Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Listening to Prestige Records Part 77: Wrapping up 1952

Prestige recorded a bunch of blues singers during the year. They don't seem to have kept the same meticulous records for their blues sessions, because there are no dates on any of them. Rudy Ferguson and Bobby Harris were both in for two more songs each. They were released on 78, but no trace of them now. No information on the session musicians. Piney Brown, who took his name from the legendary Kansas City speakeasy proprietor remembered in a classic Big Joe Turner blues, was a legend in his adopted home town of Dayton, Ohio, and was remembered fondly when he died in 2009.

Bob Kent was another bluesman who seems to have left little trace behind, and might have left even less, except that his session for Prestige actually did have one musician whose name was recorded on the session notes -- a young tenor sax player from Lionel Hampton's road band who had just just arrived in New York to try and make a living as a session musician. His name was King Curtis. So this one can be found on a compilation album called Wail, Man,Wail -- all of Curtis's recordings from the 1950s, from well-known tunes like those of the Coasters to obscure artists like Bob Kent to surprising choices like Waylon Jennings. Kent's "Korea, Korea" is one of many blues songs about that war, perhaps because it was the first to be fought since the armed services had been integrated. Good blues, good King Curtis.

What else? Rateyourmusic.com, an always interesting site for user-voted lists of this and that, has a number of jazz albums on their list of best albums of 1952. I can't exactly figure out how the ratings on rateyourmusic are calculated, and I can't begin to figure out who does the rating. They're jazz fans -- 21 of their top 50 records are jazz. But who else are they? The others are some classical, some ethnic folklore from Mexico, Africa, Europe and Haiti, Dylan Thomas, some folk blues (no rhythm and blues), and Charity Bailey singing for first graders. Nonetheless, it's an interesting reflection of jazz in the year, so here it is -- the jazz selections from their top 50.

3. Nat "King" Cole

4. Milt Jackson
Wizard of the Vibes 
Blue Note

5. Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday Sings 

8. Stan Kenton
City of Glass 

12. Erroll Garner
Body & Soul 

14. Gerry Mulligan and Allen Eager
The New Sounds 

15. Milt Jackson Quartet 
Dee Gee

16. Charlie Parker
South of the Border 

18. Nat "King" Cole
Penthouse Serenade: Nat 'King' Cole at the Piano 
21. Louis Armstrong
Satchmo Serenades 

23. Miles Davis
The New Sounds 

24. The Fabulous Sidney Bechet and His Hot Six
The Fabulous Sidney Bechet 
Blue Note

28. Norman Granz
Norman Granz' Jam Session #1 

20. Stan Getz
Jazz at Storyville 

30.Lee Wiley
Sings Irving Berlin 

31. Anita O'Day
The Lady Is a Tramp 

39. Peggy Lee
Rendezvous With Peggy Lee 

42. Sidney Bechet & Mugsy Spanier

44. Jeri Southern
You Better Go Now! 

45. Howard McGhee's All Stars
Howard McGhee 
Blue Note

47. Sidney Bechet
Ambiance Bechet 

48. Anita O'Day
Singin' and Swingin' 

These, of course, are 1952 releases, and my list is of recording dates. I'm a little surprised that Prestige isn't represented more vigorously, but you can't really complain about what is there. Other artists further down on the list are Art Pepper, Art Hodes, Ralph Burns, George Wallington, Sonny Rollins, Wardell Gray, Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck, Barbara Carroll, Sonny Stitt, Dinah Washington and Johnny Hodges.

Billboard called 1952 the best year for jazz, economically, since the '30s, as evidenced by

the increasing number of jazz platter served up by the established and new diskeries, the great success of the jazz road packages, and the healthy grosses racked up by top jazz artists as night club attractions.
Billboard notes that new club, the Bandbox, has opened in midtown in competition with Birdland, that an Illinois Jacquet album, straddling jazz and rhythm and blues, has sold over 100,00 units, Benny Goodman's newest has sold over 75,000, and "the average 78 RPM jazz release of quality can now sell between 5,000 and 10,000 a year, a much better figure than a number of years ago."

So maybe the story of bebop killing jazz as a viable commercial form were a little exaggerated. Of course, the story of the decline of the big bands seems to carry more weight. From Billboard again:

What is most important here, to the record company on one side and the dealer on the
other, is that most jazz platters use a small group and the diskery can get off the nut quickly, and that jazz disks continue to sell for many years.
I miss that old show biz journalism. Where are the diskeries of yesteryear? Billboard notes the success of Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic and other package tours, and the advent of the LP record.

A second article heralds the arrival of the Bandbox as neighbor and rival to Birdland.The Band Box is featuring JATP stars Flip Phillips, Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Charlie Ventura, Oscar Peterson with Ray Brown and Barney Kessel, Charlie Shavers, Hank Jones and Teddy Napoleon. Or you could walk over to Birdland and catch the Lester Young Quintet, the Stan Getz Quintet and the Dave Brubeck Quartet...on the same bill. Think you could afford it? The Bandbox offered free admission and a $1.25 minimum. Birdland had a $1.25 admission and no minimum.

Bring on 1953.

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