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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Record Bin: How John Coltrane explored the heart of jazz on "A Love Supreme"Nooga.com, January 31st
"A Love Supreme" was one of the first jazz records I ever heard to evoke a sustained sense of emotional connection. Other records had me appreciating the technicality of what I was hearing, but this album is nothing but a barrage of honest and...Read more
Willamette Weekend: 21 Things to Do and See in Portland, Jan. 30-Feb. 1Willamette Week, January 30th
Jazz records with covers of songs like the Byrds' “Turn! Turn! Turn!” can sometimes spin their way into the elevator, but this is not the case with Frisell, who morphs well-known classics into nostalgic musical mist, scented with the sort of stirring...Read more
Clerks and CriticsWall Street Journal, January 30th
He cites some astounding statistics, for instance that “a single Adele record sold more than 70 percent of all the classical albums sold in 2011, and more than 60 percent of all the jazz records.” But he doesn't settle for easy denunciations of...Read more
Branford Marsalis, taking the long viewBoston Globe, January 24th
A. Have you heard any jazz records? Then you know the answer. Everybody wants to play fast. Then you're in a situation where you're playing a gig and you're playing for your colleagues. . . . You play really fast and two guys in the back go: “Woo!” For...Read more
Top SD Jazz Records of 2014NBC 7 San Diego (blog), January 14th
SoundDiego jazz blogger Robert Bush picked this as the top SD jazz album of the year. Updated at 9:37 AM PST on Wednesday, Jan 14, 2015. San Diego jazz musicians made some excellent recordings in 2014, several of which could easily make an ...Read more
Best jazz albums of 2015Telegraph.co.uk, January 14th
TROYKA: ORNITHOPHOBIA (NAIM JAZZ RECORDS). Ornithophobia is full of many-layered soundscapes which are often suggestive and aurally seductive, if somewhat chilly in emotional tone. Pianist Kit Downes, guitarist Chris Montague and drummer Josh ...Read more
'The Holler Sessions': Portrait of a radio jazz evangelistThe Seattle Times, January 11th
Holed up in a cramped broadcast studio, this Kansas City radio jock plays vintage jazz records and waxes poetic and pissed-off between tunes for, one guesses, a very small late-night audience. Ray, the sole character in Frank Boyd's humorous...Read more
Your favorite metal album covers reimagined as classic jazz recordsThe Verge, January 8th
Metal album covers, like the music itself, can be harsh. But what if they mellowed out a bit, say with some jazz? That's the idea Brazilian designer Rafael Melandi had when he decided to reimagine his favorite 1980s metal album covers with the style of...Read more