Sonny Rollins: BN LP 1542 (1956) Blue Note Deep Dive! (updated)

A record collector Public Service Post.

Some records are essential, Sonny Rollins BN LP 1542 is one.  Looking to upgrade to “an original”? Want to know when your copy was manufactured? Look more closely at the US Blue Note reissue history of this title, which happens also to be one of Van Gelder’s hottest cuts. An illustrated guide to 1542 from 1956 to the last gasp of vinyl as a popular format in the mid ’80s. What this guide may lack in width, it makes up in depth; height, not so much. 

Warning, Deep Dive: contains information – lots of it.

For the serious vinylista. UPDATE 1: 1542 label Cheat Sheet added to the end of the post. UPDATE 2: stereo is  “fake-stereo” – one to avoid. UPDATE 3: Rip of track “Decision” added


Sonny Rollins: Decision  (47W63rd +INC/®, 1961 repress)

.  .  .


Donald Byrd, trumpet; Sonny Rollins, tenor sax; Wynton Kelly, piano; Gene Ramey, bass; Max Roach, drums;  recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ, December 16, 1956.

January 1957: BN LP 1542 Test Pressing – Plastylite white label

1542 started life as a Test Pressing, rare as hen’s teeth, someone had to have it. I salute you, whoever you are.

The red overprint Lexington address stamp is unusual, I have not seen one with the Lexington address before, only 47W63rd. Note below, the change in Plastylite’s white label format between 1957 and 1966: “CLASS” – whatever that meant – discontinued, and “APPROVAL” added. The cursive attribution of “Side #” remained constant, in the same hand – thought to be annotated by Alfred Lion himself.

Plastylite Test Pressing white label, 1957 and 1966


Various Plastylite TPs

What is particularly interesting is the cutting/mastering date noted for the Test Pressing of 1542: 1-9-57, US notation January 9, 1957, three weeks after the Rollins recording session on December 16, 1956. According to Cohen via Schwann catalogues, the album was “released in January 1957″, which realistically is much too tight – the manufacturing timetable of Blue Note records was generally a much more lengthy  process, with usually around nine months from session to release (illustrated below)

Typical production times, actual varied from title to title, at least 3 months, up to several years.

Announced  prematurely in January 1957, 1542 reached dealers at the end of March 1957, as evidenced by music industry press coverage. Billboard routinely reviewed new releases to signal the sales potential for the benefit of dealers, and the weekly edition nails the date of release more accurately than the Schwann announced month. Dealers were recommended to give this record a big push:

March 1957: 1542 First Commercial Release Cover detail: frame construction, blank spine, W63rd address, not Lexington address as on the labels. Note, upright Rollins portrait cover design, not  landscape as later covers.

Lexington labels, among the last prior to Blue Note’s address move to 47W63rd., obviously, mono and no INC or ®, deep groove both sides (several years before the arrival of non-DG dies). 

 On the strength of music press coverage, and frequency of auction appearances, the album seems to have sold well. Today, around the $2,000 mark in top condition, still someway below elite trophies.

Popsike top auctions (depending on search terms)

In 1957, in popular music, the US was in the grip of Calypso-fever, with not one but three Harry Belafonte LPs in the best seller charts, and “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” riding high in the charts.

Around the same time,  Miles Davis classic ‘Round About Midnight (Columbia six-eye CL949) was released. But ruling the LP popular music roost were box-office movie hits, Oklahoma, The King and I, and My Fair Lady, neck and neck with the lip-curling young Elvis, surrounded on all sides by calypso-themed albums – driven by juke box and radio play.

Rollins 1542 shows how some music lasts longer longer than some other music, passing cultural “flotsam and jetsam” – a good name for a Shoreditch vegan cafe, with beanie-hat dress code and 100% plastic-free recyclable utensils.

In 1959 Rollins withdrew to his two-year long sabbatical on The Bridge, returning to a contract with RCA Victor (1962-4: The Bridge, Our Man In Jazz, What’s New? Sonny Meets Hawk, Now’s The Time). During his absence from recording and performing, Rollin’s stature grew on the strength of his Blue Note titles, and reissues of 1542 continued to sell well, and generate revenue for the Blue Note label, if not for Sonny. The presses continued to roll.

1958-9: 47W63rd labels no INC/®

Portrait cover design, at the tail end of 1959, cover address BLUE NOTE RECORDS with no INC, 47W63rd. St.

The copy below was not in great shape, nor a great picture, but serviceable for illustration.

Mono 47W63rd labels both sides, no INC or ® either side, deep groove both sides. All the usual Plastylite and Van Gelder runout markings.


1960:  Mixed Labels, 47W63rd +INC/® , paired with Lexington old stock label

Cannibalising old stock labels was standard practice. Here a new Side 1 post-registration 47W63rd with INC/® is paired with a left-over Lexington Side 2.

The appearance of old stock labels can get buyers and sellers excited (“Lexington!!”). More usefully, it anchors the date of manufacture to the introduction of the newer label design, in this case, early 1960 when Blue Note became a registered trademark. Old stock labels (usually those without registration marks) were used up for one side before freshly printed new matching labels came into use. As expected, deep groove both sides.

1960:  Mixed Labels, 47W63rd +INC/®, paired with old stock 47W63rd label no INC/®

Send out the lifeboats, Rollins capsizes! First appearance of landscape cover design, in which Sonny is pictured practicing the backstroke. The cover design change coincides with the change in back cover address –  addition of INC. to BLUE NOTE RECORDS INC. and the address change from 63rd to 61st.

Why the cover design rotation? Occam’s Razor – merely a printer error where someone  wasn’t properly briefed, and assumed the priority to be the text. Or may be the original portrait design was the mistake. This was physical manufacture, mistakes happen, sometimes too costly to put right.

Using up old stock labels at the same time as manufacturing new covers illustrates the different way in which cover and label stocks were managed. Labels were cheap to print, and any surplus available for future pressings. Labels could be commissioned soon after mastering, when track titles were finalized, long before record release.  Covers, on the other hand, were expensive to make, and would be manufactured close to time of pressing and release, commonly 6-9 months later, when sales finally generated revenue to cover manufacturing costs.

The pairing of old and new 47W63rd address labels with/without ®  illustrates the difference between the heavy inked and the faint, fine inked label address. The old stock no ® label name and address is finely inked; the post registration INC and ® label name and address is heavily inked.  Something changed at Blue Note’s printers, Keystone Printed Specialties, possibly new paper stock. Printers understand these things – paper weight, finish, absorbancy and drying time – critical aspect of printing on paper, or ink smudges, and customers unhappy.

1960-62: 47W63rd with +INC/® labels both sides

 Landscape format cover, 43W61st address, which first appeared at the tail end of 1959 and continued through to 1966.

Cover photos courtesy of Joe H, NSW Australia.

Mono 47W63rd labels with INC and ®, both sides, deep groove both sides, most likely manufactured 1960-61.


Late 1961: NY label, mixed label transition

The new NY label paired with old stock 47W63rd label with ®. This permutation of new and old label would occur late 1961/ very early 1962, when the NY address label was first introduced.

By 1962, the 47W63rd “old stock” label is the later +INC/® form, fairly recent old stock, suggesting Blue Note were having difficulty keeping up with demand, rapidly using up old stock and hastily printing new labels. Rollins 1542 continued to sell In his absence.

1962-66: New York address label, NY/NY

Rollins cover remains landscape, Sonny still working on his back-stroke, the lifeboats have returned home, cover address remains 43W61st.

Classic New York label both sides, both +INC and ®, no deep groove either side. 

Non-DG pressing dies first came into use at Plastylite in early 1961, with the last sightings of deep groove in late 1965. Over those five years, the groove combination of new releases and repressings ran the full gamut from DG/DG, nonDG/DG one side only, to both sides non-DG.  As older DG dies wore out and were replaced by the new dies, the stock of new dies expanded, and DG pressings appeared less and less frequently, and finally disappeared. Between 1961 and 1966, the Blue Note inner picture sleeve (vinyl sleeved immediately after pressing) is the only guide to the likely date of manufacture.

1965 Sonny Rollins left RCA Victor and found a new home at the Impulse label;                1966 Blue Note changes hands to become a Division of Liberty Records and terminated its  relationship with Plastylite.

In the absence of  a Van Gelder stereo recording, Liberty engineers fashioned a stereo edition from the mono recording, an unhappy piece of electronic trickery. 

UPDATE March 19: when 1542 was recorded, December 1956,  Van Gelder had not yet begun experimenting with two track tape (hat-tip DGmono). That did not begin until three months later, March 1957, starting with Blakey’s Orgy In Rhythm Vol.1 (1554), and thereafter initially only selected sessions.  1542 was recorded to full-track, its stereo counterpart is rechanneled mono – fake stereo, but doesn’t say so.

 All the US reissues of 1542 after 1966 (apart from a rare Liberty East Coast mono) were catalogued BST 81542, labelled “stereo”(not “electronically reprocessed for Stereo”, a description that later came into use as a result of record industry pressure), in reality a mono source rechanneled to simulate stereo. Many classic 60’s  pop albums at the time were being re-engineered to simulate stereo, as our friends the Hoffmen have described at length. Studio engineers had a well-practiced bag of tricks, creating  “middle and sides” signals with high and low pass filters, remixing different frequency-ranges to each channel, an out of phase or delay-line side return to simulate image width.

On first hearing, left and right channels are different, convincing enough on a 1966 radiogram or portable record player, less so on a “proper” modern hi-fi. Not to re-attempt  the trickery, Liberty, United Artists and Capitol all used the same simulated stereo master.   

Let’s follow through the post Blue Note reissue chronology to see if it sheds any light.

1966: Division of Liberty Records mono edition

First, the only exception, Division of Liberty mono with RVG etching, East Coast pressing (Keystone label), extremely rare, last sighting of Van Gelder mono master metal. This is not a fold down, it is a child of Van Gelder’s original full track mono metal master. Very desirable, despite its Liberty cover and label address – which may put off some less well informed collectors 

Mono with RVG etching, one for those in the know

1966: Division of Liberty Records Inc. first fake-stereo edition, West Coast pressing (BertCo labels)

Fake stereo fashioned by Liberty west coast engineers from the mono recording (likely a generation drop, from copy tape, not original tape, ). This fake-stereo master would be father to subsequent stereo reissues. 

Among hundreds of auction results, I found just one Division of Liberty Keystone stereo label. With other titles, a Keystone label is a sure signpost to Van Gelder metal, but I suspect not in this case, there was no Van Gelder stereo master. However did Liberty East Coast (All Disc) have access to Van Gelder’s original mono tape, as it was customary to despatch only copy tape to LA. These two below likely share the same tape/metal father 

1968-71 West Coast Liberty United Black/Teal, label stereo

No RVG. Likely this continues to use the West Coast Liberty Stereo master

1972: Division of United Artists replica series – stereo

One of the very few stereo titles in this predominantly mono series. The stereo titles include recordings that were recorded full-track mono remastered as fake stereo, and two-track stereo not intended for stereo.  Why was 1542 singled out for stereo? Was more convenient to reuse the Liberty stereo metal?


1975+: United Artists  BlueLabel/ WhiteNote, pink cover alert!,

Art Director, my office, that cover, who thought pink was a good idea – what were they on, and where can I get some?  
Late-flowering United Artists edition, blue label white note, stereo. 

1975+ United Artists Music and Record Group

Just to complicate things, the note is black on this alternative blue label edition . I have recently concluded there is no sonic difference between black and white note. Some recordings sound better than others, some turn up on black note, others on white note, it is not a function of the label.

1984-ish EMI Capitol Direct Metal Master – music-degradation. 

Whilst the US EMI Capitol reissue went with the stereo, the French Marconi and Japanese Toshiba EMI reissues opted sensibly for mono.

Cheat Sheet Summary1956-66 mono,1966-84 fake stereo

Here the reissue trail is handed over to the audiophiliacs. I have previously reviewed the Music Matter 2×45 LP Edition, and overseas vintage French and Japanese reissues, not to run over old ground:

Sonny Rollins: Vol 1 (1956) Blue Note/ Music Matters 2×45

Rollins Update:

Rollins is still with us age 92, though retired from musical performance almost ten years due to respiratory problems. His personal remaining catalogue was acquired in February 2023 by Reservoir Holdings Inc, a vast licensing and rights management empire (i.e. offices full of lawyers) founded by a Canadian-Persian businesswoman investor, Golnar Khosrowshahi. Daughter of a wealthy family who fled the Ayatollas; classically trained pianist (in England) with fancy US business masters degree, Golnar was honoured as one of Billboard‘s “Most Powerful Female Executives” 2017-19 (Billboard brown-nosing, but in their position, understandable). The rights to Sonny’s Blue Note recordings, including 1542, I guess rest with Universal, who thankfully actually release music on vinyl. 

Harry’s Place

Harry’s leaf-shutter strikes again, capturing the excitement, Max Roach, Montreux 1971, 

Photo © Harry M

Collector’s Corner: LJC Ebay Seller’s Awards 2023

Nosing through hundreds of auction results for 1542, exhausted by the frustrating search for missing information, I was struck by some of the Ebay seller pictures I saw along the way, entertainment value, which I share here:

 1. “Brutal Honesty in Vinyl”

Full marks for candour: four minutes playing time free from repetitive clicks, suit collector with acute tinnitus.

2.Least-informative Vinyl Photo

Yes, big and round, It’s definitely a record, a Blue Note record. That’s lucky, I thought it might be something else. About 95% of screen pixels contain no useful information about the record, but I have learnt a lot about the seller’s carpet, which gets about 25% of screen area. Cosy. Berber low-pile loop, isn’t it? 

3. Home Soft-Furnishings, showroom ex-display model

Taupe velour upholstery with period leaf swirl design, seats family of four at a pinch, collection possible, will throw in record if you are interested

Extracts taken from my new book, How Not To Sell Records, currently in preparation, companion volume to my best selling guide How Not To Write A Successful Jazz Blog.

BN LP 1542 Follow Up

If you have any vintage variations on 1542 not covered in this guide, give us a shout, pictures appreciated. If you learned anything useful, and would like to see more occasional Classic Record Deep Dives, you could hit the like button, even suggest other titles with an interesting past.  If you fell asleep during the guide, too deep in the weeds for you, I understand, more music next week. It’s all good.

Stereo Master Update (March 19):

Listen for yourself, condition is not great (G-), many clicks.

Sonny Rollins: Decision – Liberty fake stereo 1966:

.  .  .

Opinion (updated 19/3):

I always thought this was a horrid mastering job. It’s not Van Gelder’s classic two-track hard panning, more like a two-track badly reassembled, Franken-music, not how Rudy would have positioned anything. Piano and bass are on the left channel, horns and drums sit somewhere in the middle i.e. filtered frequencies bleeding into both channels. The right channel has some horn echo, likely from a delay line, or out-of-phase signals, but no unique instruments. Because your ears hear different output from each speaker, you might be forgiven for assuming it is actually “stereo” (it did me, briefly), but play a proper stereo album immediately afterwards to realise how awful it is, Freddy Kreuger Sings.

It’s a pig’s breakfast which any self-respecting pig would turn his nose up at and send back to the kitchen. Whaddyacallthis, oink oink? Aaagh, bacon!

What others think, observations welcome (thanks for contributions so far!) 



17 thoughts on “Sonny Rollins: BN LP 1542 (1956) Blue Note Deep Dive! (updated)

  1. The lay down sleeve is funny…I never noticed before even though I have a white label king pressing…once you stop and look at it it’s a definite facepalm…


  2. Hi Andrew,
    Great info about this record! but….
    I have an “original” copy that has a different combination of labels than those you have mentioned!
    My copy has the following features:
    – Label side 1 is Lexington.
    – Label side 2 is 47W63rd (with no INC!).
    – The address on the back of the cover is like the 1958-59 version:
    BLUE NOTE RECORDS, 47 West 63rd St., New York 23. (without INC.)
    – The spine is blank blue.

    Here are some photos of my copy:



  3. Hello, great job, as usual. My copy is: Cover like your example 1962-66 (no Liberty, address 43 west 61st St., New York 23), the label is like your 1966, Division of Liberty records inc. Mono, RVG. Another variation?


    • I have uploaded a rip of the stereo at foot of the post, you can judge for yourself.
      [audio mp3=""][/audio]
      It sounds like the engineer has been playing tricks, though it is not a straight high and low pass filter job. It could be sourced from two-track, and then reconstructed. Whatever, it is horrid.


      • At first it sounded to me like real channel separation because the bass seems quite cunningly cut from the rest of it, but now I am almost certain it is fake stereo from a mono original (which would prove Richard’s point). There is another 1956 Rollins fake stereo (Saxophone Colossus, Prest.) which sounds considerably better, almost “good” …


  4. Great stuff here, Andrew. I never saw a Blue Note test pressing in my long life.
    Your write up requires detailed study and all attention it deserves.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for this. Timely for me going through a Rollins phase of late. I have been listening to a nice cd version in the car 🙂 coupled with vol 2, plus 4, Colossus pondering the infinite to and from work. Is Rollins immortal? That sort of thing. Vinyl wise I would like to target some of the 60s records with Jim Hall after he’d done a bit more practice. They seem neglected somehow.


    • Aidan Levy’s 784 page book “Saxophone Colossus: The Life and Music of Sonny Rollins” is now available on Amazon. (likewise Richard Koloda’s “Holy Ghost: The Life and Death of Free Jazz Pioneer Albert Ayler.” )
      Rollins made some great music in each of his “phases,” with each label. In 1986, RCA put out a nice compilation record set SONNY ROLLINS: THE QUARTETS WITH JIM HALL.
      There are many interesting conversations with Rollins on YouTube.
      Seeing Rollins perform in concert was a high point in my jazz listening career. He went off on a long extended unaccompanied solo that had the entire audience on its feet cheering, astonished at his inventiveness, and stamina. A truly remarkable artist.


  6. VERY VERY interesting to see the Plastylite ‘Test Pressing’ label. In my 16 months or so pressing records at Plastylite I NEVER saw that label, or a ‘test pressing’ there…

    Liked by 1 person

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