Bob Weinstock, the collector-turned-producer who launched Prestige Records in 1949, had his finger on the pulse of modern jazz better than perhaps any other label executive of his time. During the Fifties, Prestige served as the catalyst for the careers of such previously underappreciated innovators as Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, and John Coltrane, to name but a few. The Prestige Records Story
celebrates the label's 50th anniversary with 50 thoughtfully chosen selections, sequenced in roughly chronological order on four compact discs, that provide a fascinating overview of the company's prolific output from its inception to its sale in 1971 to Fantasy, Inc.
In contrast to the usually well-rehearsed sessions issued by its chief rival, Blue Note Records, Prestige produced more impromptu affairs in which kindred musical spirits were invited to the studio and given largely unfettered reign to improvise. Again and again, this "blowing session" approach to jazz, in the words of Don Schlitten, producer of numerous Prestige albums in the Sixties, succeeded in capturing "the true essence of what this music is all about."
Besides being on the cutting edge, Weinstock kept a keen eye on the marketplace and made Prestige the prime purveyor of the soul-jazz style associated with such artists as Gene Ammons and Jack McDuff. For an independent jazz label, the company had more than its share of R&B and pop hits, including King Pleasure's "Moody's Mood for Love," Etta Jones's "Don't Go to Strangers," and Richard "Groove" Holmes's "Misty," all of them contained in this essential retrospective.
Compilation producers: Ralph Kaffel, Bob Porter, Bob Weinstock.
Includes liner notes by Scott Yanow, Bob Porter and interviews of Bob Weinstock, Ira Gitler, Esmond Edwards, Don Schlitten, Ozzie Cadena, Bob Porter, Ron Eyre, Jack Maher, Joe Goldberg, Joe Fields and Ralph Kaffel conducted by Lee Hildebrand.
Digitally remastered by Kirk Felton (1999, Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, California).
Personnel: Mose Allison (vocals, piano); Eddie Jefferson, Etta Jones, Annie Ross (vocals); George Freeman, Jimmy Raney, Melvin Sparks, Pat Martino, Bill Jennings, Billy Bauer , Skeeter Best, Gene Edwards (guitar); Bucky Pizzarelli (Spanish guitar); Frank Wess, Jerome Richardson (flute); Dave Kurtzer (bassoon); Steve Lacy (soprano saxophone); Rahsaan Roland Kirk (manzello, tenor saxophone, siren); James Moody (alto saxophone, tenor saxophone); Eric Dolphy, Lem Davis, Jackie McLean, Sonny Criss, Buddy Tate (alto saxophone); Coleman Hawkins, Dexter Gordon, Al Chon, Gene Ammons, Grover Washington, Jr., Houston Person, Illinois Jacquet, Jimmy Forrest, John Coltrane, King Curtis, Allen Eager, Red Holloway, Rusty Bryant, Sonny Rollins, Stanley Turrentine, Wardell Gray, Willis "Gator" Jackson, Ray Abrams, Brew Moore, Charlie Parker (tenor saxophone); Cecil Payne (baritone saxophone); Clifford Brown , Louis Mucci, Dave Burns, Frank Robinson, Merrill Stepter, Freddie Hubbard, Leppe Sundevall, Joe Newman , Miles Davis, Virgil Jones (trumpet); Willie Ruff (French horn); William Shepherd , Jimmy Cleveland (trombone); Bart Varsalona (bass trombone); Jimmy Boyd , Gil Evans, Hall Overton, Hank Jones , Horace Silver, Thore Swanerud, Jaki Byard, Walter Bishop, Sr., Gene Casey, Al Haig, Lennie Tristano, Milt Buckner, Red Garland, Richard Wyands, Richie Powell, Thelonious Monk, Tommy Flanagan, Bud Powell (piano); Jack McDuff, Leon Spencer, Shirley Scott, Sonny Phillips, Charles Earland (organ); Milt Jackson (vibraphone); Teddy Lee, Frank Isola, Clarence Johnston, Charles Perry , Yusef Ali, Frankie Jones, Anders Burman, Idris Muhammad, Alvin Johnson, Jimmie Smith , Joe Dukes, Kenny Clarke, Alan Dawson , Max Roach, Oliver Jackson, Osie Johnson, Roy Haynes, Art Blakey, Arthur Edgehill, Shelly Manne, Bernard "Pretty" Purdie, Nick Stabulas, Ronnie Free (drums); Buck Clarke, Montego Joe, Ray Barretto, Buddy Caldwell (congas); Al Hayes (bongos).
Recording information: Apex Recordings Studios, New York, NY (1949-1971); Stockholm, Sweden (1949-1971); WOR STudios, New York, NY (1949-1971).
Arranger: Gerry Mulligan.
Like most of the now-prized jazz labels, Prestige Records sprang from the vision of one man -- a 20-year-old kid, actually -- named Bob Weinstock, who guided the label from its infancy in 1949 until 1971 when he sold out to Fantasy. Although Prestige continued to record for awhile after 1971, Fantasy chose to survey only the Weinstock years in this beautifully put-together four-CD boxed set. Though the tracks are arranged in chronological order, the box neatly divides itself into two stylistic halves. The first two discs contain mostly bebop and hard bop sides from Prestige's first ten years, and you can't help but be dazzled by the number of strong records that this label put out -- with six from Miles Davis alone and plenty of playing time for Sonny Rollins, James Moody, Milt Jackson, and early John Coltrane. Here, some clever sequencing illuminates the period, where Moody's "Moody's Mood for Love" is followed by King Pleasure's vocalese version, and further down the line, we hear Wardell Gray's original "Twisted" and Annie Ross' self-psychoanalysis on the same tune. The last two discs mostly explore an area that at last is starting to receive respect -- Prestige's imposing soul-jazz legacy, where organists like Richard "Groove" Holmes, Brother Jack McDuff, and Charles Earland laid down the groove, and His Majesty Gene Ammons was the reigning soul tenor sax king when he wasn't serving time for drug busts. These sides really cook, and they make you feel good and jiggly all over, evoking their place and time as completely as Johann Strauss' waltzes do for 19th century Vienna. The booklet is an especially refreshing departure from the usual critical routine because it offers a round-robin assortment of voices (including the long-retired Weinstock himself) who offer rarely explored insight into the commercial aspects of the jazz record business -- anecdotes about how records get hot, and how they get airplay and distribution. While there is nothing particularly rare on this set -- only three tracks are new to CD and no outtakes crop up (which figured since many Prestige records were one-take blowing sessions) -- even veteran collectors will appreciate such a concentration of classic stuff in one box. ~ Richard S. Ginell