Enforced time away from music, while power cables were being upgraded, seemed an ideal opportunity to tackle a subject that had been at the back of my mind for some time. For once, time was was in abundant supply, to spend on necessary vinyl record research, though it took longer than I thought. Now here it is, Original First Edition, a book that has been waiting to be written: an Illustrated Collector’s Guide to the Prestige New Jazz Label, in search of original pressings. Note: this book does not exist except in my mind, and now, possibly yours.
First I checked to see if anyone had written this already, save myself a whole lot of trouble. A friend had once given me a Japanese Guide To The Prestige Labels. Knowing how TokyoJazzCollector – my arch rival – knows everything, I perfomed a quick check:
Ha! Per each title, track listing, date of recording, and list of artists and their instruments, that’s it. No help to a record collector with a blurred photo on a screen, a clock ticking countdown to auction close, and the price currently standing at $400. The seller says “it’s a rare original“. . .
Warning: there are not as many clues to confirm provenance as found with Blue Note or to a lesser extent, Prestige, and not all apparent “originals” are desirable. For some titles, it remains inconclusive. So, a fools errand perhaps, but we have to start somewhere, don’t we? (heads nod vigorously). This is all my work, original content, in progress, quite possibly a some mistakes (excluding autocorrect), also my own. If you can contribute knowledge or improve it, please do.
New Jazz – Early Days
The founder of Prestige/New Jazz label was 20-year old jazz fan and entrepreneur, Bob Weinstock. His New Jazz/Prestige label started issuing titles in 1949, on 10″ shellac. The format evolved through 10″ microgroove vinyl in the early ’50s, to the 12″ microgroove LP in 1955-6. A series of label design changes accompanied the changing formats, before reinventing the name “New Jazz” in 1958 as a separate label, the New Jazz label.
New Jazz Catalogue/Discography 8200 Series (1958 – 63)
The 8200 Series, starting with PRLP 8201 – Mal Waldron – Mal/3 – Sounds, recorded at Van Gelder Home Studio, Hackensack, NJ, January 31, 1958. The initial Prestige PRLP catalogue prefix on a handul of early releases was soon replaced by NJLP.
Around a hundred “new” recordings were issued on the New Jazz label between 1958 and the end of 1963, though the label continued to front reissues for several more years. In its prime years, the New Jazz label leant towards more adventurous material, whilst the Prestige label itself leaned more towards soul jazz organ-combos, though in practice both labels were interchangeable.
The New Jazz catalogue featured many exceptional artists of the time, including must-have recordings of Roy Haynes, Yusef Lateef, Eric Dolphy, Kenny Dorham, Walt Dickerson, Mal Waldron, Dizzy Reece, Oliver Nelson, Jackie McLean, and many others. My pick of a dozen favourites, YMMV, but so hard to acquire.
The label’s most collectable and valuable record has, for some years, remained Kenny Dorham’s Quiet Kenny (NJLP 8225). With around 300 auctions listed, Popsike ranks this among the most valuable jazz records ever.
Many Prestige/New Jazz sessions were recorded by Van Gelder at Hackensack and Englewood Cliffs and exhibit the benefit of Van Gelder mastering, evidenced by RVG and VAN GELDER stamps. The audio quality is correspondingly fine.
By the end of 1963, (around catalogue number 8300) the New Jazz label had more or less run its course as regards new jazz titles and artists, with just the occasional issue. Thereafter novelty compilations and reissues marked the end of the road. Lusty Moods, indeed. OK ’60s bachelor demographic, who is it to take home for the weekend, Lusty Moods, or Latin Soul? Both? Dream on. Sex sells, apparently, but I guess not enough to keep a once great record company afloat.
With many of his artist signings having moved on and up to majors, Weinstock turned his attention to the re-issue of older New Jazz and Prestige titles of those now big names, through the short-lived Status label. Status picked up the New Jazz catalogue numbering system at 8300, but with the prefix ST. The same numbers but with the prefix NJLP was used for completely different recordings. Surplus stocks of New Jazz covers would be given a Status sticker, and the recording issued with a Status label. Cannibalisation of everything became the name of the game.
Meanwhile, under the auspices of the Prestige label, around 1965 the blue label/ silver trident (on side) was introduced to serve the same purpose. Reissues given a different later catalogue number, with a PR prefix, or hijacked the new Jazz NJLP catalogue number. In many cases, Van Gelder metal was reused on both Status and Prestige Blue label. To Weinstock, labels were not an iconic “brand” so much as a vehicle of convenience. And disposable.
Fantasy purchased the entire Prestige catalogue, including its subsidiary labels New Jazz, Bluesville, Folklore, Swingville, Tru-Sound, and Moodsville. Thereafter New Jazz recordings would appear as OJC issues (original Jazz Clasics) and commonly in Japan, through Victor. These issues were all remastered. Though Van Gelder’s original recordings remained, Van Gelder metal masters tragically disappeared off this earth. Perhaps now enjoying a Saturn postcode.
Birth of the New Jazz Label (1958)
Commencing in 1958, a reluctant forceps delivery. The Prestige 8200 Series started life not as “New Jazz” at all, but simply a continuation of the well-established Prestige “fireworks” label which had active since 1955, the 7000 Series. The previous 440 W. 50th St N.Y.C label address was replaced in 1958 by Prestige’s new address that year, 203 South Washington Ave. Bergenfield, N.J. A new catalogue number, pick any number, 8200? Sounds good to me. After a hand full of releases, a new identity based on the Prestige original 1949 name, “New Jazz”, emerged, with its own purple label.
Example below PRLP 8202, recorded at Van Gelder Home Studio, Hackensack, NJ, December 6, 1957, first issued in 1958. The same recording, same Abbey pressing die ring on Side B, both deep groove, both bear the text “High Fidelity” in proper format, typeset with the same Intertype fonts, though different typesetter layout choices.
Quick forensic on the labels: the album title is set in the same geometric sans-serif round font, Intertype Vogue, as used by Keystone Printed Specialties Scranton PA, who were also print supplier to Blue Note/ Plasytlite, and known to supply Prestige/Abbey in their early years.
Illustrated below, PRLP 8201 to PRLP 8204 are found on both Prestige “Fireworks” label and purple New Jazz label. From PRLP 8205, the legend on the label departs from the Prestige form “High Fidelity” , capitalised to become “HI FIDELITY”. The NJLP catalogue number replaces PRLP the first time at NJLP 8207. Fireworks PRLP ceases with 8209 (more of 8029 later, you have an Easter Egg to look forward to)
Weinstock’s preferred pressing plant for New Jazz in 1958 was the very high quality Abbey Record Mfg., East Newark, New Jersey – of similar standing to Plastylite, the regular partner of Blue Note.
The relationship between Van Gelder, Blue Note and Plastylite has been documented in great detail, relationships with Prestige less so. Proof of Plastylite pressing rests on presence of the “ear”, a cursive inverted “P”, applied during pressing. It does not appear on any metalwork. Abbey also had its own signature mark, the letters AB, hand written, appear in the runout usually near the label edge. The AB appears on both Prestige and New Jazz, though the pin-etched two letters are not as easy to discern as the “ear”.
The difference between the “ear” and the “AB” (which few if any record sellers are aware of) is that the AB must appear on the metalwork: witness, it can be seen on many UK Esquire pressings, which were pressed by Decca in the UK (with Prestige-supplied metal). Van Gelder applied his stamp during the preparation of his master acetate. The AB must have been applied during the manufacture of metal parts from the Van Gelder master. You may be able to figure out how else. As a result, Prestige stampers had both the AB etching and Van Gelder stamps, and those stampers could be sent to any pressing plant (according to cost-advantage), not necessarily pressed by Abbey, though the indications are that many were, at least initially.
Weinstock went on to use plants other than Abbey, some of whom I assume achieved competetive price advantage by using raw vinylite mixed with recycled vinyl, or more likely, purchased cheap batches of tainted vinyl from suppliers who did the dirty work for them. Recycled vinyl included paper fibres from labels and detritus, which the cartridge stylus reads as “musical information”, resulting in a continuous hiss during playback (not unlike tinnitus!). This can vary from mildly intrusive to highly intrusive on more delicate pieces. No amount of crowing about original labels, deep groove, or Van Gelder stamp is going to alter this experience, it sucks.
Walt Dickerson, This is Walt – end of track one, start of track two, short rip
. . .
Recycled Vinyl, Close Up.
It can be difficult to detect recycled vinyl visually in room light, and not at all on an Ebay photo taken with an amateur phone. But the Canon EF100mm 1:1 macro (great toy!) with unidirectional lighting reveals all . View this horror macro at full screen (caution: vinyl lovers may find sight disturbing, keep good single malt to hand). Maintain a sense of scale. A cartridge stylus has to be able to detect movement in the groove wall as little as 1/20th the thickness of a human hair. This lot is like driving down a back road strewn with tree trunks after a hurricane.
Above, an expensive original New Jazz pressing, tainted by recycled vinyl hiss. Scattered reflections from recycled vinyl can be seen most easlily in the vinyl land, between label and grooves, in direct light. Some record sellers seem willfully blind to this, and I have been told “it’s just normal vinyl – all vinyl sounds”. This is not normal.
In my albeit limited experience, the problem is found only in some New Jazz and to a lesser extent some Prestige pressings, dating from around 1962-3. It is not restricted to particular titles – one copy may have recyled vinyl hiss, another, not, if they originate from different batches or plants. I suspect the initial pressing run of some popular titles will have been topped up by further pressing runs within a few years, hence the variety of origin of the same title, some clean, some not.
It was a dreadful practice, but who knew? I have never seen the problem admitted in an auction description, and it is not something that can be identified on-line, only by direct sight and play. I have no idea how widespread the practice was. The best indication of a New Jazz original pressing which avoids recyled vinyl hiss is one actually pressed by Abbey, though others may in practice be fine.
Abbey pressing can be positively identified by a distictive pressing die in use at Abbey between 1958 and 1961. I emphasise this is not independently verified anywhere, but my own deduction. After 1961 there were changes in the type of dies used across the industry, and this tell-tale “signature” seems to have disappeared. Other pressings may be OK, there may be exceptions, but having been burned four times times, I recommend proceding with caution, especially with expensive New Jazz records purchased at a distance.
Abbey example: NJLP 8233 (1960) Test Pressing
Seen here, an Abbey test pressing, of NJLP 8233, dated June 2, 1960. It confirms a characteristic of Abbey pressings at this time was a small circular pressing die around the spindle hole, on one side only. This small pressing ring is the distinctive signature of an Abbey pressing for first half of the New Jazz label output. Beyond this, there is no certain way of establishing the source plant.
An Abbey pressing with same pressing die rings as the test pressing above, of the same title.
(Side B picture required Photoshop repair to due to record seller shooting the label at 45 degree angle, mounted on turntable showing spindle. Some sellers apparently think this is cool. It’s not.) The central die ring one side is a reliable indicator of Abbey quality original pressing with no recycled vinyl. Think Plastylite, think Abbey.
Unfortunately, some record sellers include a picture of only Side A (if a label picture at all). They claim it is “original” but you can not trust and verify. With New Jazz, it requires a picture of Side B, to confirm Abbey pressing provenance 95% of the time (about 5% are on Side A). Without it, you are in the realm of Mystic Meg.
There are three other potential indictors of provenance and it is worth examining these in turn.
1′.Label Colour “Purple”
The New Jazz label is generally described as the “purple label”, and it is not uncommon for sellers to claim their copy is “on the original purple label”, as though there were other colours that were not original. Examples below uploaded by record sellers vary enormously. As well as hi fidelity, there is an issue around colour infidelity. Below, from on-line record offerings.
Purple is a secondary color made by combining red and blue. It is a difficult color for a camera to capture colour corresponding to that seen by the human eye. An imbalance between red and blue sends the hue towards violet or magenta, exposure inaccuracy magnifies this into lilac or mulberry, and many camera-phones are designed to lie – enhancing blue sky and skin tone.
My New Jazz original pressings viewed in daylight are closer to “jam” than any other shade of purple. (Cue, Deep Purple, Smoke On The Water (1972))
Whatever the fidelity of image capture, the result then must be displayed on a computer or TV screen (calibrated, of course?) or printed on paper using dye or ink, which can introduce further unwanted colour-drift. Most of the pictures here are from internet sources. As a result, label colour (as viewed on-line) is not helpful in establishing provenance of original pressings. They are all “purple”, of one shade or another.
2. How Deep Is Yo’ Groove?
The “groove” is an impression in the label area from the dies which held the stampers during record pressing. In the late 50’s and very early ’60s, most if not all 12″ LPs were “deep groove”, dies whose dimensions were modelled on those used in the manufacture of shellac 78rpm. WB from New York can probably tell us the precise dimensions. Around 1960/1a new design of non-DG pressing dies arrived, and gradually came into use industry-wide. DG dies were replaced incrementally, as the older dies wore out, and the following years saw original pressings (and reissues) increasingly without deep groove.
About half way through the New Jazz series (8250- 8300) original pressings were no longer “deep groove”, though still bore relevant hallmarks, such as Van Gelder stamp. However the attachment of the seller/buyer community to deep groove as proof of original status, has resulted in many unfounded claims of “deep groove” description, of records which are clearly not.
Time to get physical.
On New Jazz, there are several different widths of deep groove left by different pressing dies. These vary from a wide deep square trench, to a thin narrow deep groove and then a single pressing ring step which is no deep groove at all. The indicator of original provenance is the appropriate type of groove to the year of release/manufacture, not unfounded claims that “deep groove proves original”. Evidence trumps everything, trust your own eyes.
The first groove illustrated (top left) is an Abbey pressing (witness part of the central pressing ring visible) the widest of all deep grooves seen, and a consistent feature of Abbey pressings in the early half of the New Jazz series. The other three span the last three productive years of the label, in the early ’60s, from other plants, or perhaps after Abbey adopted a different type of die, there is no pattern of consistency, only the Abbey “trench” is a solid foundation of early provenance.
In the above macro-shots from my own collection, 8254 is pressed with recycled vinyl, the other three are “clean”. Another two (not illustrated) are also pressed with recyled vinyl.
3. Whose Side Yo’ On?
Sides of the New Jazz label are conventionally A and B, in the form NJLP 82## A and NJLP 82## B. Or so I thought. However, researching the entire series shows some copies are designated SIDE 1 and SIDE 2, as well as coventional A/B copies for that title. Not all titles had a SIDE 1/2 variant, in fact as little as 15% of the catalogue, not to be too precise as the research was not exhaustive of all copies ever seen, but in that order of magnitude.
To understand what is going on, the most useful analytical tool is to assemble an array of “small multiples” to expose patterns (after Edward R Tufte, information graphic guru:
At the heart of quantitative reasoning is a single question: Compared to what?
Small multiple designs, multivariate and data bountiful, answer directly by visually enforcing comparisons of changes, of the differences among objects, of the scope of alternatives. For a wide range of problems in data presentation, small multiples are the best design solution.
– Edward Tufte
And there is indeed a pattern. Test your observational skills, top row, the conventional A/B form, below it, the SIDE 1/2 form for that title (in a few cases I was unable to find an exact A/B and 1/2 match, so they don’t) .
The SIDE 1/2 labels follow the same naming and text positioning conventions, have the same font typesetting, though condensed where required to fit in long text. They use the same font for song titles and credits, and those credits are exactly the self same as found on the original release copies.
From this I conclude the SIDE 1/2 copies are a batch job, a reissue pressing of selected New Jazz titles, labels printed by the same printer, manufactured together at the same time, somewhere after 1962-3 when deep groove dies had disappeared.
Lastly, my rogue recycled vinyl copy of 8286 “Cracklin’ ‘” (highlighted by red stroke) is completely rogue. It is a SIDE 1/2 copy, but it doesn’t fit in with any of the SIDE 1/2 family characteristics. It smacks of a completely rogue operation, labels printed roughly correct but ask no questions, using Van Gelder stampers for authenticity, running off cheap copies with recycled vinyl to bulk up supply and skim more profit. May be Weinstock knew nothing about it, may be he did. I could be wrong. If the cap fits…
New Jazz pressings by Abbey Record Mfg., by title.
Between 1958 and 1959, and into 1961, New Jazz titles were being pressed by Abbey, evidenced by the inner pressing ring on one side (usually B). I was able to find an Abbey pressing for most of titles up to 1961, though there were also many other non-Abbey pressings in circulation. There after, an increasing number are not found, and eventually, none after 8275. This can be interpreted in a number of ways. Possibly Weinstock became increasingly more aggressive in shopping around pressing plants for more competetive prices, or Abbey changed to dies with different characteristics, possibly both. My own take is that it was the first reason, competitive pressing cost, which attracted the business-minded Bob Weinstock. This was the man who would not pay for rehearsal time, and had rejected take tapes overwritten.
These are the known Abbey pressings, identified by the small pressing ring on one side. A significant number of these were found only on Japanese record-seller sites. Whilst others cry original! insanely rare! our friends from Tokyo know.
Some issues come still with the outer deep groove, though that too begins to disappear, as the grooveless pressing became the norm, and it becomes increasingly difficult to assess the origin of pressing
Sadly, there is no magic key to identify all original pressings of all New Jazz, just a battery of signs and indicators, clues. Until someone invents a vinyl carbon-dating service, it’s the best we have.
Prestige picture-inner sleeve
With Blue Note, the unique picture inner sleeves between 1962 and 66 are an indispensible tool for identifying Plastylite manufacturing dates. It seems Weinstock experimented with a rival picture-inner sleeve showcasing his various labels – New Jazz, Moodsville, Swingville and of course Prestige (shown below). However this was not followed up, and remains an oddity.
Prestige/New Jazz early fireworks labels stamped “Not For Sale”. This likely originated in the avoidance of State sales tax on promos which were not sold (until later, of course)
None of the records I found with the Preview Copy cover were Abbey pressings. Most were groovless pressing of titles towards the end of the New Jazz Series, 1962-3. Perhaps it was only then Weinstock ramped up the marketing.
Other New Jazz Oddities
For no apparent reason, two New Jazz issues, 8258 and 8259, suffered an identity crisis and broke with the NJLP catalogue number prefix, declaring themselves hybrids, non-binary or something, PRNJ.
If you got this far, congratulations, you have just one final mystery to solve
New Jazz Easter Egg Alert!
The strange case of 8309 Dorothy Ashby and Frank Wess
A record pressed originally with Prestige fireworks (8209) was revealed to have a paste-over purple New Jazz label. One record seller unmasked the transition in labels, however there is more to this story than meets the eye.
Searching the net for variations of each title I was looking for what should have been NJLP 8209, purple label, with an Abbey pressing ring. Except what I found was PRLP 8209 with a Prestige fireworks label. The fireworks label had thought to have been stopped at 8204. More interesting, what at first looked like tears in the label typical of sticker removal damage, on closer examination, showed paper residue on top of the label. For some reason, the fireworks label had been concealed under another label.
However, this is not The Beatles Butcher cover. Someone had carefully tried to remove the top label, with only limited success. It seemed a lot of trouble to go to, but collectors can be funny people, perhaps they thought the fireworks label was more valuable (original!).
Some time later, I returned to the case of 8209, this time on Discogs, might even have been the same copy, but here the owner had documented the unmasking. 8209, which been the subject of a New Jazz cover up.
The reason for covering up up the fireworks label of 8209 with the New Jazz label was not, as I first thought, “corporate vanity”. There was a another reason. Finding yet another example 8209, this time a big clear shot, I stumbled on the reason. A small detail on this copy below caught my eye. Can you see it?
The label Side A correctly matches the matrix code 8209A, helpfully captured in the seller’s picture. Hardly noticable, the label Side has been corrected from “A” to “B”. Bingo. This was the reason for the hasty cover up of PRLP 8209 with a New Jazz label. On the fireworks label, the print-supplier’s typesetter had accidentally transposed the tracks on each side: B was A, and A was B. I’m sure Dorothy Ashby and Frank Wess would have something to say. A rush print job of the New Jazz label was a timely opportunity to conceal a potentially expensive mistake.
Life lesson 1: it’s not the original mistake that reveals the story, it’s the cover up.
Supplementary context: PRLP 8209 should not have been issued on fireworks label anyway (which ceased with 8204). Its cover up replacement New Jazz label should have been given catalogue number NJLP 8209 not PRLP 8209. This suggests that the time of manufacturing 8209 was chronological out of sequence, some time before New Jazz nomenclature had been established. It was an old mistake.
Life Lesson 2: When you expect things to happen in an orderly way, it is not the way things happen that is wrong, it’s your expectations.
Philosophy class, dismiss.
My thanks to jazz collector Frederik, who encouraged me to embark on this thankless task.
Readers, over to you. Any thoughts on New Jazz?