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Essential reading on Jazz and Vinyl (Last updated August 2016)
Geoffrey Wheeler: Jazz By Mail
A unique picture of the phenomenon that briefly became almost the main channel of distribution for jazz records – mail order and record clubs. Over 500 pages of knowledge impossible to gain in any other way. A tour de force. Cover and contents scans courtesy of Brad S.
Fred Cohen’s essential Guide for Identifying Blue Note Original Pressings
Every home should have one, (may be two)
This Guide will teach you everything you need to know about collecting Blue Note records. Essential, unique, indispensable companion to LJC.
Mike Falcon’s review published at Jazzcollector back in 2011:
“Blue Note Records, A Guide to Identifying Original Pressings” is a nicely bound 6 ½” x 9 ½” inch black book with the Blue Train label with red arrows pointing to the various identifying features on the cover. It’s written more like a compendium or research paper and is not in the narrative form. It starts with an introduction, preface, and acknowledgements, before getting to the list of illustrations and glossary. The glossary and illustrations are necessary to understand what you are reading when sorting through the pressing guide. The illustrations show what is meant by all of the famous Blue Note esotery. This includes examples of the famous
Plastylite “P”, all the Rudy Van Gelder stamps (including pictures of Van Gelder’s actual stamping tools), all of the label addresses, laminated and non-laminated covers, frame covers (commonly referred to as Kakubuchi), and other identifying marks.
The meat of the text is the pressing guide, which goes through the catalog series by series and identifies what should constitute an original pressing. An example would be something like this:
4059 W63i, dg-s2, P, RVGs, br / NYC, lam
This indicates that the BLP 4059 original record has the West 63rd Street address with INC after Blue Note Records, a deep-groove on Side 2 only, the Plastylite P and RVG stamped in the dead wax, and a beaded rim; the cover has the 43 West 61st St. address on the back and is laminated. All other characteristics of 4059 (in this instance just “PS”, i.e. printed spine) apply to its group, the 4000 mono series.” It takes a few tries but is pretty intuitive after a few references. The pressing guide is broken up by the different series and then by stereo or mono. Once the abbreviations are understood, it takes a just a minute to reference a particular pressing. Anything exotic about a particular record is denoted by an asterisk and explained at the bottom of the page.
There are quite a few details in here that will aid all but the most experienced collector in their searches. There is more. There is a section on the mono vs. stereo question with Rudy Van Gelder, pictures of all the inner sleeves, a discussion about the history of Blue Note during the transitional periods, a chronology of release dates, a list of known stereo sessions, and a very interesting section on some of the most rare pressings (not 1538, 1568, or 1588, but rarer!). Then Fred gives the closing word, which addresses some of the individual pressing details that are left to be explored further by the collectors.
This book may leave remaining questions about details but will be invaluable to almost all collectors to help organize their information and create more sophisticated collectors. Much money can be spent chasing down pressings that are thought to be first, only later to find out that they are not and worth a fraction of what was paid. This makes it invaluable to me.
Blue Note Records A Guide to Indentifying Original Pressings is available for $45 plus shipping and handling at the Jazz Record Center website
Just as words can describe pictures, words can also describe music, and Balliett invented a new vocabulary to write about jazz. Written between 1957 and 1959 in the steaming cauldron of jazz’s evolution, in “Sound of Surprise” Balliett writes about his experience at the time: Mingus among the Unicorns, Monk on stage, Cecil Taylor’s impact on an unsuspecting audience. The good gigs and the bad, viewed by an articulate observer with deep love of jazz and an unflinching critic. I have no idea whether he could play music, but my God he could write about it. Over fifty years old, this book is as authentic a read as mounting an original Blue Note on your platter.
American Musicians II – Whitney Balliett
Condensed life stories and intimate portraits plucked from interviews with leading figures from jazz history. Matter of fact life under segregation, musicians relationships and companionship, and the everyday mechanics of earning a living as a musician in ’30s, ’40s and ’50s America. Never condescending nor rose-tinted, Balliett brings every musician’s story authentically to life.
In today’s world of written word dominated by college-trained journalists, activists and sponsors, where the writer’s agenda can be seen grinning through thin paintwork, Balliett is refreshing, open, nothing to sell, and therefore well worth buying.
A rare treat.
A must-read grounding in the roots of jazz, in great contrast and dignity compared to the fawning ego-massaging “rock journalism” underlying the Downbeat Great Jazz Interviews below. (Nothing wrong with the music fellas, it’s the writing…)
The Downbeat Great Jazz Interviews Updated March 3, 2014 with review
Well, finally got around to reading it. A great disappointment, but I guess a lesson. Jobbing journalists in the music press are not the most insightful of people, but then neither are the musicians always either. The self-promoting title Great Jazz Interviews falls well short of its claim. Some of the interviews are fawning – I guess its not their place to challenge the interviewee – and equally they regurgitate uncritically any old baloney the musician cares to say to a journalist. The line of questioning can be fairly shallow and the whole attitude seems dated, which of course it is, found in a 75 year anthology. A good amount of the text is printed over photographic backgrounds, making it difficult to read, as well as not worth reading.
The few glimmers of interest include an interview with Thelonious Monk, and Wayne Shorter, but the choice of articles is mostly off-target for a jazz fan, (Jimi Hendrix?)betraying the editors personal peccadillos, and some of the interviews, like Sun Ra, makes you positively squirm. Not recommended. Stick to proper authors and biographers who know their subject and can write.
Brett Milano Vinyl Junkies
David Rosenthal Hard Bop
Richard Cook Blue Note Records
(LJC comment: the “rebirth” of Blue Note is perhaps wishful thinking. Little sign of anything of note)
Eric Nisenson Blue – The Murder of Jazz
Cook and Morton Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings
The Essential Reference not to be confused with How to Cook Penguins guide
Jazz on Record McCarthy, Morgan, Oliver, Harrison, published 1968, 2nd Edition
Alphabetic reference guide full of opinion about artists and their records. Amazing time machine, written contemporaneously with the golden years of jazz on record, and ends abruptly at 1967, by which time it was mostly “over” anyway. Strangest thing is that almost all the artists have a date of birth but no date of death, musically or medically.
Can not be easy to find as the book itself is 45 years old, but there were some copies on Amazon here in UK, a nice hardback which I bought, and some well-thumbed paperbacks for just a few pounds. Good to get a take that’s different from the ubiquitous Scott Yannow’s All Music view of the world. Hat tip to LJC poster Ethan Gamache for the recommendation.