Like fine wine, much can be deduced about jazz from the label.
And the label is the clue to the kind of jazz you’re likely to find.
My own favourite, Columbia, is a case in point. It came to prominence – along with the other two of the ‘big three’ record companies, RCA and Decca – during the period when jazz and popular music meant pretty much the same thing. And despite the signs after the war, that jazz was beginning to grow up and take itself a little more seriously – when smaller independent labels sprang up which existed for jazz and jazz alone, such as HRS, Commodore, Blue Note, later Prestige and Fantasy – the big three labels continued to promote jazz in the mix – along with classical, light music, ‘pop’ and folk – as part of the mainstream.
Uniquely, though, there were artists recording for Columbia in the fifties and sixties who had been there in the thirties – Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington. These artists were no longer at the cutting edge of modern jazz, perhaps – newer members of the stable such as Dave Brubeck or Miles Davis took up the vanguard, there. But during the fifties, Columbia was able to issue both the latest recordings of these great, mainstream artists and, thanks to far-sighted producers such as George Avakian who understood the importance of cherishing – and re-issuing- the music’s heritage - their earlier pioneering work from the swing era.
On one occasion, whilst Ellington was in the studios recording music for his latest album, the Columbia engineers were re-mastering a side his band had cut twenty years before. And this re-mastering effort actually appeared on the same charge sheet as the newly recorded work!
In 1957, Columbia issued an album entitled The Jazz Makers which was a compilation of sides recorded, largely, in the thirties. The album contained the following numbers:
Savoy Blues by Louis Armstrong
Lonesome Miss Pretty by Count Basie
Christopher Columbus by Fletcher Henderson
Soft Winds by Benny Goodman and Charlie Christian
The Sergeant Was Shy by Duke Ellington
Foolish Man Blues by Bessie Smith
Shoe Shine Boy by Jones - Smith Inc.
57 Varieties by Earl Hines
Back in Your Own Back Yard by Bille Holiday
Blues in C-Sharp Minor by Teddy Wilson and Roy Eldridge
Basin Street Blues by Louis Prima and Pee Wee Russell
I Can't Get Started by Dizzy Gillespie
Columbia, however, could not at that time trace the original metal part for Ellington's The Sergeant Was Shy.Writing in the bulletin of the Duke Ellington Music Society in 1983, Ellington authority Jerry Valburn explained:
“At the time this record was being produced, Columbia could not find metal parts for this item. The record was borrowed (78 copy) from none other than Boris Rose and it was transferred during an actual Ellington recording session at the Columbia Studios. It is from the New York session of 9September 1957 and this is exactly how the recording ledger reads:
Job # 34715 - 9 September, 1957
CO59716 COMMERCIAL TIME (B. Rose, use of recordings, $60.00
CO59717 (SM41526) TENDERLY (Jimmy Grissom)
The entire contents of this particular bulletin from the estimable DEMS is available as adownloadable PDF here and you can access the whole archive of this amazing Society here.
Boris Rose was legendary - an omnivorous collector of jazz recordings which he cut to disc himself from radio remote broadcasts and live performances, some of which he bootlegged on vinyl issues in the sixties and seventies. He died in 1999 and his vast collection was bequeathed to his daughter. You can read more about his collection and its fate here.
And here is an excerpt of film showing writer and historian Will Friedwald visiting the archive: