Selection: Silver Sweet – VeeJay Stereo
Repeat selection: Silver Sweet – summed channels (!!)
Willie Thomas (trumpet) Frank Strozier (alto saxophone) Harold Mabern (piano) Bob Cranshaw (bass) Walter Perkins (drums) recorded at Universal Recording, Chicago, IL, February 5 & 8, 1960
Biopic : Willie Thomas, trumpet
Willie Thomas was not a name I recognised, so a little homework on unfamiliar artist was needed which shines new light on the creation of jazz, perhaps more useful than reading another Miles Davis biography.
Willie Thomas found himself in military service with the Third Army Band, whose personel included Wynton Kelly. Perhaps some brass-hat figured a piano might turn the enemy onto bebop, jazz would win the day. (The only difficult part was carrying a piano onto the battlefield)
Kelly opened the door to the New York jazz scene for Thomas, who built up a steady flow of work, including this stint with MJT+3. However in a familiar turn of events Thomas fell in with the NY jazz drug scene, was busted, given a jail sentence, accompanied by the loss of his cabaret card. In order to appear in a New York nightclub, performers had to have this card. Others who lost their card, Chet Baker, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk, could find work elsewhere, but for Thomas it effectively ended his playing career.
Of necessity he reinvented himself as a jazz educator, a course he has pursued to the present day, honing the skills of other, and so helping keep jazz alive. Not a bad outcome all round.
I’m not a fan of Van Gelder’s hard-panning early stereo, (constrained by mixing switches of the day) but nothing prepared me for the needle drop on the Vee-Jay. Here’s how the Vee-Jay engineer decided to position the instruments for the stereo master of MJT+2 title in 1960
Bass and drums hard left, with the occasional rimshot that makes you jump, coming from an unexpected direction, mostly nothing in the centre (on odd occasions, the trumpet is moved from right into centre), piano and two brass crammed on top of each other in the far right corner. You can hear this would work well as special effects stereo on a small record player with two built in speakers. “Listen, one sound comes from the left speaker, and a different sound from the right. Amazing. It’s the latest thing, it’s called “stereo”. Everyone’s talking about it.”
Make Everybody Happy? I endured two tracks before reaching for the last resort, the phono amp mono switch. Sound suffers minor degradation on summing the channels in my system, playing mono in stereo or stereo in mono. According to Audacity, there is a significant drop in gain when the channels are summed. Perhaps some knowledgeable HiFi buff can explain. A judicious twist of the volume control restored enjoyment of the music. After a while, I found I can listen to the stereo, odd that it is, on the basis that forewarned is forearmed.
Vinyl: VJLP 3008 black/rainbow rim mono label (stereo record)
Pictured left, the 1st mono with maroon script label. This record possibly a second issue on Vee-Jay’s subsequent black/rainbow rim label, probably circa 1963. Or it may be a first issue as stereo. Maroon/script were mono – stereo script labels were silver or gold. Someone will call me out. The use of mono labels and cover stereo sticker points to a record industry still winging it with stereo.
Continuing the VeeJay tradition of SNAFU record manufacturing- the Keystone Cops were a well-oiled precision machine in comparison – the labels are a mono pair, though at least this time not two Side 2’s like my last Vee-Jay. The stereo sticker on the jacket is the only clue.
What is interesting is the mastering and manufacturing stamps: AUDIOMATRIX – Audio Matrix Inc, Bronx, New York, responsible for production of metal-ware including masters, mothers and stampers from the acetate…
leaving Bell Sound engineers in the crosshairs for preparing the stereo master from the Chicago studio tapes.
Make Everbody Happy caused significant unhappiness when it failed to show up in the expected postal delivery window. Travelling no more than a hundred miles, it had expensive tracking but no-one can tell you any more than it’s been sent, it’s on its way to you, it’s in our system awaiting delivery. Waiting in every morning for postie’s call, nothing arrived except credit card statements and another letter from the bank explaining how they are changing your interest rate, which means reducing it.
After a week of checking tracking, I was resigned to my first no-show in over 400 records. Somewhere I thought, a jazz-loving postman was tapping his feet in a comfy armchair, made Happy by my record. Then on day nine, the doorbell rang, and a beaming postman stood in the doorway holding a large square thin package to sign for, without apology.
A run through the RCM and an eagerly awaited needle drop, I settled in the sofa. You already know what happened next.
Make Everybody Happy? Perhaps postie had decided the stereo edition was not for him, and sent it merrily on its way. On the positive side, the 1960’s record cover was still in its original shrink, which when removed, revealed a beautiful glossy near-mint thick laminated cover with sharp corners, one that would bring a tear to the eye of any collector (were they not crying already !!)
Never a dull moment, jazz collectors.
(Acknowledgements to DGmono, and his stereo schema
LJC POSTSCRIPT: looking at the early comments, I should emphasise I am not recommending this album as some kind of “essential listening”. On the contrary, it is sort of passing ephemera produced in the bop era, which has some merit but of only passing interest. Jazz afficionados should be aware of the stuff around the boundaries. I found it of more interest in the development of stereo than in the development of jazz, it is part of the bigger picture, and a nice example of the madcap ’60s world of record labels struggling to make a living, musicians likewise. That is worthy of a look, not to be confused with additions to your shopping list, the price barely reaches two digits. However I gotta tell you, that cover is something else!.