An Audiophile Guide to the Prestige and New Jazz Label
The LJC Prestige Label Cheat Sheet v2.1
1. First “Fireworks” Label (1955-8) 446 W. 50th ST., N.Y.C. address
Battle of the Titans: Alfred Lion’s Blue Note vs Bob Weinstock’s Prestige, with master engineer Rudy Van Gelder running with both the hare and the hounds. After some years issuing 10″ microgroove records (and 78’s in the case of Blue Note) , in the mid 50’s both independent jazz labels moved into the new 12″ format, marked by Prestige with the Yellow/Black “Fireworks” Label.
Example below, one of the first 12-inch microgroove LPs from Prestige manufactured 1956, Van Gelder mastered – hand-written initials RVG – and pressing by Abbey Manufacturing (AB)
The NYC label ran for two years and issued many historically important recordings of Bop, notably Miles Davis, many of which went on to second and subsequent pressing, hence the stature of the NY label as the mark of early pressings. Illustrated below are two copies of early title – PRLP 7094 Miles Davis Cookin’ – the first on NY label, the second a later pressing on NJ label.
There is no way of knowing whether the NY example below belongs to the very first batch pressed. It was very probably pressed during the two year currency of the NY label, though later pressings are sometimes found with earlier labels. It can be most safely described as an “early pressing”.The term “later pressing” is probably the most accurate way to describe what is clearly not a first pressing but still an “original Prestige”, that is, from within the period of Prestige Records ownership, prior to its sale to Fantasy Records in the early Seventies..
The audio quality of these very first 12-inch recordings on the NY label is generally excellent – recorded and mastered in most cases by van Gelder, though the earliest releases can sound a little “boxed in” due to the limited dynamic range of very early microphones, which improved dramatically towards the later Fifties.
The only criticism made is the quality of the music, which on some titles was an unrehearsed “blowing session”. Weinstock was not as fastidious a producer as Alfred Lion at Blue Note, who funded rehearsal time, supervised recording sessions along side Rudy Van Gelder, and often rejected takes according to his own musical judgement. Weinstock focused on business, which sacrificed long-term quality for short-term financial return.
2. Second Fireworks Label (1958-64) 203 South Washington Ave., Bergenfield N.J.
In 1958, Prestige moved to new offices and introduced the Second Fireworks label – with a Bergenfield N.J. address.
PRLP 7141 Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis “The Eddie Davis Cookbook”, was the first release bearing the new NJ address, though particular title is found with both NJ and previously printed NY labels (seen below)
PRLP 7142 Coltrane’s Soultrane is the first title found exclusively on the second Fireworks label, obviously different label print runs. The economics of US national distribution meant increasingly, record labels would have copies pressed at different strategic locations, East Coast, West Coast, and Central US, and quite possibly these variations are geographical and not a function of chronology
The colour variation above are separate print runs: Yellow-Ochre and Lemon Yellow – and in this sample, proper case “High Fidelity” on one and .”HIGH FIDELITY” capitalised on the other. Prestige used a variety of pressing plants and likely different label print suppliers.
As with Blue Note, the confounding factor in dating Prestige pressings is the use of surplus stock of printed labels on later pressings. Below a later pressing caught in transition, the label on one side a legacy of its earlier pressing, illustrating the manufacturing practice of cannibalising labels left over from earlier pressings.
As interest in artists like Miles Davis increased, Prestige pressed further copies of their early titles, this time on NJ labels (these later pressings are probably more commonly found). Further copies of popular titles released after 1958 were repressed during the six years the second Fireworks label was in use, and new titles on NJ address label may be an early pressing or later pressings themselves.
The term “Reissue” is often used ambiguously in record collecting. With Prestige, when a recording was formally “reissued” it was allocated a new catalogue number, and around one hundred early Prestige releases were reissued, including most of the first hundred of the 7000 series catalogue . Thus, PRLP 7012 Miles Davis “Dig” was reissued as PRLP 7281 “Diggin'”. However the so-called “re-issue” was pressed with the original Van Gelder metalwork for PRLP 7012, annotated with the new catalogue number. You may have a new catalogue number, new cover design and new label, but you are effectively listening to the original pressing.
Pressing more copies of a record, to my mind, does not of itself constitute a “reissue”, though it is of more than passing interest to those who seek to collect coveted “First Pressings”. I prefer the term “reissue” to be reserved for circumstances where another record label manufactures copies under license, or a successor organisation republishes earlier recordings from its acquired catalogue.
“HI FI” and “HIGH FIDELITY”
Across the life of the Fireworks label, mono releases initially adopted the term HI FI, later expanded to HIGH FIDELITY, with some variation in spelling and font capitalisation in the transition.
In general, NY labels use “HI FI” and NJ labels use “HIGH FIDELITY”, though there are several variations generally around the period of transition. When more labels were printed for a later pressing on the new NJ label, the earlier format “HI FI” is often retained i.e. the label is identical except for the change of address.
These variations are not tied to any known variation in sound quality and are not helpful in dating pressings as they show little consistency. The audio quality of NJ pressings is generally very high, within the golden era of vinyl quality production. They benefit enormously from improvements in microphone dynamic range and recording equipment, and of course the engineering skills of Van Gelder and his studios.
Go here for a “helicopter view” of variation in the Fireworks Label, created from a sample of 45 record label shots uploaded to Discogs.
3. Fireworks stereo label – NJ – black/silver – late Fifties
To welcome the eventual arrival of stereo at Prestige, the black and silver fireworks label was introduced. (Prestige’s UK licensee Esquire only ever pressed mono editions). The only copy I had seen and auditioned had been pressed with recycled vinyl, hissing badly throughout, so I never got an opinion on the stereo quality. The choice of titles for stereo release seems to have been mainly “old school” power sax players – Arnett Cobb, Jimmy Forrest, Gene Ammons and Eddie Lockjaw Davis are noted in the Discogs listing, which doesn’t increase its attraction.
Early stereo is not always a good experience, often with only a very primitive concept of “soundstage”. Front line solo instruments would be placed either extreme left or right and not centre as you might expect, and the rhythm section oddly skewed, with perhaps piano and bass centre but drums on the far right. It can add up to an unsettling listening experience and accounts for some collectors preference for mono at this time, though no doubt it has its fans. Early mixing consoles offered a simple choice of position – left, right or centre. Engineers like Roy duNann at Contemporary and Fred Plaut at Columbia had a much more sophisticated approach which delivered up a superior stereo presentation as early as the late Fifties, and stereo is the the preferred edition, according to taste.
There is alo a detailed argument among stereophiles as to integrity of the “recording intent” – where mono editions were created by folding down a recording made originally in stereo, which should be heard as intended. One area of agreement however is recordings “electronically engineered to simulate stereo” which should be avoided like the plague. Universally dreadful, unsucessful in stereo presentation, and the original dynamics ruined in the process. Good only for coasters.
4. New Jazz label (1958-64)
Weinstock’s other Prestige label, New Jazz, got off to a shaky start with the first four titles of the 8200 series appearing on the Yellow and Black fireworks label before the Purple New Jazz label took over.
The samples above sourced from the internet show what appear to be “later pressings” on the purple label, as the yellow/black fireworks examples include two “promos”, which indicates they are chronologically the first. 8205 is the first genuine first pressing on the purple label. 8201-4 if found on purple label are later pressings, for which Fireworks are first.
It may not be possible to distinguish between first and later pressings which fall wholly within the purple label era after 8204, simply from the label. The label had no further historical changes but the presence or absence of deep groove offers an indication of earlier provenance. Below, for example, is an early later pressing.
The “Hissy Vinyl” Problem
New Jazz and some Prestige releases are sometimes marred by “hissy vinyl”, due to the raw vinylite being bulked up with recycled vinyl (containing minute detritus and fragments of paper label, which the stylus picks up as a continuous hiss) . Some pressings are ok, others have the dreaded hiss throughout, sometimes minor, on other copies quite prominent. There is no consistency – even the same title can be found with hissy copies and not hissy copies. Perhaps it all depended on whether the vinylite stock delivered to the XYZ pressing plant that week had been bulked up with recycled vinyl or not. I have not encountered the problem with any other labels than Prestige, and does not occur with pre-Bergenfield label pressings or those from Abbey Manufacturing, so the finger points to reckless cost-cutting or dubious quality at some plants.
Weinstock has never to my knowledge been challenged on the use of recycled vinyl and its absence on other major’s LP pressings suggests it was known industry malpractice. In a recent interview, Weinstock, long since retired and moved to Florida, seems to have gone along with the uninformed but common opinion that vinyl is bad and old-fashioned and we have progressed to “better sounding technology” – the CD, and now the digital download.
European editions of these Prestige/New Jazz titles may be preferred as they do not suffer the same problem, though sometimes there is no option. The music and engineering is nevertheless superb and some artists are found only on the New Jazz label.
5. The Prestige Specialty Labels – Moodsville, Swingville and Bluesville
Often with RVG initials in the runout, these are Prestige proper recordings
(Swingville picture courtesy of Bob Djukic)
(Bluesville picture courtesy of Bob Djukic)
Sound every bit as good as Prestige of the same period. As to why these specialty labels were introduced, the story has been told that Weinstock created these new labels not as a stroke of marketing genius, but as a device to reduce tax liabilities on sales on his primary label. Possibly true, but sums owing to the IRS has never been a good indicator as to the quality of music.
6. The failed revolution – 16 rpm
Just as the 12″ LP replaced the 10″ single by extending playing time, in the late Fifties Prestige lanched an innovation planned to double the length of playing time, by halving the record speed. Whilst quite suited to the spoken word, 16rpm was a disaster to the quality of music, and within a dozen titles, disappeared. The innovation that would embraced by the public in the next few years was not length of playing time, but Stereo.
(16rpm picture courtesy of Bob Djukic)
6.The Trident Label 1964 – 1971
The Blue Label/Silver Trident was the primary label format successor to the yellow/ black fireworks label from 1964, adopted both for new releases and reissues of earlier titles.
Example below illustrates typical runout engravings – Van Gelder mastering (early handwritten form “RVG”), Abbey Manufacturing pressing plant (“AB”) and catalogue number updates (original scratched out, reissue catalogue number added, A/B side error correction)
Example 2 above, a reissue of an earlier New Jazz title, showingboth New Jazz and Prestige catalogue numbers. The Blue/ silver trident audio quality is generally superb, with wide dynamic range and engaging presence.Reissues are especially great value, being pressed with metalwork derived from the original master, but not considered as collectible and therefore no where near as expensive.
Stereo label – Blue (1964)
Exists in two known variations – with and without deep groove, and variation in position of the silver trident
(Photo courtesy of Albert of Ohio)
Mono Label – Gold
Stereo Label – Black
Stereo editions account for a large proportion of variations in label design – colours and position of trident, whether enclosed within a circle as a logo, and of course the word “STEREO” to be fitted in.
7.Prestige’s “budget label” Status 1960’s
Difficult to see what was budget apart from saving on ink, providing minimal information saved nothing, but made it look budget. Working in Marketing in the Seventies, the big fear was always “cannibalisation”. You wanted all the sales you could get at the premium price, and extra sales at the budget price, without losing the one to the other. Extra effort was incurred to make things look less attractive. More marketing genius from Weinstock.
9. Modern Prestige 1971+
In 1971 what remained of the Weinstock empire of Prestige was sold to new owners, Fantasy Records of Los Angeles California. In the years that followed Fantasy flooded the market with re-issues from the Prestige Catalogue, variously attributed to “Fantasy Records” or “Prestige Records”, cover address Berkley California, Tenth and Parker to be found on label and cover.
A pale shadow of their former glory, they are generally feeble pressings – often better to buy the CD to listen to, and the LP for the cover art. From time to time I have “chanced it” for a filler and mostly disappointed.
Though exasperatingly, not always. Around the very beginning of the transition from Prestige to Fantasy, dated around 1972, we find some pressings still bearing the VAN GELDER machine stamp:
The original Prestige catalogue number, van Gelder stamp, hands up to “Distributed by Fantasy Records” rather than an opportunist claim to be Prestige Records, but only 117gm vinyl. Five years previously the above record was released, looking like this:
(Source: Discogs, retouched by LJC)
Looks like early days, Fantasy cranked out reissues using old stock Prestige covers from the original release, and repressed using the original stampers, so producing a record which is a very close relative of the original.
The dreaded OJC Reissue – 100gm vinyl weight
To be continued…
http://fipres.com (go to tab called “Guide)
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