Fantasy Records

L-1329-1159053264[1]In the 1940′s, brothers Max and Sol Weiss operated a San Francisco plastic moulding business that included a record pressing plant, the Circle Record Company. One of their early clients was Dave Brubeck, and following the success of his records, the pressing plant metamorphosed into a record label, which they named Fantasy after a popular science-fiction magazine. Another of their labels also adopted a science fiction theme, Galaxy, on which early Cal Tjader was released.

In 1967 a group of investors, headed by Fantasy’s sales manager since 1955, Saul Zaentz, purchased the company.  Zaentz pursued a policy of acquiring independent jazz labels, among the first, the almighty Debut Records. Debut had been founded by Mingus in the Fifties as a vehicle to allow jazz musicians to control their own music. When Charles and wife Celia Mingus separated in 1958, Celia moved to San Francisco, where she went to work for, and eventually married, Saul Zaentz of Fantasy Records. Game set and match.

Fantasy went on to acquire Specialty, Good Time, Prestige (1971), Riverside and Milestone (1972) and Contemporary (1984), thus becoming the repository of a large proportion of American Jazz history, the part not owned by Blue Note. From its headquarters at the corner of Tenth and Parker, Berkeley, California, over two decades Fantasy reissued much of that legacy, gifting us with indifferent quality vinyl pressing and lacklustre design.

In the twenty years following Zaentz embarked on a Hollywood film career, though seems to have spent more of his time engaged in law suits than producing movies.  In 2004 Zaentz and partners finally sold Fantasy Records to independent jazz label Concord Records, who in addition to Fantasy, amassed a vast collection of soul R&B and folk labels including Stax, Telarc, and Rounder Records.

Fantasy today

In 2013, Fantasy-owners Concord Music Group (turnover $90m)  was sold for a rumoured $125m to Wood Creek Capital Management, a private equity firm based in New Haven Connecticut. The deal made Wood Creek one of the world’s largest owners of independent music assets. Details of the deal suggest many  Concord senior management retained senior positions in the new company, so it looks to all the world as a re-financing of Concord through an apparent management buyout funded by private equity.

What use they will make of all that lovely music – Debut, Fantasy, Prestige, New Jazz, Contemporary, Milestone, Riverside ?  Today, business is MBAs juggling other people’s money while actually producing little more than fees for lawyers and financial advisors. Do any of them have the faintest idea what they have bought?

The Fantasy Archive was visited in 2005 by journalist Bret Primack

…in the archives, the vaults, a structurally sound, temperature-controlled room housing thousands of recordings, in varying formats. Stuart Kremsky, is the keeper of the keys to this kingdom, which includes many of the major musical achievements of the 20th century…..

On one shelf, the masters for all of the Bill Evans Vanguard recordings. On the next, Miles’ marathon Prestige sessions with Trane that originally produced six different LPs. In the next aisle, the complete 1957 Newport Jazz Festival and next to that, acetates from Jazz at the Philharmonic, live gigs from both the US and Europe. And it goes on and on and on. Mind boggling…..

Collect vintage vinyl, they sure as heck aren’t going to start making any more.

The Fantasy labels:

Early Fantasy marbled red label, DG (Brubeck/Tjader)

Fantasy red RegMk JoeL 1000

Photo credit: JoeL

Fantasy Red Label/ Black Vinyl DG


Photo credit: JoeL

Fantasy red vinyl, DG, 1962 Debut reissue


Fantasy Matrix codes


Fantasy 1968 Blue label,  DG, Stereo, Blue vinyl


Photo credit: Joe L

Fantasy Orange


Photo credit: Vinylbeat

Fantasy Gold


Photo credit: Vinylbeat

Fantasy 1973


Photocredit: Vinylbeat

I don’t have any of these odd-colour labels or the modern so I have respectfully borrowed them as a temporary measure, until I can obtain my own.


7 thoughts on “Fantasy

  1. I’ve spied an early Fantasy 10″ – or at least I think it is. It’s Gerry mulligan quartet with Chet Baker…but it’s on blue vinyl. This would not be in stereo…so, what gives?

    • these 10″ came in blue, red and green and sometimes violet. Thick plastic, never in stereo.
      The later 12″ “stereo” were flimsy compared to the 10″.

  2. The blue “stereo” labels were usually synonymous with LP’s by a decidedly non-jazz group, Creedence Clearwater Revival (and only West Coast pressings used gold print on the label, printed by Bert-Co Press and pressed by RCA’s Hollywood, CA plant; two other RCA plants, in Rockaway, NJ and Indianapolis, IN, used silver print over the dark blue background; also, that Hollywood plant was the last holdout for deep groove, which was still used as late as summer 1970, with first pressings of CCR’s Cosmo’s Factory featuring the DG), whose leader, John Fogerty, was among those tied up in court on and off by the seemingly litigious Zaentz.

    In fact, all the labels shown here use Bert-Co typeset label copy. The 1973 Merl Saunders album with the “modern” brown label was pressed by RCA’s Hollywood plant which finally gave up the ghost and fell in line with Indianapolis and Rockaway in pressing in ultra-thin Dynaflex (another story in and of itself) and using more “modern” 1″ pressing rings in the label area by the end of the summer of 1970.

  3. I have a Kenny Burrell Round Midnight post 1973 Brown Label promo copy that just to die for!! I play it very often. It also has a Vengelder Stamp in the Deadwax. One of my if not favorite Round Midnight!

  4. Modern Fantasy vinyl is pretty quiet in my experience , sounding overall superior to Blue Note vinyl from the 70s/ 80s. The twofers and OJC all sound pretty much a like. Sure originals will give more punch but also more surface noise. A good OJC sound way better than pitiful Jazzland , Riverside or Prestige (blue label) editions. Fantasy’s USA produced CDs were also well produced and sound good.

    • Hi Adrian,
      agree about the US-pressings of Jazzland and Riverside. Those of us this side of the pond (when not doing the Lambeth Walk in our Pearly King outfits) are graced with Decca and Philips pressing of Riverside released for the UK and European market. To my ear the US Riversides and their ilk are noisy and somewhat mediocre pressings by comparison, despite access to the original tapes (I assume).

      Perhaps a little unfair to lump them with Prestige blue/silver trident, which I find feisty, with a lot of punch. Can’t comment on the OJC as I have just one 90gm scraggy pressing which I abandoned listening after two minutes. Maybe it varies from one pressing to another but it was pretty horrid.

      The evil silver disc raises a whole lot of other issues, which seem to me more about impaired playback fidelity of CD in general, (compared to vinyl), and not especially related to Fantasy, and I say that as owner of a thousand CDs.

      • LJC
        I’m this side of the pond but north of the border. OJC vinyl in my experience ( probably around 30-40 LPs) is quiet & has good dynamics. Finally it should be cheap ( £ in single figures), if the music interests you – go for it. Fantasy’s owners prior to Concord did an amazing job of keeping such a huge catalogue available for so long. Trident Prestiges are variable , sound has been excellent others noisy with the worst distortion I’ve heard. Thats the lot of the vinyl lover , sacrifice consistency with CD for the peaks and troughs of vinyl playback. Ah but those peaks, well worth the view from their summit.

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