Saturday, February 21, 2009

Miles Ahead: Prestige Records Goes Viral... 1951 - 1958

Imagine a 22 year old New Yorker in a suburban Illinois town for the first time, thumbing intently through a phone book looking for 23 year old Miles Davis, and you've got a good idea of how it was for Bob Weinstock in the fall of 1950, barely a year after he started the legendary Prestige Records. As he clearly recalled in an interview 45 years later; "Miles had vanished after he did those Capitol sides with the nonet [Birth of the Cool - 1949]; nobody knew where he was. Somebody had said that he may be at home in East St. Louis, so while I was in Chicago on business, I tracked him down. His father was a dentist, so I knew that his number would be in the phone book. I called information, got the number, called, and Miles answered ... I said that I was interested in doing a series of recordings, and that I wanted to sign him to a contract. He said alright, just get him to New York and we'd talk about it then."

By January 1951, Weinstock managed to get Davis to New York and his fledgling jazz record label into the history books. Sure, Weinstock had already recorded a breathtaking litany of artists who helped to spread the word, but more than anything it was securing Miles that sounded the clarion call of Prestige's importance within NYC's jazz community and beyond.

Davis' first Prestige sessions took place on an unseasonably warm January 17th 1951; with him were trombonist Bennie Green, Sonny Rollins, Roy Haynes, Percy Heath and John Lewis. Click here to check out Whispering, one of the 4 tunes they recorded.

Miles would record another hundred, including the groundbreaking "Walkin" sessions of 1954 and a torrential string of 28 "sides" ( as they were called back in the day) in the spring and fall of 1956, his last year with the label. Click here to check out Davis' final Prestige record date, October 26th 1956, joined by John Coltrane on If I Were A Bell.
Another incomparable performance and a fitting farewell to Prestige and Weinstock, the 20-something kid who built Davis' launch pad to superstardom.

The same could
be said for Coltrane, who met Weinstock when he joined Miles Davis' band in 1955. 'Trane became a bandleader for the first time while at Prestige; among his sessions was (with stablemate Sonny Rollins) Tenor Madness , now considered one of the most important jazz records of all time. Click here to listen to their 1956 masterwork; of special note is the compelling way the tenor giants compliment each other.

Prestige celebrates it's 10th anniversary and charts the course of jazz for the next decade in our next post...

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