Bebop 1945-1950: New Jazz and the Prestige Label

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Bebop 1945-1950: New Jazz and the Prestige Label

February 25, 2021- Today's Bebop Era Topic: New Jazz and the Prestige Label

Prestige Records came along at the tail end of the bebop era recording their first session in January of 1949. It wasn’t known as Prestige though, the original name was "New Jazz."

The label was formed by Bob Weinstock a jazz fan and record dealer that rented space in the Jazz Record Center in 1947. The Jazz Record Center was located on 47th Street in New York right around the corner from the location of the Royal Roost.

When the first Thelonious Monk records came out on Blue Note, Alfred Lion stopped by Weinstock’s shop and dropped some off. Weinstock was hooked and became a fan of the new music.  Drummer Kenny Clarke was a regular at the shop as well and encouraged Weinstock to start his own record label.  

Several record shops had successfully started their own label most notably Commodore and Apollo in New York and Dial on the West coast.

The first New Jazz session took place on January 11, 1949 and featured Lennie Tristano’s Quintet.  

New Jazz made a number of sessions during that first year including dates by Stan Getz, Terry Gibbs and Kai Winding.

In May, they recorded a series of classic bebop dates with J.J. Johnson, Fats Navarro, Sonny Stitt, Bud Powell and Wardell Gray.

Weinstock also started leasing recordings from European labels which included several outstanding sides by James Moody who was living in Europe at the time.

In 1950 New Jazz recorded important dates with Dizzy Gillespie and the first of many two-tenor battles with Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt.

The Prestige name began being used by the middle of 1950 and, along with Blue Note, become one of the most celebrated independent jazz labels of all time. Weinstock had a different approach than Alfred Lion at Blue Note.  He liked to bring musicians together, unrehearsed and capture everything in one take.  In a 1990 interview he explained- “I found charts and rehearsals were the kiss of death. I believe jazz should be free and loose, and should swing. That’s the atmosphere I wanted to create, not the stress and strain of trying to work out some chart.  For a certain period of time while I was supervising sessions, I had every Friday booked at Van Gelder’s studio, often without anything in particular in mind.”

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