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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Never Say Die: Bill Ward InterviewedThe Quietus, July 7th
My mother and father, during World War II, had a lot of American jazz records; the ones that the G.I.s had brought over. So as a child in 1952 – I was born in 1948 – I was listening to a lot of these jazz records. Every day I'd put them on the...Read more
Paley-ontologyWinnipeg Free Press, July 7th
"I grew up listening to Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey and when I took up the clarinet in high school, I used to play along to my dad's old jazz records." (By then, Paley was also an accomplished bass guitar player and frontman of Ron Paley and the...Read more
Kenny Carr – Idle Talk [TrackList follows] – ZoozazzAudiophile Audition, July 6th
Since that time, Carr has continued to hone his craft and create down-to-earth jazz records. Idle Talk is a quartet excursion which showcases Carr's nine original compositions. The rhythm section consists of childhood friend/drummer Kenny Wollesen (see...Read more
What We're Listening To: Currently Spinning on the Cream's Turntables and ...Nashville Scene, July 2nd
With the great pianist adding his immaculate touch to Russell's post-blues harmonic schemes, Living Time is one of the best jazz records I know, and one of the most accessible examples of ballsy polyphonic avant-gardism I've ever heard. The lineup...Read more
'Orange Is the New Black' Star Lea DeLaria on David Bowie, Jazz and Love ...Wall Street Journal (blog), June 23rd
Janis and I duet on the record [on “Suffragette City]. She's amazing. We're blowing for our lives on that, aren't we? You are. The both of you are just really belting. I'm not used to hearing such strong belters on jazz records. I usually hear more...Read more
Soul Jazz Records Presents: Sounds Of The Universe: Art + Sound 2012-15 Vol ...The Quietus, June 16th
Soul Jazz Records' offshoot label Sounds Of The Universe has spent the past three years releasing a series of 12" singles under the Art + Sound moniker, complete with hand-etched art pieces incorporated into the very grooves containing the sounds...Read more
Cerys Matthews: getting into jazzThe Guardian, June 12th
Dear Dr Crotchety, I heard Miles Davis's Kind Of Blue at a friend's house and loved it. What jazz records should I look for next? It is funny how there is a particular moment in your life when out of the blue, a trumpet or saxophone motif suddenly...Read more
Ornette Coleman, influential jazz musician, dies at 85BBC News, June 11th
His 1959 album The Shape of Jazz to Come is regarded by many as one of the most influential jazz records. His publicist, Ken Weinstein, said the musician died on Thursday morning after suffering a cardiac arrest. Coleman, along with fellow saxophonist ...Read more