Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Weinstock's gamble leads to gems: Celebrating Prestige Records "Diamond" Anniversary - Pt 2

It's January 11th, 1949 and the sound of music has worked it's magic on a young New Yorker named Bob Weinstock, who has been collecting jazz records with his father since the age of eight. "We carried home armfuls of records, and a new world of music opened for me." Now he's 21, in a New York City recording studio looking at his watch and waiting for the arrival of pianist Lennie Tristano and saxophonist Lee Konitz - Weinstock's first day on the job after elevating his ambitions from a relatively secure station - international music distributor - to the owner of a jazz record label aptly called New Jazz. The fact that there was really only one other successful jazz label at the time made Weinstock's gamble a risky move...or a sure bet.

Weinstock had bet on his passion for jazz before; as a teenager he opened "The Jazz Record Corner" in Manhattan - and spent much of the money he made stalking New York's jazz clubs night after night, absorbing the scene and it's inhabitants. Some of the musicians he meets eventually become customers. One of them, the seminal drummer Kenny Clarke, urged Weinstock to start his own record label; "He introduced me to musicians like Thelonious Monk," Weinstock said, "and told me that if I started a record company he would get all the jazz greats to record for me." Soon after, Weinstock's family bet on his future and loaned him the money to start New Jazz Records.

The sessions with Tristano and Konitz went well and one of the four songs recorded that day, "Subconcious Lee" (click title to hear music) , is now is a defining moment in modern jazz history. It also inspired Weinstock to no end. He changed the name of the label to Prestige (a ballsy mission statement for anything other than classical music in the late 40's especially when you consider the most successful jazz label of the day was called Blue Note) and over the course of the next 11 months, Weinstock recorded a hall of fame collection of young lions and veterans; Stan Getz in April. Sonny Rollins, Max Roach, John Lewis in May. Gerry Mulligan in August. Sonny Stitt, Bud Powell,Wardell Gray, Roy Haynes & Coleman Hawkins in October November & December.
The following year it was Dizzy Gillespie, Jimmy Heath, Milt Jackson , Percy Heath, Dexter Gordon, Clark Terry, Gene Ammons & Zoot Sims. Listen to Sims' 1950 recording of "Dancing in the Dark" here .

By the time Prestige prepared for it's second anniversary, jazz royalty populated the label's archives but there was still one name missing from the list; the name that would deliver Prestige Records' destiny.

The story continues in our next post.

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