I’m Dreaming Of A Blue Christmas…

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Only in this case, much much more. Bill in San Francisco sent me a photo for interest, of Lee Morgan, which I’d not seen before. Google Reverse Image Search yields no matches, so I conclude you may not have seen it before either, seems to have no online presence, may be just in the Francis Wolff collection or some other archive.

What’s interesting here, apart from the young Lee Morgan smiling to camera, is the location: the Blue Note “Stockroom”.

I’ve written about and pretty sure dreamed about a stockroom full of the Blue inventory – records, labels and covers, inner sleeves, maybe even tape boxes,  Urgent delivery from Plastylite, for Mr Lion! Thing is, I’ve only imagined it. I think this is what we are looking at here. A story here begins to unravel itself.

Behind Lee, along the wall of the stockroom, is a consignment of boxes addressed for delivery to “BLUE NOTE”,  numbered with Blue Note catalogue  numbers, and what on the face of it seems a count of the number of LPs in each box – mostly 215, and some 220 or 225.

The visible catalogue numbers are all adjacent:  1569, 1559, 1555 and 1558. None is higher than 1569 or lower than 1555, no boxes of repressing of older or newer titles other titles. These must be boxes of  newly-pressed LPs from Plastylite, all or part of their coveted first pressing.

According to Schwann Catalogues, the four titles indicated on the boxes were released in August and September  of 1957, which gives us an approximate date for the photograph, late Summer 1957, perhaps late August.

It gets better. Some of the snappy dressers in Bill’s circle, retro vintage dudes, were able to pitch a label for Lee’s wristwatch, likely a Bulova, and shoes, likely Florsheim.

The  Bulova watch, with its rectangular face, could be a Senator model,  which appeared in the later half of the ’50s.Everything depends on how long he had the watch. Was it a gift, perhaps from Helen if she was around at this time ? Could be why he’s showing it off in the portrait, a “coded message”, sort of thing people do.

The shoes. I’m reminded of the line of Danny Devito in the film The Tin Men: “There are only four things that tell the world who you are: your wife, your house, your car, and your shoes”. The shoes are at least low maintenance! Much like Blue Note, apparently Florsheim shoes are considered collectible, and much like Blue Note, there is an art in dating a pair of Florsheim, from the “matrix-like”  codes on the leather: size number, order number, factory code, model number,  month and year code.

RVG, ear, check! 9M, DG, check! Given their smart appearance and moderate wear, the shoes are less than a year old.  If you could see their Florsheim code, Lees shoes could be used to date a Blue Note first pressing. That would be a first.

Let’s summarise what we now know from the photo:

Forget the shoes, back to the Blue Note boxes, we’re not done yet, we’ve got further to go.

If we are right that the number next to the catalogue number written on each box is a count of the LPs in the box – 215 to 225 –  then the LPs can not be in their jackets.

The boxes look to be around 14″x14″x14″, (or 12″ with some wriggle-room) a standard industrial carton size similar to an IKEA partitioned shelf holding records. There is space in a box of that size for only around 75  LPs in their jackets. To reach a count over 200 they must be only the bare vinyl, no doubt in a plain white thin paper inner sleeve to protect those precious factory-fresh unplayed mint surfaces. The matching of the record to the jacket was not carried out at Plastylite but elsewhere, probably at Blue Note offices itself.

Elsewhere, on the shelves, you see small boxes consistent with stock of labels, of little weight which can be stored on shelves at greater height. On the floor are what could be boxes of covers, packed flat not upright.  A Blue Note LP cover weighs around 120 grams. My guess is the covers are flat packed in those “half-height” boxes, at 100 jackets per box, which worked better for print packaging.

Take a Deep Breath: Forensic Deep Dive

In 1957, the average bare vinyl Blue Note LP weighed around 180 grams, and 215 to 225 of them in one box would make the box approximately  40 kilograms, or six and a bit stones, over half the weight of an average adult. These are some heavy mofo’s! When stacked four high, the Plastylite boxes reach  shoulder height, about five feet or so, a comfortable maximum working height, centre of gravity such the stack was not likely to tip over, and still able to be safely unstacked by a storeman. 40kg at shoulder height is around twice the current moving and handling guidelines for Health and Safety. Switchboard: Mr Lion! Mr Lion! Incoming call, industrial injury compensation lawyers want to talk to you!

The first stack of LPs, BN 1569 –  Paul Chambers Bass On Top, looks to me three deep as are others, though one other stack two deep. Each stack appear to be dedicated to a particular title. This would make sense if the next step was to marry up the sleeved vinyl for that title with boxes of their respective jackets, working the pile methodically top to bottom, one stack at a time, no juggling those heavy boxes around with different titles, no mixing vinyl with wrong jacket.

With a little over 800 LPs in a four box stack, three stacks would add up to about 2,500 copies of BN 1569 in its first pressing. A vinyl press turns out one LP a minute, around 500 in a normal working day, five days for one press to make 2500 records in a pressing run, with no change of stampers. Of course we don’t know if that’s all or just part of the consignment, but it would make sense if it were all, otherwise there would be mixed of different titles all coming from the Plastylite  factory at different times, chaos in the stockroom, here we see a sort of manufacturing/ assembly  discipline in the photo.

Why two only stacks deep for BN 1559?

Three of those titles look to be in stacks three deep, but 1559 only two deep.   Maybe the front stack of 1559 had already been matched with covers leaving two stacks remaining to be finished. It was scheduled for release in August while two of the other titles were down for September.  Possibly, Griffin was a smaller pressing run, but every record was optimistically viewed to become a success, so my money is still on 2,500 copies to a Blue Note 1957 first press, evidence before your eyes.

There is at least one more title in the photo only partly visible on a box, obscured from view by Morgan. In August 1957 Blue Note released just four titles, only two of which are pictured here. The missing August-57 two releases are 1563 Jimmy Smith Plays Pretty For You, and 1567 Curtis Fuller The Opener. The stack hidden from view is certainly one of those two.

Where was the photo taken and therefore where was the stockroom?

In August 1957, Blue Note offices had occupied 47 West 63rd Street for nearly six months. That address remained on the Blue Note label until late 1961, and as the back cover address (send for catalogue) until the first few months of 1960, when it changed to 43 West 61st Street, and began operating from two sites. The photographer could have been Francis Wolff, who would have been on site at Blue Note headquarters (when not at Hackensack taking portraits), or someone else, unknown.

There can be little doubt the stockroom pictured, in August 1957, was at 47 West 63rd Street. (Update: photo source for the building (right) from NYC municipal archives  here.

Why was Lee there, and why was he smiling?

1957 was Lee Morgan’s most prolific year with five  releases for  Blue Note: 1541 Sextet, 1557 Vol. 3,  1575 City Lights, and 1578 The Cooker. Around the time of this photo, the  only sessions in his discography puts him recording with Dizzy Gillespie orchestra July 14 in “NYC”,  then at Hackensack on August 25th to record BLP 1575, same day with Jimmy Smith at Manhattan Towers, and nothing again until September 15 at Reeves Sound for RLP 12-266 Ernie Henry All-Stars, which by a bizarre coincidence (which often happens to LJC)  I acquired yesterday.

So Lee had business matters with Blue Note regarding his release 1575 City Lights, or indeed other business matters with Lion. With his star rising perhaps a good time to ask for a raise, maybe that’s why he’s smiling.

What are those records worth today?

The best auction price achieved for each title is:

1569 Chambers $2024
1559 Griffin $2,800
1555 Blakey $686
1558 Rollins $885
1567 Fuller $2,090

Blakey’s Orgy in Rhythm not really setting pulses racing, but ah, the Johnny Griffin.

Since the records pictured are mint and un-played, hypothetically they could command the top historical auction price (mint un-played, what more could you ask, collectors?) Lee is pictured in front of five and a half thousand LPs , and you are looking at a current total market value today of over twenty million dollars of vinyl.

Dandies Corner – Fashion  Tips For Record Collectors

For retro-dandies out there, one matter in the Lee Morgan photo remains  unaddressed – the all important matter of Lee Morgan’s suit.

The late Fifties were years in men’s fashion for dressing according to your station in life, especially in workwear: the higher the position the smarter the suit. Hand Cut For Success” was the 1958 Hepworths slogan, and you don’t find a snappier dresser than Miles. Workers with dirty manual labouring jobs got dressed up in their best to go out. According to style-watcher Peter York, in 50’s street culture, the poor  would have perfectly pressed creases in their trousers. No-one wanted to look poor on the street corner, it was smart to be smart, and musician’s work-wear would be tailored.

Today, when people have never been so well off, fashion perversely signals the reverse: faux-poverty –  distressed jeans with ever bigger ripped holes. Shoes? Running shoes, in which to walk, not run. Soon, The Emperor’s New Clothes will be no clothes.

Fashion is often the false face of its opposite, which chimes with the quote I recall attributed to country singer Dolly Parton: “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap.”

Back in 1957 I was still in short trousers, and  it wasn’t until some years later the wardrobe was bulging with suits, dressing for success. However I had the feeling I had seen Lee’s suit style somewhere before, and more recently:
Perfect and good for another decade. The difference for Lee then it was “modern”, for Madmen, today, it is artfully “retro”. Nevertheless, the past has much to commend it, certainly musically, and I raise a glass to the style-mavens who could spot a Bulova watch and Florsheim shoes in a dimly lit photograph, I’ve learned a lot. Matrix codes for shoes, who would have thought it.

My thanks to Bill for starting me off down this fascinating rabbit-hole, hopefully you have enjoyed the ride, it’s at least longer than a tweet that passes for communication today. If you have any other thoughts on the Morgan photo, my extraordinary extrapolation to numbers, or know better, please chip in. If you have more fashion tips, I respectfully suggest you go start your own blog, internet’s full of them.

More music, soon, honest.

Advertisements

44 thoughts on “I’m Dreaming Of A Blue Christmas…

  1. Cuscuna posted the following about this post: “September 1957 photo of Lee Morgan in the stock room of Blue Note’s New York offices, which had just moved to 47 West 63rd Street a month earlier.” Therefore, all of the boxes must contain either older stock Lexington LPs or early 63rd LPs.

  2. Very interesting post. Thanks for that.

    Just one remark. Survivors of these LPs do sell for thousands. That is utterly absurd. Yes, the music, engineering and pressings are all great, but they are only LPs. I used to buy them new for about $5.00, and I enjoyed them, but, at that time, they were just records, and no particular fuss was made of them.

    Now, they have been turned into idols. Ridiculous.

    Avoiding the horrible McMaster versions, most of the CD reissues sound great. The best are the Japanese “Blue Note Works” CDs from the 1990s, which should be made permanently available.

    And, Rudy himself said that he did not like vinyl LPs and was glad to see the back of them. I was surprised to read that, but that is what he had to say about the matter.

    It seems odd to me that original BN LPs go for those massive sums, while Impulse LPs, which are just as good (and done by Rudy in most cases) go for about $20.

  3. Back in the 1950s, professional photographers, and especially newspaper staff photographers, preferred to use twin-lens reflex cameras. At the time, the king of such cameras was the so-called “Rollei.” I used to work for The New York Mirror, a morning tabloid paper. Our staff photographers used either a Mamyaflex or a Yashica twin-lens camera. They were cheaper than a Rolleiflex, but quite serviceable for the quality required for newspaper work. Rolleiflex and Leica (35mm SLR) were the two best-known names of high-quality German cameras

    One time in the Fall of 1958 when I was backstage at the Apollo Theatre (I was taking drum lessons from Philly Joe Jones at the time and he was performing at the theatre), I encountered Jo Jones, who at the time was not yet dubbed “Papa.” He had with him a new Leica camera, which he had purchased in Europe but didn’t know how to use it. I walked him through its operation. I had used many different types of cameras and knew how to operate a 35mm Leica. Buddy Rich was also there, and another drummer whose name I forget.

    • The drummer’s name I couldn’t remember was Kenny Dennis. I let the mystery stew in my brain for awhile, and voila–his name popped up. He was a handsome dude and I suspect fancied himself a ladies’ man.

  4. My vote is for a Rolleiflex or Speedgraphic using a standard lens, stopped down for greater Depth of Field (DOF). The shape of the image is square and appears uncropped. A 35mm uncropped image would be rectangular in shape. The writing on the boxes lining the walls in the back of the image appears sharp enough to read, indicating the image has a large DOF. This is typically achieved by stopping down a photographic lens. But we are inside ! How can you stop down for DOF and capture a well lit and focused image ? Flash. The flash pattern resembles a typical pro level bulb spray pattern of the era. Who would have used such a flash ? A professional photographer or journalist. What were the most common cameras of the era for a working photographer ? Rolleiflex or Speedgraphic ! The Nikon F era was a few years off, and the average working picture taker did not use a Leica or Contax. Now if someone has access to typical normal or general prime lenses for a Rolleiflex or Speedgraphic, one can then calculate DOF, and from that the rough distance between Lee and the back wall, side walls etc. Math, perspective, and light. All are variables that can be used to our advantage. Now to listen to some Lee !!

  5. Great film/flash explanation but only for the few who ever used roll film or flash for that matter. Strange, I play records but I have completely given up on my film cameras but there is a ‘wooden’ telephone pole outside my house. Wonder when ‘they’ will do away with them?

  6. Why don’t you send the photo to Michael at Mosaic and ask him for the info? They have the rights, or own, or something, Wolf’s archive. Michael may know the story behind this one.

    • billsf posted below “A friend was able to ask Michael Cuscuna about the photo and particularly what the boxes behind the boxes might be. Unfortunately, he had no idea.”

  7. Tell me about that London basement Jazz Club that Sir Jimmy took me to in the 80’s. I was in town on business and down some steep stairs and into a room filled with smoke and booze.A band was in the corner with a piano, tables and a dance floor. I was fairly drunk before I got there and it was kind of my intro to Jazz (in my early 30’s). All Iremember is hearing ‘A Night in Tunisia’ played very well as I recall. Does the above mean anything to you?

    • Could be Ronnie Scotts, Frith Street W1, Soho. The Vortex is too far out to fit the description. By the 1980s the jazz scene had long been overtaken by night-people dressing up outlandishly, as the audience became the stars. Ronnies is still there.

      • Thanks. I wish I could have remembered more. The average age in that club was ‘ancient’ (to me at the time) and Sir Jimmy was a WWII Vet so I was a ‘pup’ to these guys but I did get a lesson in Jazz and I continue to learn today.

  8. Trying to determine how many copies were in a first pressing run is indeed a noble pursuit. There’s a lot to speculate about here, many assumptions have been made to arrive at an estimate. FWIW, the boxes in the back do look smaller to me. If the room is really deep, maybe ten-inch LPs, though I’m guessing they’re 45s. I’d imagine 45 sales were a significant part of their business model.

    • Hi Rich
      Looking at those boxes, they look the wrong dimensions for any 7 inch boxes I’ve ever seen. I think10 inch boxes is probably a better guess.

  9. An excellent, informative and obsessive post, LJC. But nothing about Lee’s socks? No analysis of why Wolff would clumsily crop one of Lee’s feet in the picture? (My guess: it isn’t a Wolff picture. The balance of the flash, the usual deeply pooled blackness of Wolff’s backgrounds — whether achieved in the camera or in processing/printing — it all looks wrong.)

    One day God will grant you X-Ray eyes and you’ll be able to look inside the boxes and the guess work will become certainty! 🙂

  10. And the ‘camera’?? A Rolleiflex’ with a flash? Maybe a Speed Graflex. The sharpness indicates a ‘fast’ lens..Then again a Leica IIIG but better an M3, with a flash. There had to be a flash from the way his face is lit up.

    • Photographers! Can anyone tell what’s film was used for the shot? Kodak 400 ASA Tri-X? Maybe there wasn’t enough available light in the stockroom, hence flash. Flash on or off camera? Wolff was such a great photographer he would probably have found a way of using natural light, by a window, so the jury is out on who took the shot.

      • When I started shooting Tri-x back in the early 70’s it was only 120 ASA. If you wanted to shoot it at a higher ASA you had to overexpose and then over develop the film which increased the grain size dramatically as it went higher.
        That’s the reason most indoor photographs at that time had to use flash.
        Light sensitivity of even smart phones today blows older film stock out of the water.
        Just wish I had the same appreciation for the digital reproduction of music.

        • Bless you, I had forgotten about the lower ASA film stock. I used to shoot Ilford “Pan” 100 ASA basic, and Kodak Tri-ex 400 ASA for situations needing speed in return for grain, processing both in an home lab, nights spent under red light. Magic stuff.

          • Beautiful, I didn’t realize we shared photography as a passion too! When I was 11 I received a film developing kit for Christmas. On my first attempt I loaded and processed the 120mm paper backing instead of the film. I was so discouraged that I didn’t attempt again for months and did the exact same thing again. Luckily the third attempt was met with success and a Pavlovian response to the alluring scent of “fixer”.

                    • She was a nurse..from Birmingham. Diane ‘something’. Returning from France and..The Ferry’s background music was ‘So What’..Didn’t mean ‘poop’ to me then. Years later, my buddy Sir Jimmy introduced me to ‘Jazz’ and I thought of her. So did you take her out too? We stayed in London one night, had dinner at a place called ‘Sal and Peppa’, near Kensington. Nightingale, her last name. Dang,time flies! (This is about Jazz).

              • Amen.

                I have a degree in Visual Communications, and the Mac was not installed in my school for study until right before I graduated in 1987. I still paint and draw in traditional media but the money today is all generated using Photoshop.

      • No windows in a stockroom full of vinyl records, that’s a great way to destroy your own product. They probably posed in the stockroom because the contents of the boxes is a musician’s “life’s work”.

        Its great to see photos of Lee before he messed his scalp up in the accident. What a damned tragedy.

  11. Hard to be certain without access to the original photo, but my take is that the room is deeper than people are assuming and the boxes on the shelves are actually the label’s entire back catalogue stock of 12″ LPs in 12″ cartons with the titles written on the boxes. Firstly the boxes stacked in the doorway appear to be the same size as those on the shelving, boxes holding a door open are likely to be recent, rather than old, secondly I believe there is a gap of at least a few feet between the newly arrived stock and the shelving, with a large room why would you put the new stock up against the old and block your access, I’ve been in record warehouses and seen similar scenes, big gaps between newly arrived shipments and filed titles, it’s a working operation and you need access to those older titles. The spacing of the ceiling lights also supports the room being much deeper than it appears due to the foreshortening in the image. If someone can identify the specific type of door moulding or even the light fittings they will provide known measurements which when compared to Lee Morgan, the chair and the shipping boxes should allow someone with good maths skills the ability to recreate the room in three dimensions and confirm whether those are 12″ stock boxes. Perhaps we could create a VR late fifties Blue Note stock room, that would be an impressive way of displaying the 1500 series discography.

    • Interesting speculation. The height of most doors is 80″. It looks like Lee’s head is seen above the top frame. Someone with more math skill than I will have to take it from here.

    • Erik — well spotted! I knew I had seen the picture somewhere but couldn’t remember where. Bit I think in the documentary it is mostly cropped to focus on Lee in the chair. That’s rather how I remember it anyway.

  12. Absolutely a delightful detective story. It all adds up and made for a most entertaining and dream inducing read. I too remember father’s daily attire of suit and tie, 50’s style. I was only five in ’57, what took my parents so long to get it together to propogate the species!?!!!

  13. I’m glad you have been able to devote some time to the photo. I completely overlooked the three deep arrangement. The numbers make sense when added up like that. Thanks for spotting that. A friend was able to ask Michael Cuscuna about the photo and particularly what the boxes behind the boxes might be. Unfortunately, he had no idea. Since they are rather haphazardly arranged, I’ll guess they are empty leftovers from the 10″ era.

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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