Sam Rivers: “A New Conception” (1966) Liberty Blue Note

KEEP THOSE BLUE TRAIN MEASUREMENTS COMING IN! But we need a new detective story, today, it is the mysterious case of the Blue Note original, that isn’t.

Selection: What A Difference A Day Makes (Grever-Adams)

.  .  .

Though What A Difference…was written in Spanish in the mid 1930s, the best known English language version of this tune, probably Sam River’s point of reference, is the 1959 Dinah Washington  version , a Billboard Top-20 entry which earned Dinah a Grammy.


Sam Rivers, tenor, soprano sax, flute; Hal Galper, piano; Herbie Lewis, bass; Steve Ellington, drums; recorded Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, October 11, 1966, released November 1967. Remember these dates, you will need them to unravel another record collecting mystery.

With the passing of greats every day, recently Lee Konitz, now McCoy Tyner, a quick obituary round up for A New Conception: Rivers finally left the stage in 2011, free at last; Herbie Lewis, bass, 2007, Drummer Steve Ellington, grand-nephew of jazz legend Duke Ellington, 2013; pianist Hal Galper is defiantly still with us, a sprightly 82 year old. I’m not sure it adds anything to appreciating their music, but at least you know.

A lot of the music I listen to was made by people no longer with us.  As I listen,  they are alive in their music,  Tina Brooks, Hank Mobley, John Coltrane, their towering achievement, alive in my head. People who listen to classical music dont grieve over a Bach, or Beethoven’s NYT obituary. The artists’s work is what we celebrate, their legacy, for which we are grateful. Their music lives forever.


In Rivers uncompromising approach to new directions, he re-imagines seven standards with an avant-twist, while sounding more like Archie Shepp meets . . . Freddy Kreuger. An audacious idea, executed with respect for the tunes, but not permitting them to rest in peace, Nightmare on 43 West 61st St.

Rivers is fiery and playful, but the arrangements are the key. As the tunes are familiar, the listener’s attention is caught by the deviations from the familiar, sly references to the tune rather than the straight tune itself. The familiar evolves into an avant form, or an avant and fairly free romp coalesces into its familiar form,  dips in and out, with Monk-like dissonances, or just free-blowing ideas as passing clouds.

It is a great idea, one foot in the past, one foot in the future, hybrid jazz.

Twiggy, 1967, Vogue magazine

Cover Art
“A New Conception” cover is conceived as a furry young chick, bird-like in posture, isolated against a momochrome backdrop with dramatic side-lighting. Reid Miles perfectly captures 60’s iconic fashion  photography, with its eye-catching images. Supermodels had arrived – Jean Shrimpton, Twiggy –  black and white photography, quirky expression, bizarre hair-styling, “dresses” suitable only to wear on the cover shoots of glossy fashion magazines.  Not “retro” as seen from today’s vantage point,  but in its own time, modern,  it shouts 1967.

Vinyl: BST 84249 New York, USA  labels, VAN GELDER stamp, vinyl 139 gm., jacket 112gm.

Serrated edge – likely pressed by  Keel Mfg Corp. Hauppauge L I,  a  third-party NY plant occasionally used by Liberty to supplement the East Coast capacity of All Disc.

The Blue Note – Liberty Transition

Despite the catalogue number 4250 being the official point of separation of the Blue Note/ Liberty transition, 4249 and thirty four titles below 4250 were first released by Liberty. Sam Rivers A New Conception took nearly another year to release, yet New York USA labels were printed.  All good detective adventure start with knowing the right question. You have to ask, printed when?

BLP 4249 was recorded in mid-November 1966,  five months into the era of Liberty management control. The catalogue number and session date had been assigned seemingly four to five months before the recording session was actually held, hence below the break-point of BLP 4250.

Although the Blue Note company and catalogue had been sold to Liberty, Blue Note founder Alfred Lion remained actively producing records for the Blue Note label until mid-1967, granted artistic “carte blanche” by Liberty management (Reference Richard Cook’s Blue Note autobiography, citing interview with Michael Cuscuna). Lion’s productions included this album by Sam Rivers. His last recording for the label as producer was in July 1967, a collection of pop tunes by a Stanley Turrentine Nonet,  featuring titles like The Look Of Love, Up Up and Away, and Georgy Girl – a recording mercifully unissued until a CD thirty years later, as The Lost Recordings, better to have stayed lost.

The Blue Note label was a very disciplined production line, with long timelines, planned release schedules, co-ordinated manufacture, and continuous production.

Record centre labels and jackets could be printed only after the recording session has taken place.  A session is scheduled , musicians booked , takes recorded,  agreed or rejected, the sequence of the songs for the final mix decided, and label copy finalised. All this before it can go for mastering, plating, pressing, and label printing and jacket fabrication. There was no original New York USA issue in preparation.  So, the “New York, USA”  label was not printed before the sale of Blue Note to Liberty, it was printed  possibly a year after the sale of Blue Note to Liberty.

Lion was free creatively, but Liberty controlled manufacture, promotion, and label copy. They owned the registered trade mark of Blue Note Records, and were free to use it as they wished. I hadn’t anticipated, from a collector standpoint, that a New York USA label would be freshly-printed so far into the Liberty years.

We find Liberty issuing new titles, with what many many sellers and collectors assume are “original”  New York, USA labels, not to be confused with what they assume are later “reissues” with Division of Liberty labels. You can not have an “original” NY USA label printed in 1967. Physically impossible, original  was long gone.

The mystery unravels futher  in Collector’s Corner.



Collector’s Corner

Though not quite in trophy territory, this Liberty release still attracts a respectable collector premium. The mono edition is sometimes assumed to be a “promo”.  The NY label – NY USA! – draws plenty of attention but it is only the stereo that is NY USA.  “Blue Note” gets  lot of mentions.The word “Liberty” gets only three mentions in the top twenty auctions, despite all being a Liberty issue.

The “sealed/ shrink!” copies are almost all certainlyearly 1970’s West Coast Liberty UA Black/ Turquoise label, as it was their practice to shrink.

A closer look … navigating the auction rapids…


The mono gets only Division of Liberty labels, and a front cover designated with mono catalogue number. Several sellers conclude the mono edition is a promo copy, though nothing on the record or jacket says so. Liberty promos are usually found stamped “AUDITION COPY” in large letters on the back. Only one verified promo of New Conception could be found,  embossed NOT FOR SALE , PROMOTION USE ONLY inthe  upper left front cover corner, and it is stereo. Mono promo theory is now officially toast.

84249 promo embossed corner stamp 1967

Serrated edge

The connection between Keel and  serrated edge originates in Hoffman Forum discussions, not something I have any other knowledge of, but seems well-founded.

Bob Djukic, on his A New Conception auction of the Stereo with New York USA labels:
“Original U.S. Pressing · Original white and blue Blue Note Label With New York, USA address on the label · Van Gelder stamped in the trail-off vinyl. Serrated edge pressing (Obviously, an ABC-Impulse pressing)

“Original U.S. Pressing” covers a multiplicity of possibilities, as does “original white and blue label”, stretching that word original, but Bob generally  knows his stuff. The connection to ABC Records (Impulse) is suggested on Hoffman.  My New York USA label copy is also serrated edge. Light bulb moment, I have overlooked the obvious!

84249;  stereo New York USA label, serrated edge.

What eagle-eyed Bob and I have noticed is the serrated edge, a characteristic of Keel pressings, and may be the clue that unlocks the New York USA label anomaly . What if Keel was the source of those NY USA label pressings, labels which can only have been printed in 1967?  At this point, a good vinyl detective withholds judgement and collects more evidence, before jumping to conclusions (the opposite of how many people work)

There are five label variants found of A New Conception, all of which are a product of Liberty Records. Four labels (numbers 2 to 5 below) follow the familiar pattern of Liberty East Coast and West Coast manufacture. The mono editions are all Division of Liberty, accompanied by a matching stereo Division of Liberty. Labels 2 and 3 are Keystone printed for East Coast plant/s, labels 4 and 5 are Bert-Co printed for West Coast plant/s. You can see from the helicopter view that label 1, the New York USA label is not historically “an original“, it is “an anomaly”, which requires a different explanation.

Look closely at the typesetting and compare Keystone to Bert-Co. The typesetting of the track title and composer credits  is identical between the mono and stereo editions,  and different between Keystone and Bert-Co. The East and West coast typesetters made slightly different decisions in how to set the type (for example, tracks 3 and 4 are set in one line by Keystone, in two lines by Bert-Co. The album title and artist are set high on Bert-Co, low on Keystone). The mono and stereo of each label print is identical, which tells you it is the same slug of text applied first to a mono template and then to a stereo template.

Typesetting is like a fingerprint left at a crime-scene. If you check the New York USA label, the typesetting is identical in every respect to the Keystone Division of Liberty. Keystone printed the New York USA label, with the same slug of text used on their Division of Liberty label print run.

Pressing capacity was increasingly tight in the later Sixties, soaring demand for records, particularly in the stereo format as more homes were equipped with a stereo record player. More stereo copies were wanted, and Keel had massive capacity, its own printing division, and was conveniently located  to supply with Van Gelder stampers. Serrated edge is unique to one plant that was used occasionally by Liberty, and is not All-Disc NJ or Research Craft LA. My conclusion is the New York USA copy is a Keel pressing, for which Keel were supplied with Van Gelder stampers, and centre labels printed by Keystone, with an out of date Blue Note NY template, for reasons unknown.

Why use an out of date NY template to supply labels to Keel? Perhaps a tell-tale to identify records pressed by third parties, perhaps the stereo label run was a holding job before “Division Of Liberty” template had been agreed, we will probably never know, anyone’s guess, but the fingerprint is indelible.

From a previous post:

Keel Mfg., Hauppauge Long Island – the Serrated Edge

The serrated rim edge is believed to be a characteristic of Keel Mfg. Corp, 10 & 15 Gilpin Ave., Hauppauge Long Island, NY,. Keel was an arm of the giant Pickwick Records budget record operation, had massive capacity (a decade later, in 1978, there were 45 presses at Hauppauge) and their own printing facility, which meant they were in a position to fabricate their own Blue Note centre labels if required.

There is unresolved speculation on Hoffman as to other plants responsible for the serrated edge, but forum member suggestions are wide of the mark on location and year of manufacture (1966-69). My money is on Keel, convenient NY location to supply Van Gelder metal,, and spare capacity for custom clients.


Finally, for anyone who has stayed awake through this post to the end, the LJC “SHOULD HAVE GONE TO SPECSAVERS” award goes to freddyfresh-pro-dj, for sighting a deep groove where there is none.

Keep spinning those discs, Freddy, but please, for your own sake, book an eye test. Still, at least Freddy didn’t use the most overused and miss-applied word in the Blue Note collecting lexicon, “original!” Though funnily enough, it is an original, as much as any of the others.

Do you have a copy of this album? Can you add anything to the story? Floor is yours.


14 thoughts on “Sam Rivers: “A New Conception” (1966) Liberty Blue Note

  1. 2 additional data points such as they are:

    MONO Liberty Small Text Label NON VanGelder Thin vinyl pressing (West Coast pressing ?)

    STEREO Liberty Large Text Label Serrated Edge VanGelder Stamped (East Coast Pressing)
    —Vinyl slightly heavier than mono copy

  2. At least Hal Galper is still with us! I was lucky enough to see McCoy Tyner several times over the years. Saw Sam Rivers at least twice, once at his Studio Rivbea in NYC. Best, Ed

  3. Hi, great post again !

    For what it’s worth, my copy has serrated edge and Division of Liberty labels, printed by Keystone.

    • Interesting! So it seems likely that Keel Mfg pressed with NY USA AND Division Of Liberty labels. The plot thickens. Thank you for the information, it is helpful. Anyone else with this record, pool the knowedge, particularly the edge-trimming – beaded rim or serrated edge?

        • Thank you, another theory down in flames. The out-of-date NY USA labels were not supplied solely to Keel, but also other plants. Quite a few assumptions in there, but shows how complex is this business of declaring what is “original”.

  4. I believe I have another variant for you. My copy is liberty mono Vangelder with the small pressing ridge instead of the larger, non-dg ridge. I had always assumed this was a Capitol press. I got in a trade with another collector in the last two years.

  5. I have a record that have the same oddity. Duke Pearson Sweet Honey Bee that have New York labels as your Sam Rivers…4252 is the release number.

    • Damn!
      A couple of years ago I picked up a lovely Division of Liberty on this, to replace my blue labelled West Coast late 60s issue, and presumed it was the first press. Now I know different!

  6. Hi Andy
    I don’t know if I’m missing the point here, but I pretty much thought that all Blue Note records released through to the middle of 67 had New York labels, including later presses of earlier titles.
    A quick trawl of the early 200s on my shelves shows that the following
    84209 Sam Rivers
    4215 Jackie McLean
    4217 Andrew Hill
    4229 John Patton
    4239 John Patton
    Are all post Liberty purchase have New York labels and no-serrated edge.
    I think I have more.
    I think the key to these New York labels is that Alfred sold but was allowed to keep running the front of house as a New York based independent. Only the back room stuff was changed which allowed economies of scale.
    This was allowed to continue until Alfred was forced to retire, at which point the company was made a more inclusive part of Liberty.
    I don’t really see any evidence that the Liberty and New York labels were appearing on new releases at the same time, and that 1966 / 67 use of New York labels was any sort of an anomaly.

    • Hi Dean, my issues is not the use of the NY template way into the Liberty era, I have tons of that myself. It is the seller myth of “original” status, claiming that New York USA is”older” (ie pre-1966) and therefore, “original”, when it is not.

      • Ah right. Sorry.
        Didn’t realise that was a thing, but after getting involved in a weird discussion over Liberty era 1st stereo’s at Hoffman the other week, it feels there is a lot of wishful thinking in the world of Blue Note collectors.
        Hope you are well

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