Collectible vinyl jazz records run the gamut from some of the earliest blues, ragtime, and Dixieland 78 RPM recordings to bebop, hard bop, and free jazz LPs. Along the way, the genre includes big band swing, West Coast cool, and international flavors.
For collectors of jazz on vinyl, several names are legendary, but not the ones you might first expect. Sure jazz fans want their Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Cab Calloway, and Dave Brubeck, but the names they tend to gravitate to are those of the record labels that recorded the work of these and other geniuses of the art form.
One of the first labels was Brunswick, which in the 1920s was one of the biggest record manufacturers in the U.S. Back then the discs were made out of shellac and ran at 78 RPM. Brunswick artists (along with those of subsidiary label Vocalion) included the likes of Duke Ellington and Fletcher Henderson—in the 1930s, the company pressed Artie Shaw and Gene Krupa 78s.
Brunswick did such a good job that when England’s Decca records decided to start a U.S. subsidiary, it hired Jack Kapp of Brunswick to run the new company. One of Kapp’s lasting achievements was an 11-year relationship with Louis Armstrong, who recorded 166 tunes for the label. By the 1950s, Brunswick would rerelease many of its recordings from the 1930s and 1940s on LP, bringing Jelly Roll Morton, Art Tatum, Cab Calloway, Count Basie, and Dixieland jazz by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings to new audiences.
Another early jazz label whose 78 records are considered rare and collectible is Bluebird. It began as a budget label for RCA Victor but quickly evolved into a home for the blues, particularly the work of Chicago artists Big Bill Broonzy, Leadbelly, and Sonny Boy Williamson. Blues aside, one of the label’s best-known artists was Glenn Miller, who cut "In the Mood" and many other classics for Bluebird.
Continuing in this colorful vein is Blue Note records, which was founded in 1939 as a home for jazz exclusively. Saxophonist Sydney Bechet was one of the label’s first finds, but Blue Note really hit its stride after the war with recordings by Anita O’Day, Lester Young, Thelonius Monk, Art Blakely, and Max Roach. In the 1950s, Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan, Charlie Parker, Lionel Hampton, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, and Kenny Burrell (and that’s just the tip of the iceberg) had all recorded for Blue Note.
For Blue Note collectors, one of the main differentiators in the value of a vinyl LP is the pressing location. The key is the address on the labels on both sides of a record. Pre...
This pressing differentiation is also true for Prestige Records, home to Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli in the 1930s, Duke Ellington and his Orchestra in the 1940s, and Sonny Stitt, Zoot Sims, and the Modern Jazz Quartet in the 1950s. For Prestige, catalog numbers from 7001 to 7141 with a New York City address on the label are generally the most sought after.
Meanwhile, in California, Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan, Bud Shank, and Laurindo Almeida were recording 10- and 12-inch discs for Pacific Jazz Records, which was founded in 1952 before being gobbled up in 1957 by Liberty Records. These days, Blue Note distributes Pacific’s short-lived, but highly regarded, catalog.
One of the unexpected outlets in the 1950s for some of the original jazz pioneers was Hollywood. For example, Louis Armstrong’s trumpet work and vocals on the soundtrack for the 1956 film High Society contributed to its brisk sales (Bing Crosby’s duet with Grace Kelly, plus other tracks by Frank Sinatra, probably didn’t hurt the disc, either). And Armstrong had another movie-related hit in 1963, when an LP version of Hello Dolly! was released to capitalize on his best-selling single from the film of the same name.
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Party pieceNew Zealand Listener, December 21st
On the heels of two very straightforward jazz records, 5 A Day has markedly different influences and a small army of local and UK-based talent joining the prolific horn blower. The album was recorded in a house in Buckinghamshire belonging to two long...Read more
'Tis the season to be grouchy, if you're GayboIrish Independent, December 20th
That gently subversive attitude extends to the music choices too. Seeing Joni Mitchell's Clouds on this week's track listing, for example, a casual listener might've been puzzled what the song was doing on a programme devoted to old jazz records; but...Read more
From the archive, 19 December 1924: Waxed fruit and side whiskers for an old ...The Guardian, December 18th
We had grown so weary of the usual 1924 party, of playing auction and fox-trotting to jazz records on the gramophone, of talking of Paul Morand and Buster Keaton, of discussing the future of the Liberal party and the latest thing in night clubs, that...Read more
Auras: There's an App for ThatMIT Technology Review (blog), December 17th
And I listen regularly to a digital playlist I've downloaded of obscure jazz records from the 1930s and '40s, ripped by some devotee from 78s without much subsequent cleaning up. Part of the ambience, and the sensory pleasure, comes from those...Read more
More best-jazz-of-2014 lists, and some grains of salt to take with themOttawa Citizen (blog), December 17th
When I think of the good to excellent jazz records that made fewer lists, they might arguably be the ones by artists who critics feel are over-exposed. Here's a short list of some notable records that weren't noted on that many of the best-of lists...Read more
British and German youth orchestras celebrate 100 years of jazzWorld Socialist Web Site, December 10th
Jamil described the problems he had as a young musician, when it was difficult to get hold of jazz records. He used to wear out a single groove of a particular disc when he was struggling to internalise the jazz language. He laughed as he explained...Read more
Jazz Hamilton Releases New LP 'Within Jazz And Romance'Music Indistry News Network, December 10th
The saxophonist and music arranger known as Jazz Hamilton has released his latest LP record, “Within Jazz and Romance.” The LP is composed of 11 original arrangements by Hamilton for an approximate total listening time of 45 minutes. It has been ...Read more
S. Victor Aaron's Best of 2014 (Part 2 of 4, Modern + Mainstream Jazz)Something Else! Reviews, December 9th
The easiest thing about putting together a listing of the best modern and mainstream jazz records for the year is finding enough albums worth shouting out about. The most difficult thing is deciding which of these are the very best and which are...Read more