Johnny Coles: The Warm Sound (1961) Sony/CBS Japan

Selection: If I Should Lose You

. . .


Johnny Coles (trumpet) Kenny Drew (piano) Peck Morrison (bass) Charlie Persip (drums) recorded NYC, April 10 & 13, 1961, engineers Fred  Plaut (Kind of Blue!) and Robert Waller. Columbia 30th Street Studio NYC? Unconfirmed, possibly.

Artists of Note: Fred Plaut, recording engineer.

No need to wonder why this recording sounds so good: Fred Plaut, Columbia recording engineer during the crucial golden age of modern jazz, the genius behind Columbia’s finest  recordings (links to LJC vinyl reviews)  Kind of Blue, Time Out, and Mingus Ah Um, eventually becoming the label’s chief engineer. About The Church, if indeed that was the location, unconfirmed.
“Regardless of the quality of reproducing equipment subsequently used, results can be no better than those obtained originally in the recording studio. That’s why we (Columbia)  expend so much effort in selecting suitable studios and halls and in providing the equipment necessary for their best utilization. New York 30th Street studio is a fine example.
Originally a church, it combines a quiet location with a beautifully resonant enclosure. Temperature and humidity are closely controlled, and electrical equipment is the finest available. With the realization that records are played predominantly in modest-sized living rooms, the control room was designed to simulate such a room in size and acoustical treatment. The output of the of recording console is fed to the finest quality tape recorders available. These operate at 15 inches per second with full track recording.”

Almost every review of Coles work starts with the same sentence from All-Music: “A fine trumpeter with a distinctive cry, Johnny Coles long had the ability to say a lot with a few notes.” Pithy, but sort of sums it up.  The Warm Sound was Cole’s first outing as leader, a full two years before his breakthrough for Blue Note BN 4144 Little Johnny C. Those of the Tina Brooks persuasion will find Coles playing  on Tina’s last recording, The Waiting Game,  released only posthumously in 2002.

Donald Frese gives Coles his due in a web discography that documents his major recordings, beginning with Bull Moose Jackson in 1951 and ending with recently departed Geri Allen in 1996. From Frese’s introduction:

Coles often said that Miles Davis was the trumpet player he most admired. Steve Voce, in Coles’ obituary, wrote: “Johnny Coles would perhaps have been regarded as one of the jazz greats had he not been so close to Miles Davis in sound and style. Both Coles and Davis had the ability to express themselves powerfully using a minimal number of notes. The similarities clouded the fact that Coles’ inventions were completely original and that he barely borrowed.” And they both had their own distinctive cries and a certain dryness of sound. Gil Evans was probably Coles’ greatest champion and the first to fully utilize his talent….


Gil wrote the following about Coles in the liner notes to the Artists House LP, Where Flamingos Fly: “Johnny Coles is right in the be-bop era, part of the be-bop happenings and all that, but at the same time he had a great lyric sense and the main reason he could indulge in it is because he’s got a great tone. He can hold a tone. When you can hold a tone, then you can take advantage of it. There’s hardly anyone else who can do what he can do.”

Coles recording career stretched 45 years, leading  sessions  for Epic, Blue Note, Mainstream, and Criss Cross. He first earned his spurs with James Moody and Gil Evans’ working band  (1958-1964). Winning  Downbeat’s New Star award in 1964 earned him a place  with the most creative phase of the Mingus Sextet, thereafter moving on to Herbie Hancock’s Sextet (1968-1969), and Ray Charles Orchestra,  briefly serving in Art Blakey’s rapidly changing Jazz Messengers (1976). Coles relatively low visibility in the jazz pantheon is perhaps because he arrived late on the scene with many well known groups, but after they had reached their peak trajectory, to replace founder members who had left to develop their own careers.

In the ’80s, where big band jazz  found itself in tribute mode through  the repertory band scene, Coles found a place in Tadd Dameron’s Dameronia and occasionally the Mingus Dynasty, then the Basie Big Band (1985-6)  Perfoming to near the end, Little Johnny C  last stepped from the stage in 1997.

Vinyl: Epic Sony/CBS ECPZ 10 (reissue of Epic LA 16015)

A beautiful work of engineering, quite unlike the sometimes polite and restrained Japanese pressings we are all familiar with, but full-on, tactile presence, full tonal and dynamic range, delicious, sizzling wide-stage stereophony. Plaut is not credited in the liner notes, and it was only a Discogs entry that proposed the engineer’s identity. I’m willing to go with that, it has a masters touch, whoever.

Collector’s Corner

Epic Records is a record label launched in 1953 by CBS. Its bright-yellow and black logo became a familiar trademark for many jazz and classical music releases. The original Epic release is extraordinarily rare, with little more than a half dozen copies ever coming to auction. This maybe accounted for by the relatively unknown leader name at the time and a label not at the forefront of jazz, meaning few sales, equals “rare”.

Ouch. Rare and e x p e n s I v e original, but strangely desirable.

I think I would not have even known of this recording’s existence but for walking into a London store, thumbing through New Arrivals, finding nothing of major interest, and by sheer chance, dipping into the Japanese reissues section. Along with the usual suspects, I was brought up short by The Warm Sound. Usual internal conversation broke out. What the heck is this? I’ve never seen this before …Johnny Coles, as in Blue Note’s Little Johnny C…. Nippon Columbia Sony.. An Epic recording…are they any good?…1961 vintage recording, great line up..golden era….Eh? Has to be worth a punt.

And so it was.


For the benefit of any Japanese readers, I know there are some, I will include the insert, which may give some better information than just the liner notes. Anyone trace the year of issue in Japan? Either 1974 or 1985 my notes say, but I can’t remember why I thought that.

And the Corporate advertising schedule is an insight into the Japanese CBS/Sony 1300 series this release belonged to. Bottom left, the great Byrd.Silver/Hank Mobley Columbia Messengers album, plus the great Mingus Mingus Dynasty album.

Now if they all sound as nice as this…


8 thoughts on “Johnny Coles: The Warm Sound (1961) Sony/CBS Japan

  1. There’s some other really fine jazz Lp’s on Epic from this period. A great Tubby Hayes with U.S. Sidemen. And a few from Dave Bailey worth looking out for.

  2. I’ve got it in to my head for some reason that there is a period of Columbia recordings in the early stereo era that has massive compression. Can’t really tell from a digital transfer if this in from then or not. Maybe it is worse in classical recordings. Straying from the subject slightly but the Drolc quartet albums that were epics in the US and Columbia SAX issues over here with the silver and turquoise stereophonic labels sound great. Anyone have any thoughts or experience of the compression thing?

  3. I’ve got the Mingus Dynasty LP from the Jazz 1300 series and it too sounds very nice…some good mastering on this reissue series. My copy is a Factory Sample purchased for a mighty 300Y (about £2) from HiFi Do’s used bin in absolutely pristine condition sometimes bargains still appear.

  4. yet another fabulous LP that i should really consider making as an exception to my 1st pressing rules.

  5. listened yesterday to this one, not enthusiast about it despite the presence of Bill Evans.
    Dave Pike Quartet
    Dave Pike (vibes) Bill Evans (piano) Herbie Lewis (bass) Walter Perkins (drums)
    NYC, November, 1961
    Why Not (Impressions) Epic LA 16025
    In A Sentimental Mood –
    Vierd Blues –
    Besame Mucho –
    Wild Is The Wind –
    * Epic LA 16025, BA 17025 The Dave Pike Quartet – Pike’s Peak

  6. Love this lp and the sound. I own the same copy and have never heard the original. Thanks for the recording info, I didn’t know it was done at the church. You’re right about the scarcity of Epic jazz originals. Took me forever to find Pike’s Peak. No recording credit on that either.

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