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The Blue Note label, from the ’50s to the present day – the definitive guide for the audiophile record collector.
The earliest Blue Note recordings were issued on 78 rpm shellac or 10″ microgroove, largely the domain of the purist collector, as many of these recording (though not all) went on to be republished in various permutations on 12″ LP.
This Guide commences in 1956, with the 12″ 1500 series microgroove vinyl LP, which I consider the beginning of modern “high fidelity”. It covers the period of the original Blue Note Records company in the decade up to 1966, and then through the hands of subsequent owners Liberty Records Inc, United Artists and EMI, through the dj compilation decade, up to the modern “audiophile” editions of the present day.
LondonJazzCollector Blue Note Cheat Sheet
What to look for in an “original” Blue Note LP
Original Blue Notes can be extremely rare, and the most collectable are worth upwards of £5,000. The first pressing may have been just a few thousand copies, of which only a few hundred survive today, fewer still in perfect condition. Some titles were repressed over several years after their initial release, and will have slight differences from the first batch pressed. Reissues over the following fifty or more years are progressively more common, and less in value, though some still of interest to collectors.
The audiophile collector should note that often the same metalwork (mother/stamper) was used to press some later editions, sonically little different from originals, at a fraction of the price.
With the help of this guide, you should be able to identify the provenance of any Blue Note record, and set your sights accordingly.
First, check labels and etchings
A combination of the record label variety and engravings in the run-out groove (some refer to it as the dead wax or trail off) – the vinyl land between the end of the music grooves and the label – will enable you to decide if a record is a first pressing, a later pressing though still an “original” Blue Note (pre-1966), or a reissue originating in the subsequent decades of Blue Note ownership by other companies. For some very early releases, corroborating information regarding the cover is also required, such as printing on the spine, and the method of construction (though you can not assume cover and record inside are of the same origin)
Two of the least understood but often the most useful means of dating a pressing are its bare vinyl weight (220 grams over time down to 120 grams), and the “correct” inner sleeve, as these were added immediately after pressing.
Among small cost-conscious independent labels like Blue Note it was common record manufacturing practice to hold stocks of record labels and covers in their inventory. If a record sold well, more vinyl would be pressed, and the second pressing run would use up the existing stock of labels and covers before incurring the cost of printing more. As a result, older labels are found on newer pressings. Even 767 Lexington labels (1956) are found on Liberty pressings (1966). Covers were taken from stock, so covers do not necessarily date the record inside. Blue Note inventory passed on to Liberty included corporate inner sleeves, including a stockpile of “27 Years of” last inner sleeve. Legacy metalwork mothers and stampers were often reused for further pressing, decades later.
All these factors must be taken into account to confirm an original first pressing. The word “original” is used frequently in auction descriptions, sometimes inaccurately. For some rare early titles it is all but impossible to determine if a record is really ” the first” pressing, and with later titles, there can be ambiguity, where pressing dies which left a deep groove were being slowly retired and appear on one side only. Generally, a promo stamped record is the best indicator of the characteristics of the first pressing.
The Blue Note etchings
Below are the main etchings commonly found in the vinyl run-out of most Blue Note records: Rudy Van Gelder mastering (initials, later stamp), Plastylite pressing inverted cursive “P”, the custom-client metal “9M”, and van Gelder STEREO master .
Some etchings, such as Van Gelder’s, were applied to the original master acetate, and therefore continue to be seen on pressings derived from the original master and its subsequent metalwork, into the Liberty and even United Artists years. Before stereo became commonplace, Van Gelder would distinguish his stereo master from his mono master with a “STEREO” or “RVG STEREO” stamp. The “9M” etching appears on around two-thirds of the 1500 series LPs, and disappears early in the 4000 series. The Plastylite “ear” was applied only during pressing and therefore disappeared in 1966 when Liberty moved record pressing to its own plant, All-Disc NJ.
To the collector, the most important indicator of record origin is the Plastylite stamp. The symbol of Plastylite is the stylised letter P, however it appears on the vinyl inverted left to right and turned upside down, hence the descriptionas the “ear” which it more closely resembles:
The Plastylite “ear” – unmistakable mark of authentic Blue Note.
One thing common to all original Blue Note pressings from foundation through to the sale of the company in 1966 is the presence of the Plastylite pressing plant handwritten cursive letter “P” in the run-out both sides. All original Blue Note records were pressed by Plastylite (just one exception, see below) and have an ear each side. None is found after 1966 when pressing of Blue Note records was transferred to other plants by Blue Note’s new owners, Liberty Records.
For a large number of titles, the presence of the “ear” in the run out is the guarantee of an original pre-1966 Blue Note pressing. Just one exception to the Plastylite rule has been found (thanks to Russian collector Alex). In the early ’60s, exceptionally, Blue Note commissioned Abbey Mfg. (preferred plant of Prestige Records) to press additional copies of BLP 1595 Cannonball Adderley’s Somethin’ Else. These copies are NY / 47W63rd label, without “ear”, but with all other etchings present. The Abbey copies are identifiable by a small circular depression around the spindle hole on side two only – characteristic of pressing dies used by Abbey Mfg. at that time.
There are around forty Blue Note titles in the Blue Note catalog, examples are 4193, 4196, 4204, 4206, 4209, and many others approaching the 4250 cut-off, which had been prepared for release prior to the sale of Blue Note, but were pressed subsequent to the company sale to Liberty. The original first pressing is without ear.
Some titles were issued by Blue Note in mono only, and the first stereo pressing was by Liberty or in Japan. A small number of titles, confusingly, the 1st mono appears on Division of Liberty labels, whilst the stereo edition appears on previously printed NYC labels. Liberty used up Blue Note stock inventory of labels and covers before printing their own, hence a number of titles are found as “NY/Liberty” – Blue Note NY label but no ear.
When the “ear” symbol was added in the Plastylite pressing plant, the position, angle and depth of the ear varied from one pressing run to another. It may be faint or appear part-formed. It should appear on both sides of the record, though one example has been found where it appears on only one side – due to the very restricted size of the vinyl land.
The unappreciated forensic indicator is vinyl weight. This evolved with changing industry practice from as much as 220 grams in the mid Fifties to commonly 130-140 grams in the later Sixties, or less. Vinylite was an important factor in pressing costs and therefore profits. No pressing plant went out of its way to make a pressing heavier than was current practice in pressing at that time. There are always a few outliers in pressing weight, so exceptions are found, but as a rule, weight is a good indicator of age, which my sagging waistline confirms.
Determining a first pressing
A worked example of the markings required to determine a records provenance is shown below for BLP 1599 Bennie Green’s “Soul Stirring”, last of the 1500 series, released around 1959. To sample a little of what it’s all about – 47 West 63rd St labels, Deep Groove mono, Blue Note first pressing shown below, just listen a while to the perfect audio reproduction:
For this particular record to be identified as a first pressing, all the identifiers shown below have to be present, on both sides of the record.
Fred Cohen’s excellent Guide to Blue Note First Pressings will give you all the knowledge required to determine the “first” of every release. My intention is not to repeat this, just buy Fred’s book. My intention is to delve deeper into the audio quality of the many releases and reissues right up to the present day – the pressings you are most likely to encounter in the field, unlike those showcased in the fascinating Jazz Collector $1,000 bin.
A Chronology of Blue Note Labels (12″ LP)
1. 767 LEXINGTON AVE NYC (1951-57)
Catalogue numbers: BLP 1501 (released November 1955) – 1543 (released March 1957) in a straight run. 767 Lexington Avenue is sometimes referred to by less experienced sellers as 161 Lexington Avenue
Lexingtons in excellent condition are the holy grail in terms of collectible historical artefact, prices to match. This era of Blue Note has many unique features for the very earliest pressings, such as a ” flat edge” rim rather than the later beaded rim, covers manufactured with a kakubushi frame construction (the paper from the back sleeve folds around the cover and appears in front, under the unlaminated cover art paper, leaving a shadow-line) , and absence of print on the spine.
In addition, the engraving in the runout feature hand-written initials of master-engineer Rudy Van Gelder (replaced in 1957 by machine-stamped initials), and two-thirds in the 1500 series also have a hand-written marking “9M” believed to be a customer code for Blue Note used in the metalwork plating process by Plastylite or one of its suppliers. Other alpha-numeric combinations are found on records of other labels pressed at that time by Plastylite (prior to 1958) such as Prestige (7E), Dial (3R) and Debut (19H). The 9M etching appears intermittently in the early 4000 series, the last appearance being 4067, some titles are found both with and without 9M, explanation unknown (info updated 16/12/15)
Lexingtons can be extraordinary audio quality, though the very earliest recordings made in the nineteen forties lack dynamic range due to microphone limitations, and can sound “boxed-in” or radio-quality (recorded at radio studios). Recordings made immediately after the war also sometimes do not come up to modern audio expectations, some early Blue Note titles are recordings made by other engineers, re-mastered by Van Gelder. However, generally, Lexington label Blue Notes sound magnificent. Playing my Lexington 1st issue of Blakey and the Jazz Messengers at Cafe Bohemia is like physically being there. The Messengers are not “between the hi-fi speakers”, they are in the room with you.
Complete photographic record of labels of every title in the 1500 series, here
2. 47 WEST 63rd St New York 23 (1957-8)
Catalogue numbers: NEW YORK 23 first appears on 1544, straight run to 1559, last appearance on 1577. Certain titles – 1568, 1575 and 1577 – are mixed NY23 one side W63 label the other.
Because print orders and catalogue numbers were not implemented in strict chronological sequence (why should they be?) the changeover between label addresses is ragged. Label printing runs supplied matching pairs of side 1 and side 2 labels, so using up old stock labels to pattern would have involved judicious distribution of an equal number of unmatched pairs – old S1 new S2, and vice versa. In practice, I suspect the label hopper of the press each day was filled with whatever first came to hand. The quest for certainty as to which combination of those labels is the hallowed “first pressing” strikes me as a fool’s errand, but, big money is at stake, and money will have its say. The best one can say is whatever Cohen’s guide says should be treated as definitive, even if it isn’t.
These are gems, and usually priced similarly. As with the Lexingtons, the heavy vinyl ( 180-220 gm) is not only louder than other records, it is often quite resilient to surface damage from skating record arms, and they will often sound much better than they look. Even a few feelable light scratches generally can be tolerated and tend not detract from the music, especially if played on a turntable whose design provides better isolation of groove defects.
The “NEW YORK 23” suffix disappears in 1958, and is the indispensable marking of certain first pressings of that period.
3. 47 WEST 63rd NYC without “23”, no Inc and no R (1957-59).
Catalogue numbers: 47 West 63rd first appears on 1564 (released February 1958), straight run from 1578 until 4061, last seen on 4080 (released February 1962). Last no INC and no® is 4016, always present thereafter.
Beauties in the main, as above. May be second pressings of records originally issued on Lexington labels, but share the same original RVG matrix and sound for all intents and purposes identical, if not better as they have a few years less wear and tear
4. 47 West 63rd NYC with INC and R (1959-62)
The early label predates the incorporation if Blue Note, the later shows the change. Note the early has a slightly smaller font size and fine characters. The later has bold, more heavily inked characters, and slightly larger font. While not of itself musically important it can sometimes help in pinpointing date of manufacture.
Mono or Stereo?
Here begins both mono and stereo releases –
Collectors are faced with a choice of both mono and stereo editions. Mono is often more sought-after by collectors than stereo, which became the format of choice for later recordings. Early stereo engineering was constrained by the primitive mixing technology of the day, where instruments could be “positioned” on only the left or right channel, or in the centre, often with the principal soloists panned hard left. Ultimately, mono or stereo is a matter of personal preference and many collectors enjoy having copies of both the mono and stereo edition, which can be a very different experience. Note: mono editions benefit from listening in mono-switched amplification or the counsel of perfection, a mono cartridge on the tonearm.
Early Blue Notes were simple one-track tape recordings, pressed as monaural/ mono. Around 1958, van Gelder started experimenting with two-track recorders, simultaneously recording sessions in both one track and two track (the future source tape for some stereo editions) However the purpose of two tracks was to improve the quality of mono production. He soon abandoned the single track, recording solely on two track, able to generate the require mono master by “folding down” the two tracks to one.
Early stereo Blue Notes generally carry the “RVG STEREO” stamp in the runout, indicating a van Gelder stereo master. Later, this appears as a “STEREO” machine stamp with “VAN GELDER” stamped elsewhere, and ultimately it is assumed stereo and not stamped at all.
Many of the early Blue Note 1500 series titles were subsequently brought out in “pseudo-stereo”, electronically reprocessed from the mono tape, using various studio tricks. These should be avoided. With 1500 series, always check the authenticity of stereo – electronically reprocessed to simulate stereo, or an authentic stereo master.
Manufactured after 1960 when “Blue Note Records” became an incorporated company and a registered trademark , and predecessor to the New York label. The same fine sound as 47W63rd without the INC and ®, being pressed with stampers originating from the same Matrix/ mothers.
Collectors get very excited about absence of the “®” as proof of authenticity of earlier recordings. By my reckoning, the variability of sound quality within a pressing run (” from first to last-off a pair of stampers”) is as great as the variability between the first and a second pressing a couple of years later. There is no way of second-guessing audio quality. Play the record. If it doesn’t excite you immediately, you probably have a pressing towards the end of the run, whatever the label says. Whether it matters or not gets back to why you are a collector. Some people collect wines without drinking them, some collect records without playing them, or play them on indifferent equipment without ever really hearing them.
Recordings produced by Blue Note during this period, a combination of Van Gelder’s sound engineering and Plastylite pressing, can spoil your willingness to tolerate lesser fare. Once you hear and understand what the “Blue Note pressing” business is all about, it is difficult to go back.
5. NEW YORK USA , ORIGINAL MONO (1962-66)
Catalogue numbers: first NY appears on 4062 (released May 1962) , a continuous run from 4081, last appearance 4247, then replaced by Division of Liberty (possibly some anomalies during transition in 1966.
NY pressings are superb audio quality, which provide a rich satisfying musical experience, even when second or third pressings. They exhibit a wide dynamic range, a bright upper register, lots of punch in the midrange, underpinned by a firm natural bass. In ordinary language, they sound “just right” for the acoustic instruments of modern jazz. Second pressings can be extraordinarily good value compared with earlier “first” pressings sought by the most fastidious collectors. Mono is the collector format of choice.
From May 1961, to mid 1965, including the New York label years, the pressing dies which left behind the “deep groove” indentation in the label area began slowly to be replaced at the Plastylite plant. The replacement dies left a single small step indentation, no deep groove. The old and new dies were used interchangeably, until eventually the last deep groove dies became worn out and were discarded. During these four years, Blue Note records began to appear with no deep groove on either side, a deep groove on only one side or the other, and still some deep groove both sides.
There is some consensus as to the groove-pattern of some new titles in their “original first pressing”. For others the subject remains controversial. There is anecdotal evidence that pressing runs were in small batches, possibly on two or more different machines, or involving a change in stampers, introducing different die permutations. This applied to both first pressing of new titles and repressing of older titles, so collectors need to be aware that there can be some variation in groove pattern found on some titles. Fred Cohen’s book remains the most reliable source for first pressing information.
6. NEW YORK USA, ORIGINAL STEREO (1962-66)
7. DIVISION OF LIBERTY (1966-70)
Catalogue numbers: first appears on 4203 intermittently up to 4248, and in continuous run thereafter, until United Artists takes control around 1971 ending 4435 (this info needs more checking)
The sale of Blue Note to the giant Liberty Records in mid-1966 marked the end of an era. The vital task of record pressing moved overnight from Plastylite NJ, who had pressed all Blue Notes to date, initially to Liberty’s newly acquired pressing plant All Disc Records, Roselle NJ, and later to other plants including Research Craft, LA on the West Coast, and elsewhere.
The trademark “ear” of Plastylite disappeared immediately from the vinyl trail-off, however existing inventory stocks of Blue Note “original” labels and covers were used up first before printing more, and these early pressings for Liberty with older labels are commonly passed off as original Blue Note (note: no ear!). Blue Note Records became a Division of Liberty Records Inc, which name replaced the “New York” address on the record label. After 1968 the increasingly troubled Liberty Records was acquired by Transamerica, a diversified financial conglomerate who also owned United Artists, into whose record division it ultimately merged Blue Note Records. The label remained officially the “Blue Note Records – a Division of Liberty” until 1970, however pressing quality, studio engineering and cover art became increasingly variable in quality from here on.
Catalogue numbers 4251 – 4435 were first releases, mostly but with declining frequency recorded and mastered by Van Gelder. while earlier catalogue numbers were reissues apart from the 35 deferred pressings.
(UPDATE March 7, 2018) Audio quality of Liberty reissues can be variable. The best indicator of authentic Blue Note sound is mastering by Van Gelder, as indicated by the Van Gelder stamp. Liberty manufactured Blue Note reissues at several plants, and as a matter of expediency sent copy tape from New York to LA, where Research Craft re-mastered those titles, breaking the connection with Van Gelder original mastering. Research Craft engineers used their own preferred lathes and cutting heads, setting their own choice of groove width and depth, and unaware of some of Van Gelder’s tweaks not present during the recording.
All Disc and other East Coast plants (Keel (serrated edge) , Bestway and finally Columbia’s Pitman) usually had access to original Van Gelder metal, are Van Gelder stamped, and the equivalent of Plastylite quality. The labels are by Blue Note’s original printer, Keystone, who favoured Intertype line-casting machines, and the album/artist font is Intertype Vogue Bold, with “Side 1” upper and lower case and 1 is without serif.
West Coast reissues can be distinguished by their labels, printed by Bert-Co, Hollywood, whose font library was based on Linotype line-casting machines. They used the font Linotype Spartan Medium all in capitals for the album title and artist above the spindle hole, often in the same point-size.The print “SIDE 1” is almost always capitals and despite being a san-serif typeface, Linotype Spartan has a “1” with serif.
8. LIBERTY UA. INC. (West Coast pressings) Black/Turquoise label 1970-2
Catalogue numbers 84330-8438# (Cheat Sheet label no.9)
The anomalous black/turquiose label design issued by the west coast arm of United Artists. Corporate design probably indicative of the creative tensions between LA and New York at the time, it smacks of a “we can do whatever we want here in California” attitude. The sound quality is often very good, though not consistently. Almost always stereo, with scarce exceptions. Sought after by budget collectors in the know, these pressings are much cheaper than Blue Note originals and can be similarly a very forward presentation, a good place-holder until you can get an original Blue Note. Similar price-point to Japanese pressings, which are often more silky and restrained than Liberty/UA, but generally will have been better-looked after.
9a. DIVISION OF UNITED ARTISTS (EAST COAST) 1971-3
Many of these “Division of United Artists” reissues are exceptional quality pressings which, unexpectedly, do not bear an RVG stamp in the run-out, meaning they were not pressed with metalwork pulled from an original van Gelder Master, like later United Artists reissues. Most (90%+) are mono only, manufactured at a time when stereo was the format of choice in the US. The origin of these pressings remains unclear, I suspect destined for the Japanese market (hence mono authenticity), but for some reason didn’t travel. They are underpriced by sellers who class them along with later reissues. They appear to be re-mastered from the original tapes by UA house engineers, who did a better than passable job. Whatever the reason, these issue are highly recommended
Throughout the Seventies United Artists were preoccupied not with product quality but struggling to make money, and a long-running legal battle over royalty payments and distribution agreements with the Record Club of America.
9b. DIVISION OF UNITED ARTISTS “(P) 1975”
In contrast to the excellent classic pressings of the first wave under Division of United Artists, above, it seems there was a later attempt to revive the classic brand, which isn’t in the same audio league. They bear the legend ©1975 United Artists Music and Records Group” on the label in place of the artists listing, and one found by contributor Stefano was using an old stock Liberty cover.
9c United Artists Blue label Reissue Series
The Reissue Series, dubbed “two-fers”, with two-LP sets in brown gatefold covers. These reissue some earlier titles and previously unreleased material, recorded in the early ’60s but held back by Blue Note to avoid over-saturation of certain artists . Many are excellent Van Gelder recordings. The transfer quality by UA is variable, most are very good, a few outstanding, but a few rather unsatisfactory (especially those recordings of non-Van Gelder origin, and those manufactured in France for European release) . The sets are however fantastic value at around $20 for a double LP.
10.DIVISION OF UNITED ARTISTS RECORDS INC. – BLUE LABEL BLACK NOTE (1973-6)
Note the corporate identity printed on the rim of the label refers to United Artists Records Inc. and not the later form, United Artists Music and Record Group Inc.
The all-blue label/black note, often carrying the VAN GELDER machine stamp in the run-out. Usually an assurance of quality mastering, it can also indicate a record pressed from overused Blue Note legacy stampers, resulting in pressings which are dull at the top end and lacking in dynamic range. More commonly available than original Blue Notes, not considered collectable, cheaply priced, not especially recommended other than as a substitute for some expensive sought-after titles.
With the price of originals spiralling out of reach, I have noticed an uptick in the price of these blue label reissues, especially if VAN GELDER stamp in evidence. Still a bargain substitute for hard-to fine originals.
11.UNITED ARTISTS MUSIC AND RECORDS GROUP (1975-80)
11.1 Blue Note BLUE LABEL WHITE B/ NOTE
BN-LA Catalogue number series (which replaced the BST series)
Mainly in use 1977-8 . Note the date of copyright assertion e.g. “(p) 1973” is not date of manufacture. Mainly a reissue label from the twilight years of United Artists ownership, with a few new titles.
The iconic Blue Note 12″ catalogue number series 1500 and 4000, built up since 1956, was casually tossed, little pride in ownership of a piece of history. Some original material is found on a few releases, but mostly reissues.
11.2 Liberty/ United Records, Inc.
Note the corporate identity printed around the rim changes from United Artists Music and Record Group,Inc to Liberty/United Records, Inc.
New company name, new catalogue LT Series created to exploit previously unissued recordings found in the Blue Note vaults. including “previously unreleased” material from 1957-69 in the LT series (LT987 – LT1103) Most are manufactured in 1979 or 1980, and the label disappears following the sale of Blue Note to EMI around 1980.
The audio quality of the LT series is entirely unpredictable, varying from fairly acceptable to extraordinarily poor. On one of my copies, there is such severe dynamic range compression that there is almost no top end and the percussion is entirely missing. People were making poor decisions in engineering, mastering and pressing, which failed to realise the musical potential of vinyl. However the artistic quality of the material is undeniable, and the original recording engineer was in many cases Van Gelder, though remastered by UA’s Blue Note engineer Tony Sestanovich.
THE EMI YEARS *(1980 to the present day)
Capitol Industries-EMI acquired the Blue Note assets through the purchase of United Artists in 1980. They made a big push to monetize these assets in the early to mid-’80s, through Japan (Toshiba-EMI) , Europe (Pathe Marconi) and the US (Capitol Manhattan)
But before the big push it looks as though selected titles with big demand were repressed in the interim, for Capitol Industries-EMI using a legacy label design of United Artists, updated with new corporate boilerplate:
The label pre-dates Manhattan Records and the “Best in jazz since 1939″, and refers only to ” Division of Liberty Records Inc” not its predecessor “Liberty/United”. In any event EMI owned all the United Artists assets, including the Liberty trademark, and Blue Note. The catalogue number prefix “LW” looks like an arbitrary decision. Discogs entries for this label/issue are dated “unknown”. I say 1981-2.
12. EMI FRANCE – PATHE MARCONI (1982-6)
Pathe Marconi became the first pressing vehicle for Blue Note’s new owner EMI, for European Blue Note reissues, and just a few first releases. Their pressings are not wonderful, average for the standard of their day, but predated the DMM disaster that was to follow under EMI France.
From 1983 EMI Pathe Marconi released Blue Note titles variously dated “re-edition 1983“, 1984 or 1985. Some of these, especially the earlier years, not DMM, are reasonably pressings, remastered by French engineers from copy tape, and can be a very acceptable edition of titles that are impossibly rare and expensive to find as US originals.
However around the mid eighties EMI France soon began to adopt the German Teldec DMM technology, which are identified by the dreaded Direct Metal Mastering symbol. DMM set out to create superior quality pressings in fewer manufacturing steps, but its implementation delivered often wooden lifeless sound. These records are in my judgement the worst comparative audio quality, though I have had people tell me they are quite happy with them and I actually have one (Leo Parker Rollin’ with Leo) which is really good.
The last working DMM lathe in the US was sold in 2005 to the Church of Scientology to issue the speeches of founder Ron L Hubbard.
The SACEM logo is the French copyright system for collecting royalties, on Japanese pressings JASRAC and GEMA in Germany.
13. CAPITOL-EMI (U.S. 1986 +)
After its acquisition of all Blue Note assets, EMI used a variety of vehicles to reissue and distribute Blue Note recordings around the world. For Japan, first King Records, later Toshiba-EMI, for Europe, Pathe-Marconi and selective releases by EMI UK and other, and for the US, Manhattan Records, a subsidiary of Capitol Records Inc
13.2 Capitol Manhattan “THE FINEST IN JAZZ SINCE 1939”
Mid to late’80s US new release and re-issue label.
US pressings on the classic Blue & White Label “The Finest in Jazz Since 1939” on label. Not the Finest in Audio Quality Since 1939, that’s for certain.! Capitol Manhattan are generally poor vinyl pressing quality, irrespective if the music itself, best avoided, CD will generally offer a more satisfying musical experience
13.2 Mosaic Limited Edition Collections
Founded by Michael Cuscuna, Head of Reissues and Special Projects at Blue Note Records since 1984 to the present day, Mosaic vinyl box sets are limited editions which are frequently out-of-print and found only on the second hand market, often quite expensive. They include some unique material, notably Miles Davis full session tapes of In person at the Blackhawk, Live at the Plugged Nickel and similar, and others bring together the complete collection of Blue Note albums of key artists.
These collections were issued under license in runs of typically 7,500 units from the mid Eighties onwards . The vinyl audio quality is often very good, not always as dynamic as original pressings of the same recordings, despite being mastering from original session tapes. Their main value is bringing together of material that is hard to get any other way. Not uncommon to find them in near mint/played just once or twice condition, as owners found it too exhausting to sit and listen through up to twenty sides of vinyl: most wear and tear will be found on Disc 1/ Side 1.
More on the Mosiac Label here
13.3 Capitol Blue Note “Connoisseur series”
©1995 180 gram Limited Edition
Released in 1995, ten years after the launch of the compact disc, around thirty titles, the pick of the Blue Note catalogue, were re-mastered from original tapes, on vinyl to appeal to the “audiophile” market.
The Connoisseur series were signposted by a blue/yellow sticker attached to the front of the shrink, ensuring that, when the shrink fell off, nothing remained to distinguish the series from ordinary reissues – to the untutored eye. Fortunately Discogs maintains a discrete entry for Blue Note Connoisseur.
The runout stamp says “MASTERED BY CAPITOL”, similar to that found on some Mosaic issues, and the catalogue number is unique, commencing B1-##### and not the original Blue Note catalogue number. The label address is “Hollywood and Vine Streets“. Though other Blue Note records continued to be reissued in the mid-90s, none match the quality of the Connoisseur series.
As owner of a half dozen Connoisseurs I can attest to their generally excellent sound quality, though they do not stand up to direct comparison with originals. There is a well-founded debate over the use by Capitol of a digital delay line during mastering. Tape playback machines lacking a preview head were used, instead incorporated a digital delay line to facilitate adjustments during mastering. This turned the original analogue tape signal into a digital copy (effectively a CD) and that digital copy was then transcribed on to the acetate.
By all accounts, this was the final gasp of vinyl, following which Capitol threw in the towel to concentrate on CD. It was left to independent audiophile manufacturers like Music Matters to pursue the vinyl audio quality of historical Blue Note recordings.
The UK editions of Connoisseur Series are in no way as impressive as the US Series
This 1997UK edition claims to be mastered from original tapes, something the busy run-out suggests otherwise – stamped “Mastered by Capitol” it exhibits various other engineering interventions, and doesn’t sound as good as it should.
13.4 “Rare Grooves” Series
Targeting the DJ/dance demographic with funkier selections fro the late 60’s and ’70s Blue Note catalogue, these are of similar quality to the Connoisseur series launched around the same time, mid-’90s.
Distinguished by a blue circular sticker on the shrink:
Long B1 – #### # ##### # # catalogue number, “Mastered by Capitol” drilled stamp accompanied in many cases by hand-etching “Wally” – Wally Trautgott, sound engineer. Runout includes logo stamp C R in two circles
13.5 (’90s UK issues) EMI Records Ltd
A few selected titles were issued by EMI’s UK company, fairly undistinguished offerings, of indifferent audio quality not comparable to the great EMI Hayes Middx. pressings of the ’60s. Identifiable only through the very small print, refers to EMI Records Ltd (UK incorporation name)
“See sleeve for details” (we can’t be bothered to type it). Black print instead of matching blue. (Shouldn’t it match? Why? They can still read it. ) Pre-printed label, title and content printed at another time.
13.6 CEMA Special Markets 1993
1990’s EMI effort to enter the “budget” market with a few popular titles. CEMA was a record label distribution branch and budget label of Capitol-EMI. The name CEMA stood for the four EMI-owned labels it originally distributed: Capitol Records, EMI Records, Manhattan Records and Angel Records . Subsequently renamed EMI Music Distribution (EMD).
Photo courtesy of Xavier
14. EMI FRANCE – CAPITOL RECORDS MODERN “BLUE NOTE” MUSIC GROUP
Modern pressing and engineering standards. The bass is sometimes over-hyped by DJ/ sound engineers who have spent too much time producing dance and club music, or thinking about the download market for iPod and iTunes and not serious vinyl listeners. Good control of bass is not easy to achieve, but essential to balanced reproduction of the upper register and the full dynamic range. What is it about some middle-aged men and dance music meant for people half their age? Whoops. I think I answered my own question.
Modern Blue Note Artist Roster
I am not a fan of the recent roster of Blue Note artists:”traditionalists” such as Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Jazz Centre team, or the Urban R&B/hip hop potpourri (“the more ingredients the better“). Some people like it, Blue Note have to sell to survive, meets a need, just not mine.
15. Grey Reissues – Scorpio Records
“304 Park Avenue South” Blue Note address – digital transfer onto vinyl
Included for completeness, for over a decade Scorpio Records NJ have produced RINOs (Records In Name Only) of Blue Note and other collectible period labels including Prestige, Tempo, Limelight and others. You want a Mobley 1568 for $15? Scorpio make one. Note that the origin and date of manufacturer is never declared, the “Scorpio” name never appear anywhere, and no “Manufactured under license” declaration, so we can assume it isn’t official.
These digital-to-vinyl transfers use the modern Blue Note address 304 Park Avenue S NYC on the classic Blue & White label. Note the absence of the “Inc” and the “R”: (it’s ironic). The jacket is photo-reproduced on modern plastic-finish card, with original liner notes, all the “original” detail, but modern printing technology is an instant giveaway.
Scorpios pop up on eBay to snare the unwary. “Recorded in 1957!! Mint!! Still sealed!!!” Records that are 50 years old are rarely if ever mint and rarely if ever sealed – or more likely resealed. These records have all of the disadvantages of vinyl with none of its advantages.
Scorpios have been pressed in tens of thousands and are sold widely at around $15-$20, often found in record stores like Honest Jons, in London’s Notting Hill. That said, there are worse ways to spend $15 and I bought quite a few when I was starting out. For some people, a Scorpio is as close as they will ever get to owning the legendary Mobley 1568.
16. BLUE NOTE AUDIOPHILE REISSUES
Proper “audiophile” reissues of Blue Note recordings, including Classic Records, Analog Productions, and Music Matters, are remastered from the original tapes, not “a digital copy plonked on 180 gram vinyl”. The mastering of these Blue Note audiophile re-issues has varied between engineers Bernie Grundman, Steve Hoffman, and Kevin Gray, each of whom have brought their own philosophy and preferences to the task.
16.1 Classic Records
Mastering by Bernie Grundman- initials BG pin-etched in the run-out. 200 gram vinyl, facsimile vintage label, some pressings incorporate a “deep groove”, back cover indicates official licensing.
Classic Records (subsequently bought by ???) are generally superior to 80’s Manhattan re-issues, and depending on title, may be preferable to Japanese pressings. (Some collectors have praised Classic Records edition of Kind of Blue, as superior to the Columbia release, though with all such things, claims do not always measure up with the experience). Classic Records are solid performers but from the few I own, tend to my ears to be restrained, and a trifle bland and unexciting in presentation.
16.2 Analogue Productions
Mastering strongly influenced by Steve Hoffman, who brings his own preferences to bear as to how these recordings should sound. Hoffman is quoted elsewhere as saying Blue Note originals are terrible, or words to that effect, and that modern technology can improve on them. Needless to say, I disagree, but it’s for the listener to decide what they like.
2×45 rpm 180gm vinyl, produced by Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray, number limited edition.
Analogue Productions find me slightly uneasy with their “botox-finish” engineering and 45rpm double album format, which seems increases weight and cost without discernible improvement in sound quality over 33rpm, and a worn path to and from the turntable with frequent record changes (a particular hassle for those of us with complex record turntable clamping systems).
16.3 Music Matters Ltd
Curated by Ron Rambach, mastering by Kevin Gray in his latest RTI studio facilities. Music Matters editions have a particularly strong following among collectors who swear by the “authenticity” of the sound, and issues not to be overlooked, availability and affordability. Some titles are available in 2x45rpm format, and increasingly, 33rpm format with improved audio quality.
Music Matters are renowned for their value-added packaging with art-quality photography of Francis Wolff within the gatefold format
In my opinion, the 33rpm format Music Matters are the best audiophile quality Blue Note reissues available, though thus far primarily only in Stereo format. Lovers of the original mono format will still need to seek out original pressings, or a handful of Japanese 80’s pressings which were issued in original mono format.
16.4 Blue Note 75 Editions
Everyone asks whether these are any good from the audiophile point of view. I have not found need to buy any titles myself. The quality has had a mixed reception, example this Amazon buyer review:
But when I got this LP I was seriously disappointed with the vinyl quality. It is a reasonably heavy LP but when you look at it, you see all kinds of clouds in the vinyl pressing, and the first one had a bunch of pits & flaws, and both had a skip…..surface noise is a big annoyance on what I thought might be a good new reissue vinyl LP. I did return the LP and Amazon did do a good job of getting me a replacement copy pretty quickly. The second one was better than the first but not what it should be for what current vinyl buyers expect, especially for jazz….the vinyl (in a generic Blue Note 75th Anniversary sleeve) is nothing but another corporate disappointment…..What is up with EMI/Capitol vinyl these days? Don’t they get it that people care about quality vinyl?
I have read similar elsewhere, and spoken with dealers who report manufacturing defects. The intention is wholly laudible and I wish them every success, though their price-point makes pressing quality an obstacle for the audiophile listener, who is used to better.
Looking forward to the next Anniversary -100th in whatever format technology brings, probably wireless telepathic broadcast direct from the Cloud, now Rudy Van Gelder is on their team.
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