An occasional post, on the subject of US Prestige and UK Esquire records
Prestige is one of the treasure chests of audiophile quality vintage Modern Jazz recordings, along with Blue Note, Riverside, Contemporary, Impulse, without which our lives would be considerably poorer. Artistically , imagine the re-issue industry without anything to re-issue.
Inspired by Dottor Jazz Blue Note magnus opus, I have given some time to kicking off a guide to the ’50s/ early ’60s Esquire releases of Prestige records. A Prestige original pressing guide may be a longer term aspiration, but a first step is the affordable equivalent of Esquire Records is a good starting point.
Coming face to face with Prestige covers has in itself been an education. This guide follows the release schedule of the original Prestige titles. Following the order of Prestige catalogue numbers tells the story of the artistic evolution of Prestige as much as about Esquire. The early releases of the giants, Miles, Monk Mobley, Coltrane, McLean, Byrd and Rollins, through to the power-tenors and soul jazz in its twighlight years, searching for a commercial formula that would stave off financial pressure, to no avail.
For the audiophile, uniquely among overseas releases of US recordings, Esquire records were pressed in the UK ( and Europe) with original US supplied stampers and not re-mastered locally from tape, so are sonically the same as original US Prestige, in most cases showing van Gelder stamp and originating US matrix and plant codes. What differs are the alternative covers, a mixture of quirky native whimsy, kitsch graphics, alternative duotone colourings, and line-drawings based on the originals: sometimes you can see the original as inspiration, while others clearly start with different cultural reference points, the denizens of London’s smoke-filled Soho clubs as against 52nd Street New York., two jazz-loving communities separated by only approximately the same language. Potayto, pottato. That is what makes Esquire covers so intriguiging.
Why are album covers of interest? Well, what do downloads and The evil Silver Disk not have? The cover is sort of restaurant menu, that helps you decide if you want to eat here. It is the equivalent of the smell of the food arriving, before than the taste, it is part of the experience of consuming analog music. If you doubt their value, try selling a vinyl record without its cover. More interesting still they are a view through two different cultural windows on the same listening experience.
The guide is permanently located under the Esquire page of the LJC guides to record labels, as of today. It includes almost every title, as a reference source, not just those I personally have or recommend. I thought it deserves wider viewing than just search-engine based visitors or ebay sellers, and I’m briefly stepping off the treadmill of reviewing individual records. Click below.
Part Two: New Jazz / Esquire complete, back-to-back
Comments as always are welcome, as are corrections, suggestions, note of omissions, and gratuitous expressions of appreciation.
PART 1 – PRESTIGE / ESQUIRE