Vee-Jay Records (1953-1966)
Last Updated: August 2, 2015
Main labels in use during 1957-1966 as Vee-Jay Records. Later labels are Vee-Jay International.
Vee-Jay Records was founded in Indiana, 1953, by husband and wife team Vivian Carter and James Bracken (later that year, Mr and Mrs Bracken) and within a short time became “the most successful black-owned record company in the US”.(cited here, full story)
A label which initially specialised in rhythm and blues, a small portfolio of jazz and eventually, segued into pop, included early Beatles and The Four Seasons. The bulk of its activity was the elusive search for hit singles, like The Duke of Earl.
Vee-Jay recordings are a small oasis of jazz, existing between the big specialist jazz labels like Blue Note, Prestige, Riverside and Contemporary. Their catalogue of jazz titles revolved around a small nucleus of top names: Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Bennie Green, Gene Ammons, Nat Adderley, Louis Hayes and Frank Strozier. Sidemen included the Adderleys, Freddie Hubbard and Yusef Lateef. The improbable availability of all these artists was a by-product of meeting during touring stop-overs in Chicago, and the talents of Vee-Jay’s wily A&R man, Sid McCoy. Though the label was Chicago-based, many of the jazz recordings were made in N.Y.C. studios, recording engineer by Bob Fisher.
Vee Jay was among the very first record labels to release stereo, commencing in 1957. And stereo in the manner of Roy DuNann rather than hard-panning early Van Gelder. Vee-Jay records were pressed at the American Record Pressing plant in Michigan.
Money problems and legal issues eventually brought the label down in 1966, though its name continued in new organisation VJ International for several decades thereafter. Any search on the internet automatically leads to a couple of Beatles records briefly issued by Vee-Jay, which of course benefit from the huge collector market in Beatles items, overshadowing the jazz output.
The Vee-Jay LP Labels:
1a. Maroon/ Script/ no trade mark reg (1957-60)
Commonly called the “script label”, VJLP 1001 – 1015, which changed to the 2nd script label
1b. Maroon/ Script/ Trade Mark Reg.
“TRADE MARK REG” appears below “Vee”, on a design similar to the first maroon/script but with broader silver rim. Found only on 1007 – 1012, following which the design reverts to the earlier maroon/script label with thin silver rim.
The script label appears on a few selected titles only, stereo in silver
and gold stereo
2. Black/ rainbow-rim /oval logo (1960-63)
First appears on the 3000 jazz series, commencing on 3004 3007 and regularly from 3009 upwards, to 3037, followed by the brackets VJ logo
3: Black/ rainbow rim /VJ bracket (1963)
Introduced following senior management changes at Vee-Jay in 1963
4.All-black/VJ bracket (circa 1964)
Also found in other plain colours
6. All-black/ no logo (1965)
Example here is a 1968 release however the black no-logo is seen on other earlier releases.
Thereafter, Vee-Jay filed for bankruptcy, and was reborn as Vee-Jay International.
3000 Jazz series: Essential Guide for the First Pressing Fundamentalist and collector of original pressings
The Vee-Jay maroon/script label established in the 1000 series gave way to the black/rainbow rim/oval logo early into the 3000 series, commencing with 3004. 3005 and 3006 are found on maroon script, with the last maroon/script label found on 3008. From 3009 onwards the first edition is on black/rainbow.
Those few 3000 series found with maroon label – 3005, 3006 and 3008, are also commonly found with the black/rainbow label, which remained in use until 1963. A ragged transition between labels is not unusual, often a result of titles being manufactured out of sequence.
During the early days of the 1000 series the second maroon variant, with REG TRADE MARK below the logo and wide silver rim appears on 1007 -1012, following which the label reverts to the original maroon with the thinner silver band and REG TRADE MARK disappears. Significance unknown, perhaps some dispute with Reg.
Vee-Jay Records Modern Jazz Discography (selected titles)
As essentially an R&B label with blues and do-wop. The labels’ Jazz recordings were produced by VeeJay A&R man Sid McCoy. Those listed below seem to me the significant modern jazz titles found in the Vee-Jay Catalogue. Not a complete discography, inessential titles have been passed over, Chicago tenor Eddie Harris, and also some very essential blues albums, John Lee Hooker in the main..
The catalogue numbering system of Vee-Jay is chaotic. The 1000 series gives way to the 3000 series, which breaks to commence the 2500 series, and then reverts to the 3000 series a decade later. Many numbers were never issued, others were of ephemeral artists who disappeared without trace, apologies to all Richard Otto and Sarah McLawler fans. A few titles are capricously reissued under different numbers, even under different lead artist (Louis Hayes album reissued as a Yusef Lateef album) Welcome to the wonderful world of record companies.
Vee-Jay 1000 Series Jazz issues
LP/SR-1005 – The Swingin’est – Bennie Green & Gene Ammons 
LP/SR-1013 – Walter Perkins’ MJT+III – MJT+III 
LP/SR-1014 – Go – Paul Chambers 
LP/SR-1016 – Kelly Great – Wynton Kelly  (same year issued as 3004)
Vee-Jay LP/SR-3000 Jazz Series
LP/SR-3004 – Kelly Great – Wynton Kelly  previously issued as VJLP-1016.
LP/SR-3005 – Fantastic Frank Strozier – Frank Strozier 
LP/SR-3006 – Introducing Wayne Shorter – Wayne Shorter 
LP/SR-3007 – Here’s Lee Morgan – Lee Morgan 
LP/SR-3008 – Make Everybody Happy – MJT+3 
LP/SR-3010 – Louis Hayes – Louis Hayes featuring Yusef Lateef & Nat Addereley 
LP/SR-3011 – Kelly at Midnight – Wynton Kelly 
LP/SR-3012 – 1st Bassman – Paul Chambers 
LP/SR-3013 – The Young Lions – Young Lions 
LP/SR-3014 – MJT+3 – MJT+3 
LP/SR-3015 – Expoobident – Lee Morgan 
LP/SR-3022 – Wynton Kelly! – Wynton Kelly 
LP/SR-3024 – Juggin’ Around – Gene Ammons with Bennie Green 
LP/SR-3026 – Summit Meeting – Various Artists 
LP/SR-3029 – Wayning Moments – Wayne Shorter 
LP/SR-3033 – Bird Lives! – Ira Sullivan & Chicago Jazz Quintet 
Vee-Jay LP/SR-2500 Jazz Series:
VJLP*-2501 – Leonard Feather’s Encyclopedia of Jazz: Jazz of the 60s, Volume One: Giants Of The Saxophone – Various Artists 
VJLPS-2502 – Jazz’s Great Walker – Leroy Vinnegar 
VJLPS-2503 – The Eric Dolphy Memorial Album – Eric Dolphy 
VJLPS-2506 – Leonard Feather’s Encyclopedia of Jazz: Jazz of the ‘60s, Volume 2: Blues Bag – Buddy Defranco 
VJLPS-2507 – It’s a Wonderful World – Victor Feldman 
VJLP-2508 – Lee Morgan Quintet – Lee Morgan Quintet 
VJS-3000 Jazz Series (continued in 1970s)
VJS-3038 – Someday My Prince Will Come – Wynton Kelly 
VJS-3052 – Contemplation – Yusef Lateef  Reissue of Vee-Jay SR-3010
VJS-3057 – Second Genesis – Wayne Shorter 
VJS-3061 – Love You Madly – Duke Ellington 
VJS-3062 – Gettin’ Together – Mel Lewis 
VJS-3066 – Bag of Blues – Art Blakey featuring Buddy De Franco 
VJS-3068 – Love Song – Gary Bartz 
VJS-3071 – Wynton Kelly in Concert – Wynton Kelly 
VJS-3072-2 – Final Notes – Wynton Kelly 
VJSP 400 – Various Artists – Leonard Feather’s Encyclopedia Of Jazz  3xLP
Work in progress (If you have better quality example label (1000×1000 pixel plus) mail me)
as FPF, it’s not clear if 1007-1012, with trade mark reg and wide silver rim, should be considered as first or second. do 1007-1012 exit with the first label?
Saw a copy of Louis Hayes 3010 today in black with rainbow rim Label with oval logo, but no Deep Groove. Jacket said stereophonic but no “stereo” in all caps on Label. Assuming this is a reissue?
I have several VJ releases in Stereo, which are first pressings and have never been played except by myself. The original owner had a few of each LP and therefore, archived most of the duplicates. I am now the owner of these duplicates. The LPs I have include, Kelly at Midnight, MJT+3, and others that are in stereo however contain no STEREO mark on the label and either a STEREO sticker on the jacket or a small statement that the LP is in stereo on the back of the cover – nothing like the STEREOPHONIC banner that would later come on the fronts of the jackets. Could this be that since VJ was a small company, their budget didn’t allow for stereo labels and covers to be immediately printed so they would simply exhaust their inventory of non-stereo labels, etc. before ordering stereo versions? Any assistance would be great.
Seems you have something of a unique resource, fortunate indeed, kudos. You can see the record company dilemma, launching stereo editions at a time when not many record buyers had bought the necessary new stereogram to play them, sticking with mono until, over several years, stereo became the definitive format. According to the trade press, record stores found it a burden to stock both mono and stereo copies of each record. Hard for the struggling record label to incur the cost of printing different covers and labels for the fledgling stereo format, so stickers and all round fudges were to be expected.
I figured as much. Many thanks for your comments! The pressings I have must be very early indeed then. They are in archival condition and sound great. VJ did produce excellent stereo sonics in the day. Again, my thanks for your insight.
Another question please, without seeing the LPs but keeping in mind the pristine state of the product and the early stereo versions, what would be the value of these two pressings? They are Kelly at Midnight and MJT+3 Make Everybody Happy. Generally, these selections don’t sell for large amounts.
VeeJay are undervalued in general. Looks like these two titles sit around the $20 bracket, but there are others which I think are more desirable – the fledgling Wayne Shorter has a couple and two Paul Chambers titles, I guess worth double that, though hard to find in top condition.
Thanks for your reply. It’s a shame that VJ pressings don’t receive more respect. They’re usually of excellent quality in terms of fidelity. I’ve seen the Kelly at Midnight sell for a few hundred dollars on Ebay several years ago but the prices have come down recently. The last copy sold in March for $60.00 but since my copy is in an archival state and a very early stereo pressing, it may go for over $100. Not selling it however. Still won’t bring in enough to warrant an early retirement 🙂
Are they deep groove? i just got a stereo copy of Kelly at Midnight with no banner, but the top back cover does mention it’s stereo. No mention of stereo on the rainbow label, but it’s not DG.
Vee Jay is a wonderful Chicago label and, like Argo, released some excellent sessions featuring primarily Chicago based groups and leaders. They had a sub family of releases called “Chicago Style” which are worth the search and usually not terribly expensive. The big names will draw you in but I think you might find your favorite sessions on Vee Jay and Argo are by the lesser known musicians who didn’t make it to the top of the mountain but whose journey is at least partially preserved on these labels.