono-or-stereo.248872/#post-6478980

          • Steve Hoffman wrote “a fold-down means that the musicians are standing on each other while playing. To some Blue Note and jazz collectors that’s “natural”. A straight line going up. Especially hard on the piano who has to support the other players on their shoulders. Quite a balancing act, especially for the drummer”

            LOL All I can say is SH needs to invest in a decent sound system. When I play mono, the entire soundstage between the speakers (and outside, on a good day) is solid filled with sound, I am not particularly aware it is mono, and can follow the music without for a moment thinking about who is where.

            Anyway I know the subject is important to people and I think should be settled in a mature and adult fashion i.e. bareknuckle, last man standing wins

            • I think there is a big difference between original mono masters and fold downs. I personally cant stand the Blue Note mono fold downs, they just artificial to my ear. Or at least that is how I experience them. But the original Blue Not monos are a joy. The Blue Note Stereos are far, far superior – particularly the Music Matters re-issues. I spend a lot of my time going to live gigs and have no problem with a sound stage as thats what happens in real life, guitar on left, sax on right.

              • Robert
                I’m afraid Music Matters are being a little crafty in ascribing benefits to the stereo over the mono, because, I imagine, their preference for stereo.
                A fold down of a stereo master will usually lead to phase cancellation, where you will lose part of the recorded image when you do the fold down.
                Of course if you monitor in mono you will avoid this, because, so I am told, your fold down will replicate what you heard as you were recording.
                The problem then might be with the stereo, because this will have been recorded without being monitored, without the care that you would normally expect.
                I actually think Blue Note stereos of the period sound great and that everyone should enjoy the version that they like best. But Rudy was recording in a way that suggests he was more concerned about the mono mix being correct.
                There was another thread where this was brought up, and quite a few quotes from Rudy which backed this up. It also led me to investigate how the process would work from sound engineers that I know, it seems to back up the above.

  8. Sausage fingers – Recently tried to bid for this and Let Freedom Ring on eBay but they quickly soared to price levels well out of my reach. I actually think that McLean’s playing gets better the more modal it got. I refuse to vote in this ballot until Ornette Coleman is included – perhaps replacing Albert Ayler.

  9. Shame Tina Brooks never got the recognition he deserved. This LP is as much his as Jackie McCleans – in fact the second side (preferred by LJC) was taken from the same 1 September session as Tina’s masterpiece – Back to the Tracks, with Jackie’s track “Appointment in Ghana” quoting directly from Tina’s “The Blues and I”. A tragedy further compounded by Back to the Tracks not being released as a full LP until many decades later. I have the Music Matters pressing of this and it is one of the best sounding Blue Notes from any period. Absolutely superb.

        • Who killed Tina Brooks? Hugely interesting, though very harsh in judgement of Lion and Wolff. Other players had faced hardship, moved towns, moved labels, moved to Europe, moved to other forms of work. Brooks self-destructive drug habit – others managed to kick it. If anyone killed Brooks, it seems in no small part, Brooks himself, if that’s not too harsh. Either way, loss of a great player..

          • Whilst clearly it was the drugs that killed him, I think it is inexcusable that they held back most of his best work… Miles, Coltrane, et. all all had drug problems but their work went out regardless…. How long Miles Davis would have lasted penniless and homeless with a big heroin problem… I would have given him less than Tina Brooks. And why did Blue Note never record Charlie Parker I wonder?

            • All good questions Robert. Lion and Wolff are owed a huge debt for all the wonderful heritage Blue Note left us. Without them, I’d have a bigger bank balance but much less rewarding music to listen to and marvel at. They also made some mistakes, and their treatment of Brooks was one of them, I won’t defend that. Their final tally is very positive, but not without a few regrets.

              • I think its worth noting that the reason that Blue Note ended up with more sessions than they needed on several players was because Alfred would pay them to record even when he didn’t need a new album by them.
                The fact he recorded so much TB, when his one album sold very poorly, shows an admirable commitment to art over money.

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