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Prestige Records was founded in 1949 by Bob Weinstock. The label's name was initially New Jazz, but changed to Prestige Records the next year. Its catalog contains a significant number of jazz classics, including renowned works by Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk and many other giants of the idiom. Weinstock was known for encouraging the performances to be unrehearsed for a more authentic, exciting sound. To this effect, Prestige Records, unlike Blue Note Records, would not pay musicians for rehearsals. Another Weinstock practice, of rewinding the tapes after "bad" takes, has resulted in very few alternate takes from the classic Prestige years surfacing.

For most of the 1950s and 1960s, the recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder was responsible for recording the company's releases and Ira Gitler occasionally fulfilled the role of producer in the early 1950s. Around 1958, Prestige began to diversify, reviving the "New Jazz" name, usually for recordings by emerging musicians, and introduced the Swingsville and Moodsville lines, though these were relatively shortlived, many albums being re-released later in the 1960s on Prestige itself. Bluesville Records was also a subsidiary label of Prestige.

During this period, Weinstock ceased supervising recording sessions directly, employing Chris Albertson, Ozzie Cadena, Esmond Edwards, Don Schlitten, and producer/music supervisor Bob Porter, among others, to fulfil this function. Musicians recording for the label at this time included Jaki Byard and Booker Ervin, while Prestige remained commercially viable by recording a number of soul jazz artists like Charles Earland.

Bob Weinstock has been criticized over the years for allegedly sharp business practices. Jackie McLean in A.B. Spellman's Four Lives in the Bebop Business (1966) is particularly outspoken, but others, including Albertson and Miles Davis in his autobiography, have defended him. The "junkies label" tag has also been applied to Prestige, although the problem of drug addiction was widespread in the jazz world.

The company was purchased in 1971 by Fantasy Records, and original releases on the label have formed a significant proportion of their Original Jazz Classics line.

Trademarks

Prestige Records was founded by Bob Weinstock, who opened a record store for collectors in 1948 while still a teenager. The store was next door to the famous Metropole Jazz Club in New York City. Jazz musicians would hang out and rehearse at the Club, and then migrate upstairs next door to Weinstock's store. Weinstock got the idea to record these jazz stars by offering them cash payments to ride over to Rudy Van Gelder's Fort Lee, NJ home. Van Gelder had an uncanny knack for recording live albums, and the combination of great musicians, great sound, and Weinstock's vision ultimately produced more than 1100 albums -- one of the seminal archives in the history of jazz.

  • Prestige albums often had five tracks (three on side A, two on side B) and were almost always under forty minutes.
  • They tended to consist mostly of Great American Songbook jazz standards and very little original material (because there wouldn't have been any time to rehearse or arrange new tunes - and also, because Prestige did its own publishing, so performers wouldn't keep the rights to material performed on Prestige LPs).
  • They often contained a ten-to-fifteen minute basic blues on the second side (e.g., Saxophone Colossus; Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane). Less often this long blues appeared on the first side (e.g., Oliver Nelson's Screamin' the Blues, a rare Prestige album consisting mostly of original material). Sometimes an equally long version of a standard was used instead (e.g., Coltrane's Lush Life). On an early Modern Jazz Quartet 10" album, the same song ("Two Bass Hit"), originally intended as a drum feature, was performed four times in a row, each time centred on a different instrument. The result was given a new title: "La Ronde Suite". Weinstock admitted that strategies such as these were means of filling out records that might have otherwise not had enough material to go to print.

The untold story of Prestige Records includes Bob Weinstock's extraordinary influence on the life of Miles Davis. In the 1950's, Miles dropped out the New York jazz scene under mysterious circumstances. Many believed he was heavily involved with heroin at the time. Weinstock tracked him down to his native St. Louis, where Miles was living at the home of his father, who was a dentist. Weinstock would not fly, so he took a train from New York to St. Louis He basically camped out in St. Louis until Miles would agree to see him. In a series of awkward meetings (Weinstock said a meeting with Miles consisted of long periods of silence), he convinced Miles to return to New York and resume his career. Later, when Miles ended up jailed for not paying alimony, it was Weinstock who bailed him out. In many respects, then, Weinstock may have been responsible for the most productive years of arguably the greatest jazz musician in history.

Weinstock also was the first to assemble and record the group that became known as the Modern Jazz Quartet. He also put together the jazz vocal trio of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. Miles Davis' "Oleo" is one of the best albums from the great trumpeter's early career.

In summary, both the jazz idiom and many of its giants owe a debt of gratitude to Bob Weinstock for capturing thier genius on vinyl.

See also

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