Miles Davis: Collectors’ Items (Prestige) 1953-6

Prestige “original”!?  What’s one number difference in an address? 446-447-close-up Into the vaults, LJC returns clutching what he thought was his most prized “original” Prestige LP, purchased a few years back from the now-disappeared Intoxica Records, Portobello Road, Notting Hill. The man said he “thought” it was a first pressing, NYC label as it should be, though he wasn’t entirely sure that everything was alright, “certainly a very early pressing”. We’ll see, let’s boldly go…. deep dive into the murky world of Prestige covers. Miles-Davis-Collectors-Items-Prestige-7044-cover-1800-LJC Selection: Round About Midnight

Artists

Miles Davis (trumpet) Charlie Parker as Charlie Chan, Sonny Rollins (tenor saxophone) Walter Bishop Jr. (piano) Percy Heath (bass) Philly Joe Jones (drums)WOR Studios, NYC, January 30, 1953, (remastered by Van Gelder) Note the presence of Charlie Parker (“Charlie Chan” for contractual reasons) on tenor instead of his usual alto, sure-footed but without the hyper-fluidity and faster-pace more normally associated.

Selection 2 : Your Own Sweet Way

Artists

Miles Davis (trumpet) Sonny Rollins (tenor saxophone) Tommy Flanagan (piano) Paul Chambers (bass) Art Taylor (drums)  recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ, March 16, 1956

Music

There are many recordings of ‘Round About Midnight, but this 1953 version with Miles and Parker is interesting for its  melancholy restraint. Rather than seize the opportunity for flowing legato and celebratory flourishes, it is deliberately downbeat, wringing out in every note the weary pain of musician’s life “around midnight” (despite being recorded in the early evening). Miles tone is limp and turns sour, Parker is downbeat. Whilst his later version with Coltrane’s exultatory solo still stands head and shoulders above many others, this has a poignancy and legitimacy that is something special. Did Parker not know how to speak?

Three years later, the rhythm section here updates to Flanagan/Chambers/Taylor. Miles joins a more mature Sonny Rollins in a wistful Brubeck ballad Your Own Sweet Way, which signals the way bop was progressing.

All the tracks here repay thoughtful listening, as though they were indeed a treasure trove of “Collectors’ Items”. Just take care to place the title’s  possessive apostrophe in the correct position, after the “s”. Correct punctuation was the ’60’s mark of education and social  refinement. Perhaps it’s due for a comeback.

Vinyl: Prestige LP 4044

N.Y.C. yellow/black fireworks label, RVG (by hand) , AB  (Abbey Manufacturing), mono, looking good…

Miles-Davis-Collectors-Items-Prestige-7044-label-pair-1800-LJC Liner Notes Miles-Davis-Collectors-Items-Prestige-7044-back-cover-1800-LJC Collector’s Corner

This is here it all goes potentially wrong: a GEM cover with a 447 West 50th St. address.  Apparently not a cover belonging to the original 1st pressing, but evidence of a later second cover and therefore likely a later pressing.

GEM: There is not a lot of information from collector resources about GEM covers to confirm or raise doubt over provenance. I’ve never seen a single reference to GEM covers online, on Discogs or Popsike, bnspubs, though possibly reams on Hoffman threads. A lot of money has changed hands on Ebay with “original Prestige” on the strength of the label, which is the usual sign of provenance for collectors. I’ve been doing some heavy lifting to see if we can nail down the business of Prestige covers.

If there is one thing worse than Ebay seller photos of record labels, it’s seller shonky unreadable photos of  record back covers. No matter, all you have to read here is the blurred address for Prestige at the foot of the cover –  is it 446 or 447 West 50th St., N.Y.C.. and the presence  of the GEM Albums Inc. imprint at the bottom corner of the cover – it’s either there or it’s not. 446 or 447?

446-447-close-upGEM imprint: Printed and Packaged by G E M Albums, Inc., N.Y.GEM In addition, at  7070, the words “Printed in USA” start to appear at the bottom left corner of GEM covers. Looks like any cover below 7070 with “Printed in USA” is a later cover. The GEM and 446/447 change occurs on titles between 7055 and 7065 (pictured below). There are a couple of anomalies – 7057 Django and 7061 Mobley’s Message – where I could find only GEM covers. According to nearby titles, the original cover should be without GEM. Perhaps they are rare, or perhaps they don’t exist, or were printed out of catalogue number sequence.

7065 starts the long run of GEM covers. GEM covers on titles below 7065  are  later  manufactured covers, and the associated vinyl is an early but probably not a first pressing, despite having a 446W N.Y.C. label. My copy of 7044 Collectors’ Items should be a non-GEM cover,  though every copy of 7044 I have seen online has had a GEM cover. GEM or not GEM?   Do I care? Should I? Good question.

The transition in covers is captured below, the best pictures I could find online (view at full screen) These are the “best”?PRESTIGE-COVERS-TRANSITION (1) -7050-7057--no-GEM-446-447-2500x1500-LJC PRESTIGE-COVERS-TRANSITION-(2)--7058-7065--no-GEM-446-447-2500x1500 Now none of this is 100% bullet-proof. It only takes one person to come up with a cover that questions this interpretation.. Like all theories, it’s the best we know at this time, subject to change if more information comes to light. Always read the label. And with Prestige, now you have to read the small print too. Damn, where did I put my reading glasses?

Postscript: that address – 447 West 50th St 447West50thSt 446 West 50th St. 446West50thSt

“446 W 50 St is a rental building located at 446 W 50th St, New York, NY 10019, in the area is commonly known as Hell’s Kitchen.”

Prestige, on the other hand, is a record label that is Collector’s Hell.

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29 thoughts on “Miles Davis: Collectors’ Items (Prestige) 1953-6

  1. Alright, here’s my two cents in the shape of two galleries featuring close-ups of bot PRLP-7053 and PRLP-7057. Make sure to use ‘slide show’, that also offers you the option to zoom in. Here we go:

    Monk, PRLP-7053, click HERE.

    Django, PRLP-7057, click HERE.

    I’m quite proud of the photos myself 😀

  2. You should check out this with Rudy Van Gelder. He’s still alive and lives in New Jersey! M. Harris

    • We had this discussion here a while ago. Someone (was it Bob Djukic?) told us “to leave the old man alone”.

      • Ears burning!
        This Tuesday I attended one of Gearbox Records early evening Jazz Kissaten vinyl listening sessions at Kings Cross. (Original 1500 series Blue Notes played on Audio Note gear: Mobley 1568, Might Joe and Mo. Yo!!) MD of Gearbox, Darrel Sheinman, dropped into the conversation he had spoken to Rudy only last week on the phone, a matter of detail regarding their ’60s Scully lathe. He noted Rudy sounded a little frail, but quite lucid. He commented his Scully was still sitting in the corner of his room “but it ain’t working no more!” All the more remarkable Rudy’s still with us, early 90’s. Remarkable contribution.

  3. SOME VISUAL DETECTIVE WORK:

    Look at the building on the left on the “446 West 50th St.” photo. That is the building that you can see behind Miles on the “Workin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet” cover:

    That photo must have been taken in 1956. From the same exact photo session comes this photo, taken in front of the Prestige offices, probably only minutes before or after the Workin’ cover:

    Now look at the way the sunlight falls in both photos: it’s from the front and left on the second photo and slightly from the back and right on the cover photo. Which means that the Prestige office is right behind the photographer on the Workin’ cover, thus confirming the existence of the 447 address in 1956.

    • It seems I’m not that a good a visual detective after all. These photos can’t be from 1956, since RELAXIN’ was only released in 1958. So the photos are either from ’58 or ’59 (when WORKIN’ was released). Duh!

      Interesting that Miles agreed to do a photo shoot for Prestige well after his contract had ended.

      • I don’t think we should let a few “facts” get in the way of a good story. People don’t care about the facts in many other aspects of life. How often did Miles wear that same jacket? How much shorter is the cigarette in Miles left hand? Or is it not lit up? Too many unanswered questions. I say we stick with this explanation, because we like it. Or at least until someone comes up with a story we like more.

  4. Regarding 446 W. 50th Street and 447 W. 50th Street. They are not adjacent to one another, but opposite one another. House numbers in Manhattan, and perhaps the rest of the boroughs, are numbered “even” one side (2, 4, 6, 8, etc.) and “odd” the other (1, 3, 5, 7, 9, etc.). My guess is the address printed on the album jacket is a mistake. Either nobody caught it or nobody cared. Why would Prestige want to move from one ratty building to another presumedly ratty building across the street?

    • Thanks for context, I’m not familiar with NY geography other than through record jackets (and Google Streetview)

      Whist not dismissing the possibility of a mistake, think of all those requests for the Prestige Catalogue arriving at the “wrong address”. Wouldn’t they have fixed that? I have no idea.

      Perhaps Weinstock needed more space, and the best short term option was renting more space just across the road. Perhaps the lack of space and inconvenience of crossing the road finally prompted the move to Bergenfield?

      More questions than answers I’m afraid.

  5. Hey LJC! I went and checked my copy and my cover does also show that it was printed by GEM. I also noticed that most labels of this album seem to say “Collector’s Item” despite the cover saying “Collector’s Items.” Although a small discrepancy, I thought maybe it had to do with covers printed by GEM but I can’t really figure it out. I did see on Discogs a blue trident label that also said “Collector’s Item” instead of plural form like the cover. I guess it’s a mystery best not dwelt on for too long eh?!?

    • Off topic, but germain to apostrophies – my review of the fictitious holiday island of Qwerty, written some years ago submitted to a travel site, but with some morals for modern times.

      Qwerty is now a vibrant community where both serif and sans serif fonts live together with numbers and all kinds of punctuation, in perfect harmony. But it was not always so.

      The fall of Capital-ism

      For many centuries social order on Qwerty was built on the hegemony of the ruling UPPER CASE, and the lower case knowing their place. However a revolutionary thinker, in his monumental work Das Capital, proposed that all numbers were equal. This notion rocked the very core of Qwerty society – particularly of numbers, many of whom earned a handsome living on the basis that some numbers were bigger than others. The idea of all numbers being equal ran totally contrary to accounting principles, and caused shares in all the island’s accounting firms to promptly collapse.

      To make ends meet, once proud numerals – some direct descendants of Roman numerals – were forced to retrain and work in call-centres, as telephone numbers.

      As for the fate of capital letters, the resulting typographic revolution saw many subject to capital punishment. The dark years that followed, under the rule of the lower case, saw capitals imprisoned and in some cases inserted into very very very long sentences.

      Following a period of rehabilitation, CAPITALS eventually found a new place in society, gainfully employed in proper names, opening paragraphs, and even as tabloid headlines. It became common to see both upper and lower case living happily side by side.

      But just as upper and lower case had come to terms with their typographical differences, tension was once more created by the arrival of italics, many in search of a better life. “There goes the neighbourhood!” numbers said. “Those italics – they’re not our kind of type.” “Once italics move in, who next: Footnotes?”

      “But punctuation I don’t have a problem with” said one number, (who asked to remain ex-directory). “At least punctuation do the jobs letters don’t want to do. Like finishing sentences.” Another disagreed. “Some say coma’s are cute but a friend of mine once went out with an apostrophe. She said it was, like, soooo possessive.” “Yeah, I know what you mean, same with hyphens – only one thing on their mind! Conjugation”.

      Here the review ends abruptly. Several years later I decided to write instead about jazz. You will be the judge of whether this was a good move. And for whom

      • Um, wow. Yeah well I’m glad you’re writing about jazz now…not that that was bad; entertaining for sure!

  6. This one is a mixed bag like so many Prestige releases, although I particularly like the “Collectors’ Items” concept and Ira Gitler’s liner notes. The “musty shop” Gitler was almost certainly referring to was Milt Gablers famous “Commodore Record Shop”.

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b7/Milt_Gabler%2C_Herbie_Hill%2C_Lou_Blum%2C_Jack_Crystal.Commodore_Record_Shop%2C_August_1947%28Gottlieb_01631%29.jpg

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milt_Gabler

    In their early years, both Prestige’s Bob Weinstock and Blue Note’s Alfred Lion were denizens of Gabler’s store, a New York institution and crossroads for many personalities in the jazz world. Perhaps most importantly, Gabler noticed that many of his customers were constantly searching for the same few out-of-print and hard to find collectors items. Gabler had the brilliant idea to contact the companies that owned the catalogs of these old labels, license the metal parts from them and use those parts to press new copies on his Commodore Records label. Thus the ‘reissue’ was born.

    Ultimately Gabler was able to shift the focus of Commodore Records from reissues to original recordings, issuing many landmark sides like Chu Berry’s ‘Forty-six, West Fifty-two’ (a reference to the Commodore Record Shop’s street address) and Billy Holiday’s racially-charged anti-lynching ballad ‘Strange Fruit’ (Gabler’s brother-in-law was Jack Crystal, and Billie Holiday occasionally made ends meet by baby-sitting Jack’s son, future comedian Billy Crystal).

    Two of Gabler’s other regular customers, Bill Grauer and Orrin Keepnews, successfully convinced RCA Victor of the marketability of ‘reissues’ leading to the creation of the RCA Victor ‘X’ speciality label which saw the reissue of many seminal but out-of-print Victor sides by artists such as Bennie Moten and Jelly Roll Morton. After RCA Victor lost interest, Grauer and Keepnews continued their efforts on their own with Riverside Records and like Gabler later transitioned into original recordings.

    As for the music on this record, for me it has a bit of a tragic, desperate air about it. The 1953 session would be the last time that Miles and Charlie Parker played together and was largely a washout with Charlie Parker ending up asleep on the studio floor. This must have been particularly hard on Miles who had stood with Charlie Parker in his quintet in 1947-48 through many outlandish incidents and humiliations and was now in some of the darkest days of his own heroin addiction.

    The 1956 session, on the other hand, offers a glimpse of what never was: a Miles Davis Quintet from an alternate dimension. ‘In Your Own Sweet Way’ from ‘Workin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet’ was the track which, perhaps more than any other, which for me opened a window into the genius of Miles’ first quintet, but sometimes I feel that the version on this LP may even surpass the version found on Workin’. Tommy Flanagan creates an especially haunting intro by harmonizing the chords in a way which evokes a whole-tone scale.

    I listened to this tune countless times before I noticed that it was written by Dave Brubeck which I found somewhat shocking given Miles well-known proclamation that Brubeck ‘doesn’t know how’ to swing in a 1954 interview with Nat Hentoff in Downbeat magazine:

    http://www.downbeat.com/default.asp?sect=stories&sid=1040&subsect=story_detail

    As always, Miles is full of paradoxes.

    • One final note about equalization:

      The 1953 sessions were conducted at WOR Studios in NYC and were possibly cut to lacquer rather than recorded to tape in which case the original source provided to RVG had some kind pre-emphasis applied which he may not have compensated for. At any rate, the session predates standardization on the RIAA curve and to my ear sounds more natural when played back without a treble rolloff (and perhaps with an 800Hz turnover rather than the standard 500Hz turnover).

      I’ve found this to be the case with several Prestige releases of material that was originally recorded in the 78 rpm era and before RIAA standardization (approximately 1953 and earlier). If you have the proper equipment available, playing back sessions like this one (and early recordings in general) with proper equalization can reveal ‘old’ muddy-sounding recordings to be surprisingly high-quality.

      • Thank you as always Felix for scalpel-sharp insight. I potter around in all this stuff, without really having a full understanding of context and intent, on the basis that it’s better to jump in than walk by. Insight often follows rather than precedes. Good contribution.

      • Felix, don’t you think “proper equalization” with “proper equipment” might have been employed for the Original Jazz Classics re-issue? In my understanding, the remastering was done by Joe Tarantino using the original master tapes.

        • It’s possible, but it’s difficult to say, especially considering I’m not familiar with the OJC version. My perception is that most 80s remasters were done with free equalization (I would assume with graphic EQs, I’m not so clear on the adoption and availability of parametric EQs coincides with when that particular mastering would have been done).

          In any case, it’s quite possible that the “original master tapes” in this case would have been the tapes Weinstock paid RVG to create from the original WOR lacquers (assuming that the WOR session wasn’t done on tape). This was the usual course of events when Weinstock, Lubinsky, Lion, et. al. paid RVG to ‘remaster’ earlier recordings cut to 16-inch transcription discs before the widespread adoption of magnetic tape.

          The problem which arises is that anything cut to disc necessarily uses some kind of pre-emphasis and before the universal adoption of the RIAA curve as a standard, there was no ‘standard’ pre-emphasis used for disc recordings and therefor they could vary from studio to studio, engineer to engineer, and even session to session.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RIAA_equalization#Origins_of_pre-emphasis

          While there were standards such as the NAB curve, sometimes only the NAB bass turnover was used without a treble rolloff, etc. The only clue as to the proper playback of a disc was in the labeling that accompanied and often even that was mislabeled.

          It all boils down to how RVG played back the transcription discs when transferring them to tape. If for example, he used an RIAA treble rolloff when no treble pre-emphasis was used during the original recording, the playback would sound ‘muddy’. This is often what you are hearing when you play early, pre-RIAA LPs with a normal phono preamp which compensates for normal RIAA pre-emphasis.

          If you have a device that allows you to apply variable de-emphasis, like the Esoteric Sound Re-Equalizer:

          http://www.enjoythemusic.com/magazine/equipment/0308/rek_o_kut.htm

          By setting the rolloff to ‘flat’, you can in effect reverse this process and hear what the recording sounds like without a treble rolloff. My personal opinions have been formed over the years by comparing the original 78 rpm releases with later LP reissues of the same material.

          If you want to experiment with non-RIAA equalization but don’t want to shell out for gear, you can try using Brian Davies’ excellent (and free) Equalizer software:

          http://www.clickrepair.net/software_info/equalizer.html

          My point is that many people would be surprised how many early ‘poor quality’ recordings are actually quite good when played back properly.

          • I see, I see. I wonder if the booklet that comes with the “Complete Prestige Recordings” (which I don’t have) could shed some light on the question of master tapes. All I can say is the 1953 session sounds pretty good on OJC, and apart from that, the music itself IMHO is far better than described by Rudolf (below). Thanks for the ample information provided by you.

          • No way graphic EQs were involved in the mastering of these. The parametric EQ was more or less in play at the late 60s, but to some extent before that in passive inductor based products that had a limited number of switchable frequencies. Analog graphic EQs are not professional tools, except for a few designs that are in that layout but use discrete inductors behind each slider, and those would not have been flexible enough to encode the curve on records.

    • fs: thank you for posting the full DB interview, of which normally only a few phrases are quoted. I was happy to learn that two of my favourite artists, Jimmy Giuffre and Bob Brookmeyer, had Miles’ full appreciation. Also interesting to note his reserved opinion on Charles Mingus’ experiments with Teo Macero. He was right in a certain sense and Charles would soon go into other directions.
      Re the hybrid Collectors’ Items album: the 1953 session should never have taken place, as it was bound to fail and the 1956 gives a glimpse of what could have been, if Miles would have developed this particular quintet, or a similar. The just preceding 7014 was far from perfect and personally I prefer the outcome of the session with Sonny. But then, the results of hard work and discipline, have produced a tightly knit group, a well oiled engine, giving top performances as highlighted on 7094, 7129, 7166 and 7200. So Miles’ vision to work with relatively unknowns and forge unity has been proven right.

      Hereunder I quote from a brochure entitled “GET MORE MILES DAVIS ON PRESTIGE”.
      quote 7044: These are the kind of items that, if they were not issued on LP, would be taped, re-taped and passed around among collectors. One session has Miles in company of two tenors. One is Sonny Rollins; the other, “Charlie Chan”, known better to you under another name, as the greatest alto saxophonist of all time. (Follows a factual description of side 1, no superlatives, nothing!). Side two has Davis and Rollins again with Flanagan, P.C. and A.T. Davis (sic) Brubeck’s “In your own sweet way” is given a sensitive performance. Two other superior extended tracks are “Vierd Blues” and “No Line”.unquote

      The truth, of course, was that the 1953 had not remained in the vaults without reason. In fact only the 1956 session justifies the issue of the whole album.

  7. This is all fascinating – I will take a look tonight to see if my 2 cents is worth even 1/2 a cent. However, my personal opinion is that I’m delighted to have an NYC pressing regardless of whether or not the cover was made by GEM. I don’t listen to the cover.

  8. what a wealth of information! When I have a spare moment, I will compare LJC’s sleeves with mine. Already I can say that my 7057, 7061, 7063 and 7064 are GEM; 7056, 7058, 7059, 7060 and 7062 are not.
    7044 remains enigmatic.
    I think the key is in the combination of GEM and the 446 vs 447 adress. If there is a 447 adress, where all surrounding catalogue numbers are 446, there is an anomaly. It must be a later pressing (cf. my remark on 7005). 7044 is more advanced of course than 7005, but it is established that the change from 446 to 447 took place later than 7044. To prove this theory we must find a gemless 446 copy of 7044.

  9. Love the bit about the apostrophe. My 21 year old grandson puts an apostrophe after any random letter ‘s’ as a nod to education, without any thought as to whether it should be there or not……
    I have the MJQ ‘Django’ LP 7057 and the back of the sleeve is just as your picture, purchased in Dobells c.1960/61/62 from memory although I maybe thinking of the Esquire version that I used to own – or was that a 10 inch………..

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