The LJC Collector’s Guide to Contemporary Records – Introduction
The Contemporary record label was founded by Lester Koenig in 1951 in Los Angeles, initially issuing jazz on 78rpm shellac, moving to 10″ and finally 12″LP. Its roster of artists included many in the pantheon of modern jazz. The label was one of the first pioneers of stereo, and by employing the new tube-based microphones, Contemporary engineer Roy Du Nann produced some of the best sounding records you can hear today. The label includes a large number of highly collectable records, with a paucity of information to enable collectors to identify originals from reissues . Hence this guide, to make sense of Contemporary Records.
What to look for: the essential Collector’s Guide:
Note for Record Collectors
Record Collectors are not well served in identifying original pressings, as the Contemporary catalogue has been extensively reissued over five decades. Contemporary reissued many records from the catalogue themselves through the ’60s and ’70s. Fantasy re-mastered most of the entire catalogue in the ’80s, discarding the lineage with Koenig’s fine original metalwork. More recently, cheap copies cloned from digital sources made their way into the market. The current owners of the catalogue have themselves have taken to issuing “original” reissues, in the manner of Blue Note’s 75th reissues.
Contemporary Records provided little or no information regarding date of manufacture on any of their pressings, and the recording session date and year of copyright are in the vast majority of cases not the year of manufacture, which can be inferred only by attention to detail of labels and covers, and vinyl weight.
The music and the sale of the Contemporary catalogue to Fantasy Records (1984)
Though parts of the catalogue have dated – Broadway goes to Jazz hasn’t worn well, – the label produced Art Pepper records which are highly sought after by collectors today, significant work by pianists Phineus Newborn Hampton Hawes and Cecil Taylor, and a string of West Coast jazz sessions at The Lighthouse, , along with iconic recordings of Sonny Rollins. Audio quality puts it on a par with Blue Note.
Though its heyday was in the late ’50s, the company continued to issue new titles and reissue its back catalogue through until its sale to Fantasy Records in 1984. Fantasy initiated the OJC (Original Jazz Classics) series, re-mastering most of the titles in the catalogue, however it has been noted, sometimes without reference to the necessary adjustments Contemporary engineers added during original mastering.