A special feature of this year’s EFG London Jazz Festival (13-22 November 2020), is an Esquire Covers Club event, celebrating the great British jazz label Esquire (1947 – 64). I thought this might be of interest to LJC readers.
In the late ’50s – early ’60s, Esquire brought the best of the US Prestige label jazz recordings to these shores. Unlike the customary industry practice of local remastering from copy tape, Esquire records were pressed with metal from the original Van Gelder masters, ensuring pure sonic authenticity of the original Prestige sound. And always mono. Nice!
The doors of a specially built digital exhibition hall will open, offering a chance to revisit jazz history at the www.esquirecover.club where you will enter a virtual space, revealing a remarkable collection of contrasting record sleeves from American and British releases of jazz classics and then hear the stories behind them, including an exclusive interview with legendary illustrator Ralph Steadman, who cut his teeth doing illustrations for Esquire Records. His new book, A Life in Ink, was published yesterday.
The exhibition also includes interviews and features on other people who worked with Esquire Records, such as photographer and writer Val Wilmer and journalist Ron Atkins. All the interviews on the site were done by John Fordham, with his classic mix of deep knowledge and warm humour.
Broadcast: Esquire Covers Club talk: Saturday 14 November, GMT 2pm
The Esquire Covers Club collection has been carefully created and curated over many years by Stefano Wagner and at 2pm on Saturday 14 November he will be in conversation with Jez Nelson, talking about these albums, their distinctive and differing artwork and his interest in their place in jazz history.
The Club is navigated through a floorplan of nine virtual rooms, each of which give you access to related content: cover art, interviews, and even some music samples through Spotify, selected by John Fordham, (bio found on the Esquire Club Writers Room.)
The Esquire Rooms
The Esquire Covers Club is a creation of Swiss jazz record collector Stefano, who uses his awesome 10,000 record collection to support themed exhibitions, examples below, more on the Esquire Club site Collector’s Room:
For the hard core record collector, the Club offers an invaluable guide to the Esquire label in a 2017 feature in the The Record Collector magazine. This is not a magazine I read often, one copy I bought a few years back included 26 pages on The Who’s album Live At Leeds. And you thought jazz collectors were crazy! I recall exchanging emails at the time with the Esquire article writer Jon Groocock, which article I reproduce here for posterity (LJC contributing source).
Here at Londonjazzcollector we have sixty three blog post entries for Esquire: full screen cover art and readable liner notes, with a selected track (full length) authentic Esquire vinyl rip: hear it as recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder intended.
How so, as Rudy intended? Esquire records were pressed uniquely with metal from the Prestige/ Van Gelder master. You see the Prestige catalogue number, hand inscribed by Van Gelder, and the master’s stamp, RVG, in the runout.
With US overseas pressings, it was custom and practice in the ’60s to supply the licensee with copy tape – with resulting tape generation loss – and the licensee to engineer their own master locally. Differences in tape-head match, cutting lathe performance, and other equipment differences, and different engineering judgements, apply limiting, EQ, or whatever tricks the local mastering engineer preferred. Van Gelder was both the recording and mastering engineer, and alone knew what it should sound like. As a result, overseas pressings are different from and generally sonically inferior to the US original. I have yet to hear one that sounds better, but some which sound horribly worse.
Not so with Esquire. By shipping the licensee metal parts from the original Van Gelder master rather than copy tape (from what we know of Bob Weinstock, it was probably seen as a cost-cutting short cut) the sonic qualities of the Prestige original are perfectly replicated in the grooves of the Esquire pressing.
Arguably the quality of vinyl used by the British pressing plant – Decca – was never compromised by adulteration with recycled vinyl, waste edge-trimmings and other cost-cutting practices tolerated in some US pressing plants, though Prestige were mostly pressed by by Abbey Mfg., NJ. who had a quality track record.
Despite the growing market for stereo in the US at the time, Esquire were fortunate to be supplied metal of just the mono master, sidestepping the primitive stereo presentation of the early stereo editions of Van Gelder, in which two-track tape found its way into left and right channels of stereo, hard panning, two channels intended for a mono fold-down.
In Esquire, the golden age of American modern jazz is heard, exactly as intended. And sounds great.
My five top Esquire picks from my collection:
Jackie McLean’s Jackie’s Scene
Sonny Rollins: Saxophone Colossus
Eric Dolphy: Outward Bound
John Coltrane: Soultrane
Dizzy Reece: Asia Minor
EFG LONDON JAZZ FESTIVAL 2020 (Friday 13th to Sunday 22nd November)
Due to government restrictions “to contain the spread of Coronavirus”, this year’s London Jazz Festival is Virtual. As a result, it is accessible online from anywhere in the world, from your own home. No need to book airline tickets and hotels; drinks from your hopefully well-stocked bar, self-service only, deliveroo pizza home delivery, government advice: do not mix households when watching.
Jazz performances are being streamed live, many are free, or modestly-priced ticketted events See here the LJF Full Programme. In addition to live broadcasts, jazz-friendly BBC Radio 3 has some exclusive jazz broadcast content
BBC Radio 3 London Jazz Festival broadcasts– JtoZ late …live from the festival … 23:00…
Highlights Friday 13th November jazz all-nighter includes an online broadcast of two concerts, GMT 01:30 am, the complete cure for insomnia, Chick Corea (2012 concert) and for those still with difficulty sleeping, GMT 03:00 am Wayne Shorter (1995 concert). Listeners in other time zones may benefit from more sociable listening hours.
Check the full BBC 3 Radio J to Z programme guide:
Other festival highlights which I noted include the following:
The EFG London Jazz Festival would not exist without the generous support of its sponsors, who have ensured jazz remains alive and well in these difficult times, and all kudos to its organisers, Serious., for making it happen.
LondonjazzCollector Meets LondonJazzFestival, and LondonJazzNews; my only rivals in Google search results. In good company.