(If you are able to provide better picture of original back cover with coloured text and frame, all contributions welcome, email to address under “Contact LJC” on the banner.)
Unprecedented, we have never seen a year as big as 2016 before. Scientists predicts that 2017 will be even bigger, but only if civilisation lasts that long. To be honest, the signs don’t always look that good. It is in moments of doubt like this I like to put a record on the turntable, as reminder of all the good things that we have and are still able to enjoy, for now at least. According to my turntable, it is still only 1958, loads of time, turn the clock back, while you still can.
I’ve treated myself to a bit of label research that interests me and hopefully of interest to record collectors: Contemporary Records. Blue Note has been done, Prestige has been done, Impulse‘s been done, but not Contemporary. I’ve done them in a shallow fashion to date: now it’s time for a deep dive. Take a deep breath, and join me in Contemporary fashion. I’ll catch up with covers soon, promise, and more records queuing up for review. They say variety is the spice of life. Myself, I’m quite partial to balsamic drizzle.
THE CONTEMPORARY LABEL
Lester Koenig’s Contemporary Records was one of the great jazz labels, arguably more advanced in the development of Stereo than any other, due to engineer Roy Du Nann. It’s legacy includes some of the best work of Art Pepper, Art Farmer, Barney Kessell, Shelly Manne, Ornette Coleman, Hampton Hawes, not to mention André Previn (I asked you not to mention Mr Previn ) and a host of excellent west coast players like Bob Cooper, Curtis Counce and Harold Land. And some popular Broadway shows that may not have altogether stood the test of time.
The late 50’s and very early 60’s were the label’s most productive years, with a large body of recording sessions of a fairly small roster of musicians, in sparkling audio quality. Along with new releases, as with every label, reissues of previously released material earlier kept the cash registers ringing. After the sale of the company to Fantasy in the early 70’s, the new owner “worked the back catalogue” with yet more reissues. The record collector (and seller) is therefore faced with areas of uncertainty as to which issues are “originals” and which are later reissues, as a lot of identifiers useful in dating other labels are not well recognised with Contemporary.
Many “cloned” Contemporary Records titles (not manufactured from original tapes or pressed from legacy metal) have made their way to the market in the last few decades, and are commonly what is found in the shelves of record stores. Plenty also find their way onto auction sites, the giveaway being no label photo, vinyl condition “near mint – looks unplayed” (which if it’s André Previn, is probably true) Uploads to Discogs often have a yellow label and put the date of issue as “Unknown”
In addition to the OJC reissues by Fantasy, there is an official modern reissue series – “an original Contemporary Classic, now available again” blue sticker. That O word again.
Unlike Blue Note, Prestige, and Impulse, there is little documentation (in English) on Contemporary and the usual information sources like discographies and catalogues are not linked to physical manufactured product. It was custom and practice to reproduce original liner notes dated say 1959 on reissues decades later and no date of issue or manufacture, only of copyright assertion.
ALWAYS READ THE LABEL
The record label, being printed and then affixed during manufacture, is an important guide to provenance. LJC’s going to have a grumble. It is frustrating that several prominent US jazz sellers on ebay never include a label picture. They are selling a record, so they picture just the jacket, or half the record peeking out the jacket, small as to be illegible. I don’t want a tease, I want a full frontal. Collectors in Japan consider it a matter of honour to give a close-up of the label – that is proof of what you are buying. All the pictures here are from the good sellers, many Japanese, and Discogs uploaders who understand. Euclid and Craig Moerer please note. Grumble over.
Of course what you really want to see is the Lester Koenig machine stamped matrix in the run-out:
You should be so lucky.
First, a label roadmap, approximate timeline and originating labels, including both mono and stereo:
Correction – Contemporary Records Inc was sold to Fantasy in 1984, the company being run for seven years after the death of Lester Koenig in 1977 by son John.
LABEL FLY-OVER: C3500 mono series
Kicking off with the C3500 series, mono 12″ deep groove editions in the mid to late ’50s, not every title has been found, but enough to get a feel for the territory. Amidst this series is the iconic Lighthouse label, used for Howard Rumsey All-stars Lighthouse sessions titles. Invariably, originals in this series will be deep groove.
At C3559 the 3500 series divides, to be replaced by the High Fidelity (mono) M3500 series, and the stereo edition to the S7500 series.
For stereo there is an added complication – the new parallel company STEREO RECORDS is born, in 1958. More of that later.
Mono ceased altogether at some point, with the last half dozen titles unable to be found examples of in this research. I am guessing some of these last mono titles are reissues in the run up to the Fantasy years.
The M series originals are always yellow label deep groove, as evidenced by various DJ promo/ demonstration copies, just a couple of what look like reissues in green:
UPDATE: differing green labels
On closer inspection, not all green labels are the same. These three look to me to have been manufactured at very different times.
- Looks to be vintage deep groove “trench”. The paper is glossy and the green is marbled, and the text looks authentically gold.
- is typical of many found: the groove is not a true vintage deep groove “trench” but a slim step, though in the same position. The gold text is muted and the green is quite dark, vinyl weight 123gm. Original LKS stamper origin.
- is only 100gm vinyl weight, sixpenny die-mark around the spindle-hole, and the paper is smooth semi-matt finish. Very definitely a “modern” reissue, but authentic LKS stamper origins, and sounds remarkably strong, considering.
Enter in late 1958/ early 1959 the STEREO RECORDS company, designed to sell the new stereo format but insulated from the Contemporary brand. Though some writers suggest the company commenced late 1958, the Billboard announcement is dated May 1958.
A new label deserves a new cover and new label of it’s own, the oval overprint on white, STEREO cover. I credit esteemed Japanese collector Kenplin for this fascinating archive. I admire the dedication of a true obsessive collector, 27 Stereo Records titles, terrific. I’ve got only two, and I know why – they are mostly all in Japan.
On to the all-important STEREO RECORDS labels, of which I omit a few non-jazz titles. These are all black glossy label/ gold text. The colour varies with picture-takers use of artificial light without white balance control. I’ve corrected hue where I can, but some still have a colour cast not present in the original. They are a truly beautiful sight viewed at full screen.
With stereo a technical accomplishment and the industry next big thing, STEREO RECORDS was brought back into the Contemporary fold.Engineers among you will appreciate this excellent piece in The Soundfountain which brings you this sort of mindboggling insight into recording the piano (No, I don’t understand it either) Aparently some people were better than others at recording piano.
Lots of interesting history of Contemporary, Koenig, and Stereo Records you can read for yourself, but it doesn’t address the vexed collector faced with competing claims of “original!!! status.Where Stereo Records left a, the new Contemporary stereo label appears in similar black label gold text, borrowing the same design:
To further complicate matters, there are a few anomalies to be found, not many, which look of more recent manufacture. The consistent feature is the presence (or absence) of the Contemporary Records CR logo on the label. It disappears in the Fantasy years, not a device used again. Where it is missing, it is either a rare anomaly, or of later provenance. You didn’t mess with registered trademarks, or the cease and desist telegrams arrived thick and fast, followed by lawyers all over you like a cheap suit.
THE GREEN GLOSSY LABEL/GOLD TEXT
For reasons not entirely clear, Contemporary issued an alternative livery, essentially the same but dark green/gold text/deep groove, I would judge from the same era as black/gold, though there are found some later variants, illustrated at the end of the green tableaux: It appears only for a few high-selling titles, for which multiple label variants can be found. Suspicion suggests green was used for later pressings, I have seen no evidence but plenty of hearsay. There was one green glossy label gold text DG Stereo Records found (seen below) no idea if it is vintage, there may be others..
Later variants also turn up in green livery, some in non-deep groove, and later still, with late 60’s new releases with titles in funky fonts
STEREO YELLOW LABEL
That brings me to the commonly found yellow stereo label in the S7500 series. My surmise is that these are sixties second or third issues probably early ’60s, some possibly later ’60s, but include a handful of new titles along the way. These are certainly the most difficult to date, as they are found on many titles. Almost never deep groove but generally with CR logo and boxed STEREO text – until a new design arrives may be mid/late ’60s and dumps these features.
There is sometimes a reference to the presence of the CR logo as indicating a reissue. Yes andNo. The CR logo first appears in around 1961/2, so titles released before then shouldn’t have it, titles released after should, all original pressings. It disappears with Fantasy in the early ’70s.
That brings to a conclusion Part 1 of the Collectors Guide to the Contemporary Record label, First Draft, Provisional work in Progress. Some things we know, others we know we don’t know, some we may have completely wrong, but can make an educated guess at. I may have it all wrong, needs tearing up and starting again, but if it is I might cry.
Still to follow, cover detail ( ie back liner notes with title in red or green highlighted text, company addresses, all that stuff) .
The only real evidence is collectors who bought these titles new at the time of issue, and were prescient enough to note the date at the time. And read this blog. I’m inviting anyone who can to add anything, new knowledge.
Floor is yours if anyone wants to chip in, correct anything. Happy 2016.
UPDATE (1) Which Twin has The Toni?
Rudolph throws the first spanner in the works, asserting the green as a later reissue label. Certainly some green are non-deep groove, but some are DG. What status does that leave the black? In this example, S7562, there are three labels found and that still leaves open the possibility that black is 1st, yellow is 2nd green is 3rd, all by Contemporary.
No wonder people are confused.
So the authority now is Discogs? Someone thinks the yellow is the 1st 1959 release. Why is the black a reissue? In most Discogs entries and Japanese sellers, the black label is considered the 1st/earliest/original release of a title. (Appeal to authority, I know)
How to account for all the glossy black labels and almost all of the glossy green labels being deep groove? Deep groove pressing dies fell out of use in the very early ’60s industry-wide, as every record collector knows. It is the yellow stereo label that transitions smoothly to no deep groove.
Here is another example of the collector’s dilemma, S7568. Art Pepper Plus Eleven, recorded March 14, 1959, and falling within the life of STEREO RECORDS but not issued by them, but issued in stereo by Contemporary Records.
Whilst in the C3500/ M3500 series a yellow DG is the original, when it comes to S7500 stereo series, the groove-less yellow label is the more modern. In this case, the DG black/gold label is the first stereo, issued 1959. The green, I think a second pressing, after the black, and the yellow the third pressing.
I’m beginning to get a headache again.
Working my way through the issue of covers, I realise I have walked into a trap. C3532 Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section has two covers, each of whose followers claim first pressing original status. It is The Matrix choice – the red pill or the blue pill?
Which to choose? The big money ($700!) is on the red, if that means anything:
I am now pretty certain that my copy with Green title and box is not an original.
Wrong address – operating out of a PO Box and not 8481 Melrose Place. If only I had known then…