Last Updated January 3, 2020
Blue Note’s Hidden Secret: Division of United Artists reissue series
In the years between 1971 and 1975, United Artists reissued a selected list of classic titles from the Blue Note 1500 series and early 4000 series, possibly about 50 titles in all. The series is totally undocumented in Blue Note official history. Their high audio quality reflects Van Gelder as recording engineer, though not the mastering engineer. Most are in mono format, a few ill-judged stereo. They are essentially “replica” editions, with original jacket and liner notes, and no additional marketing or manufacturing dates on the jackets.
The classic blue and white Blue Note label does not follow the original release addresses, instead credits “BLUE NOTE RECORDS, A DIVISION OF UNITED ARTISTS INC.” copying the previous “BLUE NOTE RECORDS, A DIVISION OF LIBERTY RECORDS INC” format. The label text is set in Linotype Spartan for the artists, title and side, most all in capitals, a characteristic of Hollywood specialist printers Bert-Co, whose font library did not appear to stock of lower case characters for this font . It most likely these were manufactured on the West Coast.
These issues are never original Van Gelder metalwork, but re-mastered by several UA engineers, including “NB” and “Eck”, some with “UA” attribution, No definitive information exists as to the original source, but most likely copy tapes, a process previously established with Blue Note, Liberty and Research Craft LA.
Above you see the handiwork of United Artists engineer “NB”. A methodical worker, each side of each record has a job number – in this case #43 and #46, the Blue Note catalogue number side 1 or 2, and his own initials NB as an RVG-style “trademark”. The # numbers are found as a running sequence on most if not all these reissues, indicating a well defined programme. The highest # number found on my copies is #99, each # number is unique to that title and side. My guess is that on this basis, the replica programme consisted of around fifty Blue Note titles.
Division of United Artists (p)1975 label
A small number of these reissues bear the copyright date (p) 1975 on the label, and new organisation name United Artists Music and Records Group Inc. The cover art and liner notes bear Liberty reissue logos. There is some anecdotal evidence these are of a lesser audio standard, but with only a few copies in hand it is not possible to be definitive, it may be title-specific, pressing specific, or engineer specific. Overall, all in this replica series are of lesser quality than originals, though better quality than many later reissues.
Division of United Artists: examples
There follows a selection from my own collection of sixteen Division of United Artists pressings, plus some contributions from LJC readers. For a couple of them I also have an original Blue Note first pressing. With one exception, the gap in audio quality between these UA reissues and the original is not as wide as it is with some others reissues. (The exception is Rollins BN 1542, which is a disaster)
BLP 1506 JJ Johnson The Eminent Vol 2
Electronically re-channelled for stereo, not re-recorded for stereo, as the source tape was mono at this early stage in Van Gelder’s development. A mistake thankfully not repeated on any of the other titles. Still , you have Hank Mobley in the mix.
Very poor transfer of a stellar Rollins title. The pressing uses the re-mastering previously by Liberty, which is the source of the problem. Record cover has incorrect side rotation – Rollins should be vertical and it is “stereo” intended for mono. This is an all-round dog, definitely one to avoid.
For whatever reason, this seems one of the more commonly available titles in the series.
(P) 1975 edition. Has the # numbering etching in the runout both sides, so the metalwork probably comes from the later end of the reissue programme. Its the only one I have and it sounds ok, though I have nothing else to compare it with.
BST 81595 Cannonball Adderley Somethin’ Else
One of the few stereo titles in the replica series, and an oddity in itself, as both the cover art and liner notes include the Liberty Blue Note logo. The original stereo edition could have been a stickered mono cover?
BLP 4012 Kenny Burrell Five Spot
I was eventually blessed to find an RVG/Plastylite mono original pressing of this title (at a cost!), and it shines much brighter and louder than the Div UA. That provided me a benchmark for the drop in quality between the reissue and the original.
BLP 4022 Duke Pearson Profile
BLP 4023 Dizzy Reece Star Bright
This was affordable, a friend acquired at huge expense an original. A:B shows again the drop in quality between the two.
BST 84024 Jackie McLean Swing Swang Swingin’
Another stereo title, cover having the Liberty Blue Note logo and small font catalogue number.
BLP 4040 Freddie Hubbard Open Sesame
This one is a musical beauty, as I have the Music Matters as well (stereo). Which do you think sounds better? My money is on the Div UA mono
LJC Reader Contributions
BLP 1536 JR Monterose (contribution from Matty)
Its Division of United Artists, Jim, but not as we know it. A 1975 reissue series on the Division of United Artists classic Blue and White label, but all is not well. Its from United Artists Music and Record Group, the later company name. Cover has the Liberty Blue Note logo and small font catalogue number.
From the matrix number, it is clearly a stereo format pressing. Though it was also released in Stereo in 1959, perhaps there wasn’t a stereo label to hand so they reused the original mono label.
The cover and liner notes appear to be a Division of Liberty jacket, not a clone of the original 1958 Blue Note jacket like the earlier Division of United Artists reissues. Where original Blue Note jackets have the catalogue number in bold large font in top right corner, Liberty demoted it to a small font, and the rear top left where it should say “HIGH FIDELITY” is the Blue Note logo.
According to my informant Stefano, other releases have been seen in this second “Division of United Artists 1975” series, and they are not sonically up to scratch. Looks like somebody within United Artists Music and Records Group took on a project to revive the classic Blue Note brand, possibly using Liberty left-over stock covers, but failed on the essentials, like what they sound like. I guess they wouldn’t be alone in that. Thanks to Stefano for the pictures. You did well.