Saturday, December 13, 2014

Listening to Prestige Records Part 59: Wrapping up 1951

A productive year for Bob Weinstock and Prestige, as the label could now lay claim to being as important as any in jazz. Among Weinstock's chief accomplishments -- getting Miles Davis back to New York and into the studio, making a commitment to LP records so that recordings could last more than three minutes.

Fifty recording sessions, almost all of them in New York - and that's leaving out the Swedish groups. That's an average of pretty near one a week. Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons were the workhorses, with eight sessions -- three under Stitt's name, five under Ammons's. Sonny Rollins recorded two (one of them an afterthought to a Miles Davis session) -- these were his first recordings as leader. Miles Davis had two sessions -- the second, in October, being Prestige's first to take advantage of the new LP possibilities, And two sessions for Lee Konitz, both in the same week, one featuring Miles, the other a duet with Billy Bauer. Teddy Charles, Red Rodney, Bennie Green, Gerry Mulligan all one session each, It was also Mulligan's first session as a leader, so that makes two pretty impressive debuts.James Moody had five sessions, all on the same three days in January, all in Sweden.

Incredible records that took me by surprise -- Charlie Mariano, Joe Holiday. And nice to meet -- on Facebook -- Artie Schroeck, who played with Holiday,

Mildred Bailey, Jimmy Yancey and Big Sid Catlett died in 1951.

Some highlights of the year from All About Jazz:

  • The first American Jazz festival occurs in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. in the autumn. This festival precedes the first Newport Jazz Festival by almost three years. 
  • John Coltrane moves back to Philadelphia and enters the Granoff School of Music to study the saxophone and music theory with Dennis Sandole. 
  • Musicians such as trumpeter Chet Baker and saxophonist Gerry Mulligan form the "Cool School" in California, of course. 
  • Sidney Bechet moves to Paris. Sidney becomes one of the first black American musicians to do this. Many more (Bud Powell, etc.) will follow due to less racial tension. 
  • Thelonious Monk records the classic of modern music Straight, No Chaser. 
  • Thelonious Monk is sentenced for drugs and is banned from playing the NYC clubs for six years. Narcotics which were probably not his were found in Monk's car. Monk will not inform. Although he could not play in clubs, he could record. 
  • Ornette Coleman is working as a day laborer in L.A. He gets gigs when he can, but they are few. People think that he doesn't know how to play. He'll spend nine tough years this way. 
  • Roy Eldridge makes the claim that he can tell the difference between a black player and a white player merely by listening. Leonard Feather gives Roy a blindfold test. Roy fails. 
Atlantic was establishing itself as one of the greatest rhythm and blues labels, but the Ertegun brothers' first love was jazz, and they recorded some jazz greats in 1951: Jimmy and Mama Yancey (perhaps Jimmy's last recording? He would die before the year was out), Billy Taylor, Mary Lou Williams, Don Byas, Mabel Mercer, Meade Lux Lewis. 

Dial, once noted as Charlie Parker's label was pretty much finished (1951 was their last year) but they did release two French sessions, one by Roy Eldridge (duets with Claude Bolling), one by Sidney Bechet. Savoy, the other Parker label, was mostly into rhythm and blues now, and their R&B releases were great. but they still made room for Dizzy Gillespie, Red Norvo, Milt Jackson, Terry Gibbs and others.

Fantasy, which would eventually purchase Prestige,  had been started in 1949 when the owners of a San Francisco record pressing plant bought the masters of a Dave Brubeck trio session from a guy who'd wanted to start a record label but hadn't been able to pull it together, and decided that since they these recordings, they might as well start their own label. They were still tiny in 1951, but they did two sessions with Brubeck and Desmond, and two with Cal Tjader.

Capitol and Mercury were two major labels that I think of as having had a significant jazz presence in those days, but actually they were pretty light in 1951 Capitol had Stan Kenton, which was a very big deal at that time. Beyond that, not much. Although they did issue records by Art Tatum and Shorty Rogers. Mercury did better, with Dinah Washington, Roy Eldridge, Paul Quinichette, James Moody, Jay McShann, and Ben Webster.

Columbia was a giant then and now, and even though jazz was never their main interest, they still had plenty of it: a lot of Benny Goodman, plus Billie Holiday, Claude Thornhill, Jimmy Dorsey, Lee Wiley, Earl Hines, Errol Garner, George Wettling, Stan Freeman, Steve Allen.

Decca was still a major label, and they were well stocked. Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, the Dorsey Brothers. RCA Victor I can't find.

 I think of Blue Note as running neck and neck with Prestige, but actually they only produced six sessions in 1951 -- about the same amount in jazz as Savoy, but Savoy was busy all year with R&B. Blue Note had Bud Powell, Sidney DeParis. Thelonious Monk, two by Wynton Kelly. and Sidney Bechet.

Verve was actually the other most prolific independent jazz label, recording Bud Powell, Lester Yung, Charlie Barnet, Slim Gaillard, Charlie Ventura, Flip Phillips, Roy Eldridge and Oscar Peterson, most of them multiple times. Most of these musicians had been part of Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic tours.

So the big labels had the big names -- and more power to them. But Savoy, Blue Note, Verve and especially Prestige were keeping bebop alive, and presenting the new talent like Sonny Rollins and Miles Davis.

Who could you see in the New Year with in New York? I continue to be frustrated that you can't get Down Beat's archives on line. So all I have is the New Yorker, and they still aren't covering modern jazz. Not that Eddie Condon and the other Dixielanders weren't great, but there was more than that going on. The Embers had Joe Bushkin, who was a trad kinda guy, backed up by some greats -- Jo Jones, Jonah Jones, and Milt Hinton. Birdland is still the only club hospitable to modern jazz that the New Yorker covers. Birdland's New Years Eve offering was Ella Fitzgerald, and the New Yorker once again uses her for a backhand swipe at bebop -- according to them, she "was singing bop before the amateurs got hold of it."

On to 1952.

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