During the 1950s, when I started to become aware of jazz (actually late into the 50s for me, on a journey through rock and roll and rhythm and blues), there were two independent labels at the heart of that era: Blue Note and Prestige. Of the two, Blue Note has become the most famed, perhaps because it’s still around. Books have been written about it, its history chronicled.
The moment I turned from rhythm and blues to jazz (no, never turned—the moment I opened up to include jazz) came at two in the morning, in my dorm room at Bard College, twisting through the dial of my AM radio, looking for some R&B, and suddenly my hand stopping, my heart stopping, my world pausing to let in a sound that transfixed me. It was John Coltrane with the Red Garland Trio, and it was the first jazz record I ever bought. And it was on Prestige.
To the extent that Prestige and Blue Note were the Beatles and the Stones of the 50s to a jazz fan, I was a Prestige guy. I bought many records on both labels, of course, but when I look back at my vinyl collection, it leans heavily toward Prestige.
But there’s been no history of Prestige Records. Wikipedia doesn’t have much. There’s a photo book of Prestige album covers, but that’s all I’ve been able to find. And this blog won’t be it, either, because I don’t know enough. Not unless someone who was there on the scene, like Chris Albertson or Bill Crow, can fill in some of the gaps.
I’m using jazzdisco.org as my guide through this Prestige listening project, and I’m going chronologically by recording date, starting in 1949, the year Bob Weinstock started the label, first as New Jazz, then a year later as Prestige. I’m going by jazzdisco’s session index, because I can’t really figure out any other way to do it. The most famous Prestige album line, their 7000 series, seems to have started in 1955, so what was Prestige issuing before that? I hope someone will straighten me out.
Anyway, the third 1949 session – Serge Chaloff and the Herdsmen, March 10, 1949. The group is made up of Woody Herman veterans, as Serge was, and he’s most famous as one of Herman’s Four Brothers saxophone section, and the Jimmy Giuffre composition of that name, featuring Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Herbie Steward, and Chaloff. Of the four, Chaloff was the only baritone sax, and he was pretty close to the only baritone sax player in jazz (Ellington’s Harry Carney his precursor) until Gerry Mulligan came along and made the instrument his own.
And Chaloff had the shortest career of the four. He succumbed to Charlie Parker’s Disease – the heroin addiction that claimed so many in the bebop era. He did kick the habit, but his life was cut short anyway, as he died in 1957 of cancer. So unlike Sims and Getz, he was not able to build very much on the Four Brothers foundation, but he did make some good music.
Here’s “Bopscotch” from that session. Personnel: Oscar Pettiford b, Red Rodney tp, Earl Swope tb, Al Cohn ts, Serge Chaloff bs, Barbara Carroll p, Terry Gibbs vib, Denzil Best d, Shorty Rogers arr.
With not a lot of rehearsal time, there was no guarantee that a group of musicians assembled for a recording date were going to mesh, though sessions like the Minton’s and Monroe’s jam sessions gave a strong common language to the beboppers. But these were a group of musicians who’d spent some time together in the Woody Herman band, and you can hear it in the seamless blend of solos on this recording.