Kenny Drew: Undercurrent (1960) Blue Note (more updates)


Selection: Funk-cosity (Drew)



Freddie Hubbard (trumpet) Hank Mobley (tenor sax) Kenny Drew (piano) Sam Jones (bass) Louis Hayes (drums) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, December 11, 1960


One of Blue Note’s greatest sessions, Undercurrent stands tall, head and shoulders above many other titles. There’s good, there’s very good, and there’s Undercurrent.  With Kenny Drew nominally as leader, it’s Mobley and Hubbard in absolutely peak form. Heads in unison, harmonies, stretching solos, perfect. Mobley in particular is wonderful, better than on many of his own albums.  The rhythm section is tight, flowing, complete precision. Sam Jones walks with giants, Hayes is crisp. Drew’s comping provides splendid support and great solos, he is seriously under-rated. All the compositions are top-notch, minor-tinged themes, swingers, bop-a-licious, and the sonics are among Van Gelder’s finest. This is a got to have album.

I’ve reviewed Undercurrent previously in stereo form, in a shoot out between MM33, King Records and Classic Records, and my high opinion of the music remains undiminished, no need to repeat myself. (The track Funk-cosity kept the same, to facilitate comparison) The bugbear of all the audiophile reissues is the stereo – transferred from the original tapes, they replicate the fairly hard panning characteristic of RVG 1960. The mono mix is big, room-filling, exciting, it never occurs to you that it’s mono. It just “is”.

Vinyl: BLP 4059, RVG stamp and Ears, 9M, 47W63rd labels, correct inner sleeve, correct cover, no deep groove, 175 gram vinyl.

I have Japanese stereo pressings of 4059, modern audiophile stereo reissues, 45×2,  everything under the sun, but a Blue Note “original” mono is something I have wanted for as long as I can remember. It sounds vibrant, natural, everything Rudy stood for, the definitive sound of Blue Note. Here, in vinyl. Hi Rudy, how are things up there? Swinging, great! We miss you.


It has the P, 47W63rd labels, RVGs, 9M both sides, a healthy 175gm vinyl weight,  but the lack of deep groove is troubling, contrary to Fred Cohen’s classification (see update at foot of post) . So, we need to talk pressing matters. Take a deep breath, we are going for a deep dive, into the murky waters of the deep groove.

To groove, or not two groove, that is the question. An extended enquiry, for obsessives, serious Blue Note collectors only. Sound engineers, at ease, take the rest of the day off. The rest of you, pay attention. And try to stay awake.


Quick flyover: to make a record, a vinyl biscuit is pressed between two grooved metal stampers, which are held in the vinyl press by centre-clamps, or ” pressing dies” . The design of pressing dies in use at Plastylite during the ’50s  was based on the 78rpm shellac die. This die left behind a circular deep trench in the label area, referred to as “deep groove”.


Despite the heat and pressure in the press, the pressing dies had a long but not indefinite life counted in years, unlike the stampers whose grooves became  deformed after many pressing iterations – longevity estimates vary – perhaps a week in continuous use, and needed to be replaced by fresh stampers.


Dies which left a deep groove were in use up to mid 1961. A newer slimmer design pressing die, which left behind merely a narrow step, was then introduced.  The new and old dies functioned interchangeably in the presses,  and the older dies remained use for around four to five years, until eventually the last ageing DG die was  finally discarded, and only new dies remained.

The record collecting community seized on the presence of deep groove, being characteristic of older pressings before 1961,  as evidence of “original” first pressing status, and a certain amount of collector lore grew up around deep groove during the transitional years, which may have little basis of fact. Fred Cohen himself states


“It can never be truly known whether similar pressings of the same record, whose only difference is the presence or absence of deep groove  on one, both or neither label, is actually the original first pressing. But since collectors have a natural bias for any detail that suggests an early or original issue, the presence of deep groove has been treated as an indication of an original, but only an indication.


I’ll go further. In the early ’60s, the first pressing run of a new Blue Note title is thought to be around 4,000 copies, possibly some more or less, enough to launch to title, supply  radio station promos, and the dealers, and test the water for further demand.  Stampers became worn and needed changing as quality fell off,  I have read 2,500 to 3,000 pressing iterations, though possibly the 4,000 first run quantity is linked to useful life of one stamper.  It is also possible that some “first pressings” of greater quantity may have involved a change of stampers, meaning potentially (but not necessarily) a change in the pressing die combination.

The first Blue Note pressing using the new dies without a deep groove (it is claimed on one side only) was this 4059, released May 1961,  with 4058 the last continuous run of deep groove on both sides, released June 1961. In the months to the end of 1961, around thirty new Blue Note titles were released. By my reading of Cohen, around 10 were DG both sides, 12 had no DG either side, and 8 were mixed DG s1 or s2 only, all in no particular sequence. During these months the label remained 47W63rd, which ended with 4080, Mobley’s Workout, released April 62. (All numbers and dates are my rough calculations based on Cohen, approximate, e&oe, it’s not a Presidential candidate tax return).

Pressing die combinations on records manufactured in the later part of 1961 appear entirely random choices on a job, decision made by the press operator, using whatever dies came to hand. They were of absolutely no importance in manufacturing.

Pressing Plant Mayhem

The last DG both sides is 4207, and the last seen DG on one side is 4214, a Blue Mitchell session recorded in July 1965. The pattern of die use is random, the chaos of physical manufacture, not intelligent design. The old dies continued in use until 1965, at a declining rate of frequency until all the old dies were finally worn out and retired and only the new design remained in use, end of deep groove.

Songer’s Law

Blue Note collector Allan Songer famously wrote in his 12 tips for collecting Blue Note:

“Starting with Blue Note 4059, Plastylite BOUGHT NEW EQUIPMENT that did NOT press in the deep grooves!

4059 (Kenny Drew, “Undercurrent”) is an anomaly because EVERY KNOWN COPY has the deep groove on one side only–that means Plastylite used the newer equipment for one side only! This (4059) is also a VERY rare title that most likely went through only ONE pressing! Starting with 4060 ALL “first” pressings have NO deep groove! If you find a copy of any number AFTER 4059 that has a deep groove in one or both sides, it’s a SECOND pressing–the new equipment was ALWAYS used for the first run! This has NO EFFECT on value however.

If you find a title EARLIER than 4059 with only one or NO deep groove, but still has the “ear,” this is a later pressing!”

Songer  believed the new non-DG dies were used exclusively in the first pressing of new titles and old dies for repressings: “intelligent design”. It is not clear whether his idea of “new equipment” was new presses, new dies, either or both.  Exclusive use of dies for new pressings is not what Fred Cohen found. He  painstakingly lists the different permutations of DG, no DG, and mixed DG one side on every title through to the year 1965. 4059 Undercurrent is listed as DG-s2 only (indicative).

Not waving, drowning. Popsike to the rescue?

It is usually instructive to see what high-value Ebay auctions turn up: the wisdom of collectors parting with big money, more likely to do their homework. For 4059, an overall majority do claim DG on one side a la Cohen, but almost an equal number make no mention of DG at all, a notable omission, given its apparent importance in first pressing status. Why would so many sellers “overlook” mentioning DG status?  Collective amnesia? My rule of thumb with Ebay is that if something is not mentioned, it is usually because it is not there, and because that affects auction value. Could it be that Cohen’s (indicative) Guide is so influential that sellers kept quiet about the absence of DG by not mentioning it at all, concentrating instead on the ear, RVG , and the original 47W63rd label address? Are half 4059 first pressings non-DG? Who knows. Remember – opinion on the internet is often just an echo-chamber, not an objective truth.

There are a few auctions who state explicitly there is no DG,  with a question about whether it is also a first press.  One auction notes DG both sides, apparently without ear –  mission impossible. There’s always one.


Allan Songer’s claim  “every known copy (of 4059) has DG on one side only” now looks pretty shaky and the  “likely having only one pressing” unproven, though it is rare enough. One seller even claims Fred Cohen asserts that DG one side and no DG are both first pressings –  perhaps they had a private conversation, the book says DG-s2. Songer is right about groovless issues of pre-4059 titles, whose original was always DG, because everything in those days was DG. Whether his claim that after 4059, old DG dies were used exclusively for repressings is like the converse, probably incorrect, but for another day.

The 9M – chance encounter

I looked only at high value auctions, and only one seller notes the presence of the 9M etching, no-one else mentions it at all. Originally I didn’t see a 9M, I wasn’t expecting to, but  a closer second look confounded me:


Pictured, the 4059 non-DG groove, and a faint but undisputable 9M etching, on both sides. I wasn’t expecting to see it, so I didn’t look for it, so I didn’t see it, but it is there. There is a lesson in observation here.

Inquisition: Are you now or have you ever been a First Pressing Fundamentalist?

Let’s get down to fundamentals. No, I am an FPS,  First Pressing Sceptic: sceptical about the importance of a record being the absolute “first pressing”, and sceptical whether the expression “original or first pressing” is capable of meaningful definition.

The interval between first and subsequent pressing runs may be a matter of days, weeks or years. When the first pressing of 4157 The Sidewinder sold out within days, and Plastylite rapidly pressed tens of thousands of more copies. What price a “first pressing”?  Cohen lists it as DG, most of the highest value auctions make no mention of DG or say it is non DG. “1964 original mono in near mint condition” is what sells.

The first pressing is thought to be one nearest in quality of the source tape, one but not the only reason for it being desirable. However I’ve yet to meet anyone with a collection of 1st pressings who plays them on equipment of really high quality so they can hear the difference, though there must be some. Is it really about audio quality?  Some don’t play them at all, kept as an investment copy, preferably still sealed. I think it is more about sentiment.

1st pressings often come from the era of heavy tonearms, up to 20gm tracking weight. and have a few more years greater damage potential. A later pressing can sound just as good with less historical damage.

No-one can say with any certainty that all the “first pressing” run copies had only one stamper combination throughout. A large initial release calls for two stamper-pairs, with a change of pressing dies mid way. What if Plastylite ran two presses  simultaneously to complete the first pressing requirement, one with a different die combination from the other? Which is “first”?  What if a press broke down and the job was finished on another machine?  There are lots of reasons why the first pressing might include different die permutations.

Too many imponderables. I say, Live and Let Die.

The printed inner sleeve

The printed inner sleeve is a very useful forensic. The previous owner claimed he bought this copy new, in New York in 1962. The printed inner sleeve is the correct first 1962 design (BLP 4050- 4078) unique cover Duke Jordan Flight to Jordan  (front-facing inner bag, col 1, row 2)

From 1961/2, every Blue Note coming out the Plastylite factory was bagged in the then current printed sleeve. There were nine printed sleeve changes between 1962 and 1966, a change about every six months. That narrows down the date of manufacture more accurately than labels and covers, which were often drawn from stock inventory over many years.

The presence of the correct original printed inner sleeve implies this copy was manufactured at least within the first six months of its official release date. That would make it an early pressing, or a first pressing, if there is any difference between the two.


Back cover: NR stamp!

NR is a potential red flag for an “first pressing”. NR  meant “non-returnable”, usually applied to cut-outs/drill holed and surplus stock records sold at cut prices, hence lesser sales tax and royalties paid, hence not returnable to stores or distributors at the commercial release price. This puts it in the same ballpark as promos, which were sent free to radio stations and stamped “Not for Sale” for the same reasons.

Hard to believe this copy was remaindered, as it counts as very rare and valuable, anything is possible, but there could be other explanations, though I can’t think what they are.  That doesn’t change what is inside the jacket: a very early pressing, whatever the circumstances of this copies final sale.


Collector’s Corner

When I walked into one of my regular London record stores earlier this month, in the corner of my eye, I glimpsed framed record on the wall next to the counter. It looked familiar, Kenny Drew, Undercurrent.  Another audiophile reissue, I remember thinking, as I approached the counter just to say hi. As I got closer, my eye fixed on an  eye-watering price sticker on the front of the frame and my heart skipped a beat. Holy mother of god, an original. What the hell is this doing here? I demanded.

Can I… umm… have a look?  desperately hoping there would be something wrong. Like there always is. I could sense the credit cards in my wallet clinging to each other for comfort, in fear.

The guy behind the counter just smiled. Sure.

Sharp corners on the cover. Out came the vinyl: clean labels, with hardly any spindle marks. Pivoting the vinyl in the light, a near mint glossy surface, no scratches or marks. Ears, RVG stamp, 47 West 63rd label, I felt the weight in my hands. I’ve got so used to record weights I can usually guess them correct within 10 grams.  Heavy vinyl, near 180g.  I gave no thought to the DG at the time, because it was a beautiful copy. Mono Undercurrent, holy grail, in my hands.

It’s worth a lot more than we are asking, if it went to auction –  the guy behind the counter added, helpfully.

I know, I know. I recalled bidding on this many times, always seeing it snatched away as the price spiralled upward, out of reach. The pain of Ebay on high value items flashed through my mind. US post and tracking charges, customs duty on top, the disappointment of finding over-grading by the seller after waiting in weeks for postie to call. All could be avoided, if, if…

Inner voices: it’s only money. You can’t play money, it never sounds any good. You turn money into a record. You play and enjoy the record, show it off to all your friends as a bonus.  You can always turn it back into money if you have to, the value is still there. The ticket price is deceptive, long run it is zero, free.

One of the few records I would break my house limit for, and not an opportunity I would likely have again. There wasn’t really any need to think about it. The credit card emerged from my wallet looking dejected.  it knew it was about to be hit, and hit hard. It whispered Be quick, let’s get this over with. Just do it.

The guy at the counter looked pleased, not just for the obvious sale reason. Glad its going to a good home.

After all my research, I still don’t know for sure whether this is the first pressing. More important, I don’t care. It belongs to me, and it is in good company. At night, when I’m sleeping, I’m sure all my Blue Notes climb down from the shelves, get together, sit around talk about the good old days, the Sixties, Miles, Coltrane, Mobley.  What do I know? They’ll know.



UPDATE: October 2, 2016

LJC’s resident First Pressing Fundamentalist, DottorJazz , has sent me Fred Cohen’s addendum on the first pressing of 4059, written after publishing his book.

Cohen addenda :

“For the benefit of Blue Note collectors and/or readers of the pressing guide, I would like to bring to their attention to the recent eBay sale of Kenny Drew “Undercurrent” on Blue Note 4059. The vinyl was in virtually new condition; the jacket showed minor wear. What made this copy interesting is the lack of the deep groove on Side 2 and the “Review Copy” stamp on both the Side 2 label and the back slick. This is the first time I have seen a label-stamped review copy of Undercurrent and it raises the issue once again as to the definition of an “original” pressing: is it a record, regardless of any other consideration, that includes all the details – such as a deep groove – that collectors look for, or is it the first issue of that record?

It is my impression that the presence of the “Review Copy” stamp on the label is a very strong indication that the “original” Undercurrent pressing had no deep groove.


Blue Note frequently stamped “Review Copy or “Audition Copy” on the jacket only, making it possible to substitute another copy of the same record. But the presence of the “Review Copy” stamp on the label would suggest that it was the first pressing – sent to magazines and writers prior to its official release. The only exception to this might be in an instance where a record did not sell well and a second group of review copies was distributed. The fact that Kenny Drew never recorded another session as a leader for Blue Note as well as the general scarcity of “original” pressings of Undercurrent leads me to believe that the record’s poor reception in stores might possibly have encouraged Blue Note to try a second distribution of review copies.

But that is speculation.

Historically, the presence of a “Review Copy” stamp on the label or cover has usually depressed the value of a Blue Note in the eyes of collectors. What is interesting in this latest sale is that the final bid of $1202.77 for a “Review Copy” was the second highest price ($1311) that Popsike shows for the June 2010 sale of a standard “original” pressing.

My point is that once the deep groove no longer appears consistently on both sides of Blue Note pressings, deciding what is and is not an “original” is difficult, if not impossible.

Cordially,  Fred” (March, 01 2011)

LJC-Michael-Caine- Professor Jazz fastshow30

ProfessorJazz says:  If I read that right, the review copy found without  DG on side 2 trumps the previous first pressing status of DG side 2, for which no review copy has been confirmed. The original first pressing could be the no-DG copy, though a second promo round can’t be ruled out. How about that? It is almost as though there was someone above looking out for you. Rudy, are you there?

That second promo round is a possibility.  But if a record was not selling well, would you tool up a second pressing run to add to the  glut of unsold copies from the previous pressing? It’s a stretch. It’s my theory that the die variations are both from the “first pressing”. Imagine, the first pressing job was run on two different presses, or interrupted briefly for some technical  reason and restarted/completed on another press, involving remounting the first stamper – hence a change of dies. Thus the “first pressing” run of say 4,000 copies contained two stamper die variations, couple of thousand each. The review copies were selected by chance from the first batch.

The paucity of copies coming to auction suggests a single pressing. There was no NY label reissue. The alternative is to believe that Blue Note commissioned a second pressing run, within months of the first, for a poor-selling record. You have to explain not which was the first, but why there was ever a second.


Anyone any ideas why the NR  (non-returnable) stamp on the back cover? Did it sell so badly the unsold stock was remaindered at a discounted price somewhere down the line? I really can’t figure this one, I don’t even have a plausible theory..

Post-postscript (October 6)

You have to be very smart to outsmart Google page-rank. Text search depends on metadata and tags. What if the content you are searching for hasn’t been tagged effectively, or is in a pictographic language? Buried deep down I found through the “search by image” function / “view more”, via another Plastylite test pressing picture, this copy of a test pressing of 4059. This is not review copy, this is a picture of one of the original test pressings of 4059.


Unsurprisingly, it is on a Japanese website, in this case one which has some mouthwatering jazz records, Mam’selle. It is poor quality photography, which is unhelpful, pictures only side one, but it tells us enough, that the TP of 4059 was pressed with at least  DG on Side 1, whether on side 2 remains unknown. This contradicts the notion of the original 4059 as DG only side two, and no DG either side. Since these two are the only forms found in commercial release, it also tells us the test pressing is not a reliable guide  to the form of the first pressing, what they call “negative knowledge” – where not to look, which is valuable in its own right.

The back cover is stamped N R:  non returnable.

UPDATE: October 23, 2016 – Best pressing of Undercurrent?

I have four different pressings of Undercurrent, and undertook one comparative listening session with my hi-fi buddy, Man in a Shed. We concurred on the following heirarchy, 1. best to 4. least good:

  1. Blue Note mono original  first pressing
  2. Toshiba LNJ series late ’60s /early 70s (pre-King) “Division of Liberty” stereo
  3.  Music Matters MM33  stereo modern audiophile
  4. King Records Japan late 70s/early’80s vintage, stereo


The distance between first and last was quite significant, but all offer a good listening experience on their own. It was only when they were pitted one against the other that shortcomings become evident. If you had just one, you would probably say it “sounds great to me“, a phrase which you see again and again, and why a sample of one is not a meaningful test of quality.

Because of the potential variation that exists within a pressing (first to last off stamper) this heirarchy may not replicate with other copies of the same edition.


47 thoughts on “Kenny Drew: Undercurrent (1960) Blue Note (more updates)

  1. Thank you for highlighting this album. When I decided to give it a spin, I noticed two albums with the same front line, recorded in the same month: 4056 and 4058. Alfred had a fortunate hand in selecting his crews. I will not dwell on the reasons why the Drew album is my favourite of the three. 4056 a good second.
    It is interesting too to set this trio against the front line of Hubbard/Tina Brooks (4040/4041).

  2. LJC: WordPress drainpipe avoidance: reposted to top

    Rich (DG Mono)
    on October 6, 2016 at 02:57 said:

    Test presses are acetate, right?

    Reply ↓

    on October 6, 2016 at 07:37 said:

    No, regular vinyl. Acetates were one-offs cut in the studio.

    Reply ↓

    I did a shoot out of a UK test pressing vs commercial release back in 2014, with rips for comparison,
    Art Blakey’s Night in Tunisia for Victor

    Judge for yourself.

    • Mono vs. stereo?? Ahhh! Apples to oranges! 😦

      A single case of a TP sounding better than a commercial release can easily be chalked up to more wear on the commercial copy. I’m not trying to be disagreeable here, just scientific. In a perfect world one would make this comparison with brand new, unplayed copies. Until one can pit guaranteed unplayed copies against each other, I will remain a skeptic.

        • That’s exactly the point of TPs, detecting any issues/faults before the full pressing run, but in reality very few are rejected and those TPs really should be detroyed. Talking of acetates, some labels did use them as promos, the same role that TPs often filled, I guess it depended on what in house facilities were available, CBS/Sony seemed to cut acetates at the drop of a hat and in quantity on occasion as well, I’ve never seen any Jazz ones, but wouldn’t be surprised if they are out there.

          • Plastylite TP’s seem to fetch anything up to $3,000. This one was extremely interesting item, At auction fetched $1580, and the seller throws in a little nugget of info I’ve never seen before.

            “Original 1965 stereo test pressing of “Jackie McLean – Jackknife”, a Blue Note album that was not released at the time. It finally was released iin the late ‘70s as part of the double album “Jacknife” with a different mastering and pressing plant.

            Written on the Plastylite pressing plant label is BST 84223, 10-29-65. The Plastylite ear and the VAN GELDER stamp are in the run-off groove. The LP is VG+ and plays with intermittent light ticks.


            Twenty five – how did he get to know that, I wonder?

            Another seller offering TP of iconic Mobley 1568 “still sealed”. Says there were “less than twenty” in existence. Same ballpark.

  3. One more really important point about promos and review copies, the label didn’t pay royalties on them, they didn’t count as sales although their cost would have been billed against that title, by stamping “review copy” on the sleeve Blue Note were saving themselves money, it’s not unknown for a label to give away copies of a slow seller as “promos” to generate goodwill some time after it’s release, it also reduces inventory and can also can be deducted from that particular account, that would fit with “Undercurrent” not being a big seller, but having a relatively high frequency of review copies with stamped sleeves, if that is indeed the case.

  4. Interesting discussion;-)
    I’m not 100% sure what to think about this pressing being a “true 1st” pressing made the same day as the one-sided DGs. We will probably never know for sure unless we could find some log records or interview some of the workers…My gut feeling is that a DG record should be considered “older” than a non-DG. The statement that new machines (without DG) were always used first for a new pressing of a records does not sound solid to me. Why?

    What could be a little bit interesting would perhaps be to actually compare the printed labels between the pressings and see if they differ in the print. They are probably the same on the DG and non-DG. If they labels are the slightest different it could be a new run of labels too – meaning…

    Regarding the Review stamp – was it on the non-DG side of the record(and the other being DG). Was there a Review stamp on a non-DG record on both sides?

    • No one seems to have any quality pictures of these “review copies” but here is another seller of a claimed review copy with no DG either side. Unfortunately he defers to the Allan Songer interpretation, but the explanation is not relevant. Merely that it is no DG either side and stamped review copy,

      Anyone have any Undercurrent Review Copy info or pictures we are open all hours.

      • How many are we talkin’, Dott? if every single existing review copy of 4059 was no DG, I do think that would make a strong case for the first run being all no DG. It just seems strange and unnatural that Plastylite would intentionally choose no DG dies for first pressings then DG dies for subsequent pressings. There doesn’t seem to be any reason for it except for aesthetics, and why on earth would a pressing plant give a $h!t about aesthetics??

        • I don’t think they did either. The pattern of die use found in the six months that followed the arrival of the slim-fit dies at Plastylite is entirely random. To quote myself:

          “In the months to the end of 1961, around thirty new Blue Note titles were released…(Cohen lists) around 10 were DG both sides, 12 had no DG either side, and 8 were mixed DG s1 or s2 only. All in no particular sequence. ”

          Couldn’t be clearer: that’s flip-a-coin random. The idea that DG means “original” somehow got into the internet echo-chamber.

  5. I’m still awake. ‘Deeply groovy’ research and writing! As usual, but not to be taken for granted. Thanks for sharing. And that is one amazing album, they (Blue Note’s) don’t come any better than this. Credits due to Louis Hayes (and how he is recorded) as well. He is just firing on all (four, five, six?) cylinders, the title track, just outrageous!

  6. Nice score! Wish I had record stores like that still where I live. Just last week I scored three Lexingtons from a friend’s collection..a rather noisy copy of Jutta Hipp “at the hickory house vol.1” ($35 cad), a VG+ copy of “introducing Kenny Burrell” ($80cad), and the best of the lot Lou Donaldson BLP1537 in VG+ shape for $40 CAD!!!

  7. Congratulations, Andy! I know this is one of your favorite records and I’m happy you finally were finally connected with an original pressing. And doesn’t it make it that much sweeter that you discovered it at a record store instead of duking it out with a bunch of rich dudes on eBay? This copy sounds stunning for a 1961 pressing.

    RE deep grooves: What we know is that Undercurrent was recorded in December 1960 and released in May 1961. Indeed, 4059 is the first release both in catalog sequence and time for which there is no known copy with deep grooves on both sides. As for the info in Cohen’s guide, it gives priority to deep grooves, meaning it documents the existence of copies with deep grooves on one or both sides, but it does not document the existence of copies lacking deep grooves on either or both sides in the event that the record exists with DG on both sides. What’s more, albums were not released in perfect catalog sequence (titles weren’t necessarily pressed in that sequence either). So what Cohen’s guide tells us is that every album with a catalog number lower than 4059 and every album released prior to May 1961 exists with deep grooves on both sides; it does not tell us if any of these albums exist with the appropriate first pressing labels and lack of deep grooves on both sides.

    For example, Stanley Turrentine’s Blue Hour, catalog 4057, was recorded in December 1960 and released in February 1961. Cohen’s guide indicates that copies exist with W63 “R” labels and deep grooves on both sides. But do copies exist in this label scheme without deep grooves on both sides? If so, for this record or any other record released before 4059, this would welcome the possibility that, contrary to popular opinion, 4059 was not the first title to be pressed without a deep groove on both sides.

    The appendage by Cohen cited above can only raise even more speculation as to which iteration, if any, is the sole first pressing. To be specific, there is no way to know whether the review copy mentioned is from an initial or subsequent promotional campaign, as Cohen indicated, nor is there any way to know whether or not both DG and non-DG copies were pressed in the same run.

    The bottom line, I feel, is that we don’t have enough information to claim with certitude whether deep groove or non-deep groove pressings were always first in the production line. This is why I feel that labels and dead wax inscriptions should be the sole identifiers of ‘original pressings’. I agree with Andy that there cannot be any consensus as to what an ‘original’ or ‘first’ pressing is, and my personal feeling is that many collectors strive for an unachievable degree of certitude on these matters–for all the reasons mentioned above, ‘first pressing’ is not in my vocabulary when it comes down to technical details. So as far as I’m concerned, both Andy’s copy and DG copies can be called ‘original pressings’.

  8. Thank you. I enjoyed this and learnt a lot. Really besides sentiment and “I have an early pressing and I am glad about it”, is it not the music and the sound that counts. Is there a perceptible difference between a DG and nonDG original of the same record?

    • Setting aside the issue of sentiment, both DG and non DG copies are taken from the same master/mother/ at the same time, possibly stamper pair 1 and stamper pair 2 respectively. The main determinant of audio quality is where in the life of a stamper the copy is made, first to last. Since there is no indicator of where in the run any copy falls, it is impossible to predict. The only exception is a “review copy”, which is probably one of the first pressing early pressings. Probably, but that is what I have found.

      • I gotta say, I see no reason why a review copy would necessarily be pulled from the very earliest of the copies in a pressing run. (I also side with Kevin Gray that the vast majority of the time one shouldn’t be able to hear any difference in fidelity related to stamper wear.)

        • I worked for an indie label in the 90’s and the order of production would be Test Pressing approx 10 copies…that would be approved by A&R/band then review copies would be pressed approx 300/500 copies which would be sent out for monthly/weekly mags and then DJ promo due to long lead times to build market….then finally first run production approx 5000/10000/50000 depending upon pre sale….Review copies would only ever come from the first run because why would you want reviews after release…so if you want the best quality head for promos/review copies as they probably have only been played a few times before the reviewer moves onto the next LP.

          • Never heard that figure for test pressings before, ten, I assumed just one for the engineer, but it makes sense that all the “stakeholders” get to approve. Interesting.

            All my TP’s sound much better than the commercial release where I have it, likewise review copies. I think we need to keep this information strictly “entre nous”. Anyone reading this, I have the memory-erase tool enabled, prepare yourselves…

            …prepare…for what?

            • Do a post! Compare them. I suppose if this were the case for numerous examples I might be convinced. (The truth is I don’t have any experience with test pressings/review/promo copies.)

              • Generally a certain number of test pressings, 5 or 6 are included in the cost of manufacture, however you can choose to have zero or as many as you wish at an additional unit cost. Some labels would pay for additional test pressings to use as promotional copies meaning some runs for TPs were in the hundreds whilst others were in low single figures, there is no fixed rule. With regards quality there is an argument to be made that although they will use brand new stampers and been pressed with care because the machines haven’t been running flat out they may not have reached optimal operating temperature and performance, a copy a few hundred into the pressing run potentially sounding better. With major titles and multiple presses running there will be TPs for each press/stamper set meaning you can have several different TP copies of one album. To drift slightly off topic some UK labels/plants such as Decca would press each side separately so a sixties Decca pressed TP would be two one sided records with custom labels whilst an EMI TP might be white labels with perhaps a factory sample sticker, this can help identify who pressed your UK Jazz. Incidentally the reason most TPs sound good is because the people supposed to check them by listening rarely did, at least in my experience.

                • Hey, that is some seriously interesting info, thank you for your input.

                  I have some test pressings of Decca, one side only as you describe, and they sound very dynamic and intense, they have sizzle and bite, high dynamic and tonal range quite unlike the commercial release I had bought some time previously. Unfortunately they weren’t as well looked after, so some of intrusive surface noise, but I prefer them, faults and all. I have some EMI with Factory Sample stickers, and the experience is the similar, though not as marked.

                  Whether this was due to technicians not playing them we can discuss another time.

          • Thank for the input. I don’t see why a label couldn’t wait for the entire first pressing to be done then arbitrarily select x copies for promotional use though. It’s fun to think about this stuff but I still think the vast majority of the time that people hear differences in various copies from the same pressing run that it usually has more to do with wear from past playback than anything else. I’m still waiting to see the definitive online comparison of two records fresh off the press, one coming from the beginning of a stamper run and one coming from the end, where one has better high end detail than the other. I’m sure it’s possible if you really let the stamper wear out (Kevin Gray seems to believe that a stamper is more likely to break before it’s worn to the point of creating audible artefacts in the records it presses), but I’m skeptical that it happened frequently in practice.

      • LJC, I’m just playing devil’s advocate here and don’t have an axe to grind or a dog in this fight or a horse in this race etc etc… But could you be reading too much into the review copy stamping ‘timetable’? Isn’t it equally possible, say, that in some cases review copies might be sent out more than once — e.g. at a later date in the manufacturing cycle precisely because media coverage has not been good or sales are poor or someone simply thinks, “Oh, I think I’ll send out a second batch of review copies and try and stir up a bit more interest….?

        • I do have an axe sharpener in this dog-fight so I’ll bat for my corner, so to speak. It’s all about timing.

          I have read that promos were put into the hands of radio stations some months before the commercial release hit the shops. Record pluggers had work to do, adverts in the music press, which had to be prepared and booked in, any point-of-sale posters or displays printed likewise. Sales is all about creating a buzz. People who are fans of an artist are keen to get their hands on his new album, they need to get to know about it. Radio plays, singles for juke-boxes, weeks in the Billboard charts.

          Or you could do it all a year or two after the record failed to sell. I never worked in the music industry so I own up to this being so much guesswork, but I served some time in “Marketing” and the principles of launch, sell, and after eventually market-fatigue, replaced by the next launch.

          Run out for a duck?

          • As far as test pressings, it was and perhaps still is up to the client – a pressing plant will run you off a few or more then a few of those blank, white labels. At that point the client has already paid for the metal work. Regarding promos being months ahead of a general release, that sounds a bit long to me, particularly in a pop market where trends might pass on in that time.

  9. Each time you’re posting a “new” album is an opportunity to me to rediscover the album and to understand new faces about it.
    As a token of respect and appreciation I’m sending you here a list of jazz books in digital format (over 1200). If you think that any title can present interest please inform me and I will gladly send it to you (no bugs or other spyworms hidden inside):
    My personal e-mail is
    Thanks again for the wonderful work you’re doing.

  10. I think Cohen’s point is that he’s found copies of undercurrent both with and without DG and having a promo stamp. As I understand his thinking only first pressings would get promos. I don’t agree with that and have several examples of promos in later pressings (Atlantic, Reprise, Columbia, etc.), but Fred has seen more vinyl than I. I’m guessing, although I don’t know that he noted it explicitly (as I recall) that he hadn’t seen other Blue Note second pressings marked promo. Therefore, his assumption was that the two variations came out simultaneously. I have a copy that is DG-2 in about vg+. I’d rather have yours in m-. Great score. Enjoy!

  11. Another passionate, informative players guide to inner peace. A collection for all the right reasons. Thanks for sharing, I know I will typically learn a thing or two, maybe an artist I wasn’t familiar with, or perhaps a recording I hadn’t considered, or a little history. Most importantly for me however, is the desire to slow down and go spin a disc.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s