A while back a reader of LJC asked me what I thought of Vee-Jay. I didn’t know, so I thought I ought to check it out. I’m glad I did.
Selection 1: Sydney
Selection 2: Mama G
Paul Chambers (bass) Philly Joe Jones (drums) Wynton Kelly (piano) Wayne Shorter (tenor saxophone) Lee Morgan (trumpet) recorded at Fine Sound Studios, NYC, August 12, 1959.
Vee-Jay put an A-list together and left them to figure out what to do. Wynton’s playing is sparkling, swinging and melodic, Lee Morgan characteristically rapid-fire horn, and the rhythm section of choice, however the interesting thing here is Wayne Shorter.
Kelly’s Great is Shorter’s first appearance on record, age 26, just finding his feet. That embryonic sour tone, dissonant big notes for effect, weighty pauses, punctuated with bursts of speed, all the stylistic elements of Shorter are beginning to emerge, but a less comfortable fit with Kelly’s bluesy melodic/rhythmically dominated pieces. Shorter went on to record at least three titles as leader for Vee-Jay, the last below in 1974 for the reborn Vee-Jay International label.
It was not until the mid-Sixties, after his stint with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, that Shorter found the true home for his darker post-bop voice, with his Blue Note debut album as leader, Night Dreamer (1964) and string of landmark albums that marked the changing direction of jazz.
Vinyl: Vee Jay original issue 1016, this second issue 3004
Art department, my office, now!
VeeJay Records (1953-1966)
It is worth spending a moment on the Vee-Jay label. VeeJay Records was founded in Indiana, 1953, by husband and wife team Vivian Carter and James Bracken (later that year, Mr and Mrs Bracken) and within a short time became “the most successful black-owned record company in the US”.(cited here, full story)
A label which initially specialised in rhythm and blues, a small portfolio of jazz and eventually, segued into pop, included early Beatles and The Four Seasons. The bulk of its activity was that elusive search for hit singles, like The Duke of Earl. (Duke,Duke,Duke,Duke of Earl…)
Vee-Jay recordings are a small oasis of jazz, existing between the big specialist jazz labels like Blue Note, Prestige and Riverside. Their catalogue of jazz titles revolved around a small nucleus of top names: Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Bennie Green, Gene Ammons, Nat Adderley, Louis Hayes and Frank Strozier. Sidemen included the Adderleys, Freddie Hubbard and Yusef Lateef. The improbable availability of all these artists was possibly a by-product of touring stop-overs in Chicago, and the talents of Vee-Jay’s wily A&R man. However this title was recorded in NYC, so who knows.
Even more interesting still, Vee Jay was among the very first record labels to release stereo, commencing in 1957. And stereo in the manner of Roy DuNann rather than hard-panning early Van Gelder. Toot Toot! No credits are given to the engineer. Perhaps someone knows?
Money problems eventually brought the label down, companies demanding royalty payments, lawyers, telegrams like that below, the Beatles adventure was shut down pretty quick over licensing disagreements:
Eventually in 1966 the Brackens filled for bankruptcy . Vee-Jay assets subsequently passed through the hands of various owners under the revived label Vee-Jay International, until today, the master catalogue is owned today by the eponymous Concord Music Group. At a guess the Vee-Jay jazz recordings are not first assets they value.
Vee-Jay had a number of different labels, with the original 1000 series maroon silver wave, shortly after, the 3000 series, black/oval logo (right). The time-lapse between them is brief – Goldmine date both issues as “1960”. But you know what those first pressing fundamentalists are like, the first is first, and mine (on the right) isn’t.
More observant among you will have noted something significant. Both sides of my Kelly Great ( spelt correctly) have a side 2 label. . And to rub extra salt in the wound, the real Side 2 has carefully hand-written below the matrix code, the words “SIDE 1”. It just rains and rains.
The run-out has the stamp “ARP” – I assume the mastering studio/ pressing plant. One for the etching-detectives, anyone any inside info on who are ARP?
(UPDATE: “Based in Owosso in Michigan, American Record Pressing with “ARP” initials stamped in italics” – thanks to Aaron)
Who ever was responsible for the engineering did a great job. Bright and punchy, full dynamic range, an exciting sound. Shame they could not match the correct label or identify which side is which. Whatever the good and the great do, it’s the grunts on the ground who decide how things work out.
Cannonball Adderley writes very sympathetic liner notes, full of praise for the artists and their talents. Like his playing, he is compulsively positive, swinging and upbeat, which is quite nice in a world so often preoccupied with doom and negativity.
A reader suggested a post on Vee Jay: who am I to argue? I knew little of this label. It has, at best, a couple of dozen compelling titles, but they are up there with the big boys in terms of artist roster. Two superb Paul Chambers albums, some great Lee Morgan titles, bags of Wynton Kelly, and a star-studded list of sidemen – Yusef Lateef, Cannonball Adderley, Freddie Hubbard, it’s a great niche label.
Look at all these lovely titles. By chance, I acquired the Louis Hayes (end, below) last week at a bric-a-brac stall in northern Italy. Insane, but these things happen when you least expect them. Topic for a future post, I think.
More discoveries. Many Vee-Jay titles are found as Japanese reissues, clearly a big thing for our friends in Tokyo. In the UK some of these were issued on the Top Rank label active between 1959 and 1962. Maintaining the Vee Jay tradition of miss-spelling names, the Top Rank label lists pianist Wynton Kelley with the “e” and a new variant for Cannonball, Julian Addersley. (As well they didn’t spell Top Rank the way we did as naughty schoolboys, just couldn’t pronounce our R’s.)
Another UK label which licensed Vee-Jay recordings was the short-live ’60s Joy label, another example of vintage pressings that are undervalued by the collector market. There are “modern reissues” and then there are “vintage reissues”. Below, Lee Morgan Quintet, “A Vee-Jay Recording, Hollywood, California” ® 1965.
At the core there is a unique set of recordings by artists we know and love. An addition the label-guides for Vee-Jay is long overdue. (UPDATE August 1st: Vee-Jay Reecords with Cheatsheet added to LJC Guide to Record Labels)
If you have some Vee-Jay stories, I think you should tell.
UPDATE (August 11, 2015)
LABEL TRANSITION BY TITLE – MAROON SCRIPT TO BLACK RAINBOW RIM
Essential Guide for the First Pressing Fundamentalist and collector of original pressings
The Vee-Jay maroon/script label established in the 1000 series gave way to the black/rainbow rim/oval logo early into the 3000 series, commencing with 3004. However 3005 and 3006 are found on maroon script, with the last maroon/script label found is on 3008, and from 3009 onwards the first edition is on black/rainbow. Those few 3000 series found with maroon label are also commonly found with the black/rainbow label, which remained in use until 1963 when the logo changed to the VJ bracket.
During the early days of the 1000 series the second maroon variant, with REG TRADE MARK below the logo and wide silver band, appears on 1007 -1012, following which the label reverts to the original maroon with the thinner silver band and REG TRADE MARK disappears. Significance unknown.
UPDATE (August 2) Vee-Jay Modern Jazz Catalogue (selected titles only)
Vee-Jay 1000 Series Jazz issues
LP/SR-1005 – The Swingin’est – Bennie Green & Gene Ammons 
LP/SR-1013 – Walter Perkins’ MJT+III – MJT+III 
Vee-Jay LP/SR-3000 Jazz Series
LP/SR-3024 – Juggin’ Around – Gene Ammons with Bennie Green 
LP/SR-3026 – Summit Meeting – Various Artists 
LP/SR-3033 – Bird Lives! – Ira Sullivan & Chicago Jazz Quintet 
Vee-Jay LP/SR-2500 Jazz Series:
VJLP*-2501 – Leonard Feather’s Encyclopedia of Jazz: Jazz of the 60s, Volume One: Giants Of The Saxophone – Various Artists 
VJLPS-2502 – Jazz’s Great Walker – Leroy Vinnegar 
VJLPS-2503 – The Eric Dolphy Memorial Album – Eric Dolphy 
VJLPS-2506 – Leonard Feather’s Encyclopedia of Jazz: Jazz of the ‘60s, Volume 2: Blues Bag – Buddy Defranco 
VJLPS-2507 – It’s a Wonderful World – Victor Feldman 
VJLP-2508 – Lee Morgan Quintet – Lee Morgan Quintet 
VJS-3000 Jazz Series (continued in 1970s)
VJS-3038 – Someday My Prince Will Come – Wynton Kelly 
VJS-3052 – Contemplation – Yusef Lateef  Reissue of Vee-Jay SR-3010
VJS-3057 – Second Genesis – Wayne Shorter 
VJS-3061 – Love You Madly – Duke Ellington 
VJS-3062 – Gettin’ Together – Mel Lewis 
VJS-3066 – Bag of Blues – Art Blakey featuring Buddy De Franco 
VJS-3068 – Love Song – Gary Bartz 
VJS-3071 – Wynton Kelly in Concert – Wynton Kelly 
VJS-3072-2 – Final Notes – Wynton Kelly 
VJSP 400 – Various Artists – Leonard Feather’s Encyclopedia Of Jazz  3xLP