An Audiophile’s Guide to the Prestige and New Jazz label – Overview
Last updated: September 26, 2021 – OJC and Prestige 70th
The LJC Prestige Label Cheat Sheet v2.1
0.1 Prestige origins – 78rpm shellac
0.2 Prestige origins – 10″ LP record, label – early ’50s – deep groove
1. NY yellow/black “fireworks” Label 446 W. 50th ST., N.Y.C. (1955-8)
PRLP 7001 – 7141
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″ LP 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 NY 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.
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 1971..
There are indications from label typography whether records within the NYC label period are first/ early pressings or later pressings . The main variation is where the record title and artist name (text above the spindle-hole).
Two issues of 7005, left is set in Erbar Condensed font, which are usually early manufacture. Below right the round geometric sans-serif Tempo font – usually later – though exceptions occur to squeeze in long text, and where there is a connection with Plastylite.
These variations are as findings of the Research Project. An extra-condensed font (very narrow) is associated with early pressings, and medium regular font with later pressings through to the NJ label.
Exceptions are where an early title has association with Plastylite, possibly using Blue Note’s print supplier (Keystone Printed Specialties, Scranton, PA) Prestige labels show many variations in typesetting, positioning, and spacing, suggesting frequent repeat orders, and well into the 7000 series colour tint and font style seem somewhat arbitrary.
The audio quality of these very first 12-inch recordings on the NY label is generally excellent – recorded and mastered in most cases by Rudy van Gelder, though the earliest releases can sound a little “boxed in” due to the limited dynamic range of very early microphones, or due to being remastered from 16″ transcription discs
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 as to whether “it svings“. Weinstock’s focus on business issues led to some ill-advised cost-cutting measures (recycled vinyl) and repeat issue of older recordings repackaged with different title and cover design.
2. Bergenfield yellow/black fireworks label 203 South Washington Ave., Bergenfield N.J. (1958-64)
PRLP 7142 – 7264
In August 1958, Prestige moved to new offices at 203 South Washington Avenue and introduced the Second Fireworks label – with the 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)
7142 Coltrane’s Soultrane is the first title found exclusively on the second Fireworks NJ label.
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 common manufacturing practice of cannibalising left over unused labels 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 in circulation). 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 “reissue” 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 an another company manufactures copies under license, or a successor organisation republishes earlier recordings from its’ acquired catalogue.
Label colour variation
Three colour variations are found: Egg-Yolk, Lemon, and Ochre – questions are raised over whether the Ochre-tint is actually egg-yolk photographed under-exposed. Lemon and egg-yolk seem the definitive variation, and lemon yellow associated with earlier manufacture.
“HI FI” and “HIGH FIDELITY” spelling variation
Coming from the era of cast metal typesetting, printers seem to have exercised their own discretion on some aspects like spelling, font-choice, type spacing and layout. Some of these features, along with cover detail, can be helpful in distinguishing first and early pressings from later pressings within the same label
Up until 1958 releases initially adopted the term HI FI, later expanded to HIGH FIDELITY, with some variation in spelling and font capitalisation.
In general, the NYC label used “HI FI” and NJ labels used “HIGH FIDELITY”, though there are several variations mostly around periods 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, merely arbitrary choices made by the compositor on the day. 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.
Secrets of the Prestige cover
One assurance of early provenance of any Prestige record is that it is associated with a matching early manufactured cover. In the example below, 7005 MJQ, left is the original , right is the later cover. In this case even the front cover was replaced by an alternative design.
Other tell-tale signs of later provenance include a printed spine, advertisements for later titles on the back cover or on an inner corporate sleeve, even the font-style of the catalogue number on the front, or different colour tint.. A coveted first pressing should have a matching first cover.
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 also a detailed argument among stereophiles as to integrity of the “recording intent” – where mono editions were created by folding down a recording made on two track tape, which should be heard in mono as intended. With the growth of home-stereo market in the early ’60s, record companies were under pressure to issue LPs in stereo, and some were described as “electronically reprocessed to simulate stereo” though the term usually described a two track tape mastered as stereo, not a mono recording reprocessed to fake stereo.
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. The practice occurred mainly in 1963-4 and the finger of suspicion points directly to Abbey Mfg. Abbey had its own vinylte-supply company with its directors on the board, so they must have known. it was their business.
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 Blue Trident Label (1964 – 1971)
PRLP 7265 – 7857
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, showing both 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
Prior to finalising the new Prestige blue/silver trident label, Prestige briefly experimented with a gold/ black trident (mono) and a black/silver trident (stereo) label, both discontinued.
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.
8. Prestige sub-label: Tru-Sound
Early ’60s Prestige sub-label used for a handful of soul-jazz/latin jazz. (Label examples courtesy of Vinylbeat.com) The label address is given as Tru-Sound Recording Corp, 203 South Washington Avenue, Bergenfield N.J., which is the address of Prestige Records. The King Curtis Doing The Dixie Twist has a VAN GELDER stamp. It’s Prestige, by any account.
9. Prestige/ Fantasy 1971-82
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.
10. Original Jazz Classics
“Created in 1982 by Fantasy Records to present classic jazz albums from the Fantasy-owned labels (i.e. Prestige, Riverside Records, Milestone Records, Contemporary Records and later Pablo Records), with their original artwork and liner notes. Over 1,000 titles to date have been reissued on the label” (Source: Discogs)
OJC Reissue – 100gm vinyl weight, not adequate.
Mastering of many OJC reissues is credited to George Horn Chief Engineer for Coast Recorders Studios and Columbia Records in the 70’s, in 1980 Horn started a 30-year career with Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, California, runout signature GH hand-etched. (Obit – Horn passed away in 2021, age 87).
Early to mid 80s vinyl output allegedly mastered from original tapes, becoming digital transfers into the ’90s and mostly CD thereafter Much useful information on OJC – a Buyers Guide by GhentJazzCollector Dirk Lenhart
Update: Latest reissue series by Prestige owners Concord Music, the anniversary Prestige 70 Series in blue vinyl (2019). No opinion regards quality, haven’t bought one, but blue vinyl? According to Record Industry, the world’s largest pressing plant, “audio pressed on non-black vinyl is more susceptible to higher noise levels and/or clicks in the lead-in and lead-out grooves, or on quiet parts of the recording”. Doesn’t instill confidence that Concord management know what is important. Concord Music’s Craft Catalogue output has previously used George Horn for mastering and Paul Blakemore at CMG (staff engineer Concord Music Group?) interviewed here:
“I don’t have a lathe here, so I don’t do any lacquer cutting. We send out our lacquer cutting to one of several different people. But I’ve found that you really do have to prepare the audio files that you send to the lacquer mastering engineer, you have to prepare them very differently than you do the CD master…
“[The Precision Limiter] is … the most transparent digital limiter I’ve ever encountered. It’s really great for doing any kind of music that’s primarily performed on acoustical instruments. You can do big changes to the dynamic range without really altering the timbre of the instruments or the essential character of the mix.”
Note, Blakemore is sending digital audio files to the vinyl master cutter, no mention of original tape as source, and he adjusts the dynamic range to suit his ear. If you valued the original source tape, wouldn’t you mention its use? Limiters, compressors, de-essers, levellers, expanders, EMT-emulators, Concord/Craft audio quality is in the hands of an engineer who believes he is improving the original recording with digital tools, sounds all very Steve Hoffman.
The only test is to compare the final pressing with the vintage original vinyl, on a revealing audio system. It is not an improvement unless you a have a baseline against which to judge it, and no-one does (or very few apart from yours truly). It is may sound different, but put them side by side and the word improvement is rarely if ever justified.
“THINK INDIE” ? Why?
To be continued…
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