Digging the Archives: Previously Unissued Jazz Recordings

There are various reasons for record companies to decide not to release an album. Labels such as Blue Note recorded more than they could release and had to prioritize. Sometimes recordings remained unfinished and would be completed when the time is right. Live recordings nobody knew existed surfaced decades later and were released to continue the musician’s legacy.

Here are five unissued jazz recordings that were released recently.

Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – Just Coolin’

Recorded in 1959 – Released 2020 / Blue Note Records

Just Coolin’ is the result of a unique but short-lived ensemble of The Jazz Messengers collective.

The studio album was recorded on a single day in March 1959 at the famous Rudy Van Gelder studio in New Jersey. However, Blue Note Records co-founder Alfred Lion decided not to release the album and instead record a live performance at the famous Birdland club in New York. The live album titled At the Jazz Corner of the World was released in 1959 and remained the only issued recording of this jazz ensemble until Just Coolin’ was released in 2020.

Thelonious Monk – Palo Alto

Recorded in 1964 – Released 2020 / Impulse Records

When jazz drummer T.S. Monk was contacted regarding an old concert recording, he was amazed by his father’s performance and the background story behind the session. Danny Scher, sixteen at the time, organized benefit concerts to raise money for the Peace Corps and construction projects in Kenya and Peru. Although many people did not believe it would actually happen, he successfully hosted a concert with the jazz titan, Thelonious Monk.

T.S. Monk, knowing most of his father’s live recordings, understood how unique this recording was and how it contributes to the legacy of Thelonious Monk. In cooperation with the label Impulse Records, he released the album in September 2020.

Tony Allen And Hugh Masekela – Rejoice

Recorded 2010 – Released 2020 / World Circuit Records

Trumpeter Hugh Masekela and drummer Tony Allen met in the seventies thanks to their associations with Fela Kuti (Africa ’70). In the decades to come, they talked about making an album together. In 2010, producer Nick Gold took the opportunity and recorded the encounter.

The recording remained unfinished and got stored in the archives. With Hugh Masekela’s passing in 2018, Tony Allen and Nick Gold continued working on the original tapes during the summer of 2019. They finished the recording at the same studio where the original sessions took place, the Livingston Recording Studios in London. The album got released in 2020.

John Coltrane ‎– Blue World

Recorded 1964 – Released 2019 / Impulse Records

For every admirer of the saxophonist, composer, and bandleader, this release is very welcomed. It gives another insight into the confidence Coltrane and his band had that year. 

The recording was commissioned for the film Le Chat Dans Le Sac and after the movie was put online for streaming, the search for the original recording tapes began. They were stored in the archives of the National Film Board of Canada. After discovering and clearing out the legal constraints, the music was released to the public in 2019.

The album features two alternate takes on the song “Naima“, a ballad he composed for his wife Juanita Naima Grubbs (married 1955-66) in 1959 and which was originally released on the album Giant Steps. Also notable are the three takes on his composition “Village Blues“, a song that was originally released on the studio album Coltrane Jazz.

The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time OutTakes

Recorded in 1959 – Released 2020 / Brubeck Editions

When author Philip Clark was researching for his biography Dave Brubeck: A Life in Time, he discovered previously unissued tapes from the recording sessions of Time Out in 1959. Time Out, a studio album by The Dave Brubeck Quartet, was the first jazz record to sell over one million copies.

Apart from alternate takes on Take Five and Blue Rondo à la Turk on the A-side, we get some newly issued materials on the B-side.

The outtakes give us a look into the creation of this iconic album. You can ask yourself: “What if the record label decided to release a different version of the song?”. Song details that fans are so familiar with today could have looked different.

Please visit the following articles for more details about each album:

Jazz Album Cover Designs That Inspire – Part 2

My record collection is growing every day and what attracts me to purchasing an album apart from the music is the sleeve design.

For this post, I dove into my collection and hand-picked my favorite jazz covers.

Also have a look at Jazz Album Cover Designs That Inspire – Part 1.

Mulatu Of Ethiopia – Mulatu Astatke

1972 / Worthy Records 1020 / photo uncredited / Matt Thame (RE design)

The Father of Ethio-jazz, Mulatu Astatke, brings a fantastic arrangement of Ethiopian fine tone scale mixed with Afro-American soul and jazz. The album is called Mulatu Of Ethiopia.

The cover photo and design remain uncredited but it’s a true eye-catcher. It features the title, a photograph of Mulatu Astatke posing in front of his vibraphone, and in the bottom left corner the logo of his sponsor, Ethiopian Airlines.

The copy I own is a reissue that I purchased at a concert in Prague. The outside design is identical to the original but inside the album, we find additional photography including a picture of a much older Mulatu Astatke holding his original record from 1972.

Chris Dave And The Drumhedz

2018 / Blue Note B002705401 / c. BARR @n8tivalien (artwork)

Blue Note Records describes this album as a place without genre, where elements of funk, soul, gospel, hip-hop, and jazz mix until they’re an indistinguishable surging mass of solid groove.

The artwork was created by creative artist c. BARR.

People Of The Sun – Marcus Strickland Twi-Life

2018 / Blue Note B002898301 / Stan Squirewell (artwork) / Leon Williams (photo)

This is saxophonist Marcus Strickland’s second studio album for Blue Note Records but, this is the first time he released his work on vinyl. People Of The Sun is a contemporary jazz album influenced by hip-hop and modern r&b.

You can see that they wanted to do something special for his first vinyl release. For the artwork, they hired the painter Stan Squirewell. Squirewell’s work is described as multilayered and explores identity and heritage. The photo is from the Brooklyn based photographer Leon Williams.

Gling-GlóBjörk Guðmundsdóttir & tríó Guðmundar Ingólfssonar

1990 / Smekkleysa SM 27 / Óskar Jónasson (artwork)

I’m not sure if I can pronounce the name of this band correctly but, this is a jazz album with the 24 years old Björk on vocals. Several songs are covers of jazz standards but sung in Icelandic. The music is as charming as the left-field pop she would later record.

 The artwork is from the Icelandic film director and screenwriter Óskar Jónasson who was Björk’s boyfriend at the time.

The copy in my collection is a reissue on One Little Indian. The album was repressed on a 45 rpm double-12-inch vinyl to improve the sound quality and several songs were added. The sleeve design was kept the same and the tracklist was not revised. On the reissue sleeve you still see only 2 sides while in reality, we have 4. Be aware to play the reissue at 45rpm! There is no indication on the sleeve nor on the label about this.

A Love Supreme – John Coltrane

1965 / Impulse! A-77 / George Grey (design) / Bob Thiele (photo) / Victor Kalin (sketch)

An album that needs no introduction. Coltrane called this album his gift to God.

This gatefold sleeve features the same picture of Coltrane on the back as on the front. The picture was taken by record producer Bob Thiele who was at the time the head of the Impulse! record company. When folding open the record sleeve, a sketch of Trane playing the saxophone appears. The sketch was made by artist Victor Kalin who is best known for his illustrations for magazines, paperback books, and record albums. He, for example, also illustrated the albums: Rockin’ In Rhythm by Duke Ellington (DL 79247), Mingus Plays Piano by Charles Mingus (A-60), and again Coltrane for the album Expression (AS-9120).

How Pixar Portrays Jazz in Their New Movie ‘Soul’

Pixar’s new animated movie Soul, directed by Pete Docter (Up) and Kemp Powers (One Night in Miami), is a unique collaboration between filmmakers and musicians. Pixar Animation Studios has delivered a long list of outstanding movies. They stand out when it comes to building authentic characters, something they have been doing since the release of their first full-length movie, Toy Story, in 1995.

Twenty-five years later, they set the bar to a new standard of quality. For the first time, they will feature a protagonist with African American heritage. Jazz music is a central element in the plot and this creates additional expectations as many jazz musicians will surely examine the work.

In this article, I will explore how and why jazz music, or black improvisational music, was used in the plot as a metaphor for real life.

The Plot (Spoiler Alert)

The movie tells the story of Joe Gardner, a middle-aged music teacher whose life hasn’t quite gone the way he’d expected. Joe’s true passion is playing jazz music and he believes he is born to perform. When his time finally arrived, and he was offered to perform with the A-listed saxophonist Dorothea Williams, Joe has an accident and he ends up queueing the line into what is described as The Great Beyond. Joe panics as he feels to have unfinished business in his life (playing jazz) and manages to escape. Instead of going back to earth, he ends up in The Great Before, a place where souls are giving personalities before being born.

To avoid being sent back to the afterlife, he pretends to be a mentor and he is being assigned to a precocious soul, named 22 (Twenty-two). 22 has spent hundreds of years at The You Seminar, an institution where new souls must meet several requirements before going to earth. 22 refuses to be born as she (?) does not see the joy of life.

When 22 finds out that Joe is not a real mentor, they agree that if Joe manages to fulfill the requirements, he will be granted the earth-pass instead of 22 and so, he can fulfill his purpose in life. Joe fails but, he and 22 find an alternative. However, when on earth, 22 finds herself in the body of Joe, and Joe finds himself in the body of a cat.

While looking for a solution to their body-swop, 22 starts enjoying life, and she finds her will to be born. After a series of events, they find themselves back in The Great Before and 22 was granted her ticket to be born. As agreed with Joe, she offered the pass to him and so, Joe returned to earth while 22 stays behind.

Joe fulfilled his long-life dream by playing the concert with Dorothea Williams but soon realizes that his choices, his pursuit of one single goal, has cost him other great joys in life.

The Authenticity of the Characters

Pixar always exceeded in making their characters feel authentic. In animation, filmmakers often have to use caricatures to accomplish this. Think about the squared face and big glasses of Carl Fredricksen in the movie Up.

For the physical creation of African American characters in the movie Soul, Pixar was challenged to bring out the true African American heritage without using racist stereotypes from old cartoons. Joe Gardner, as a human, is an African-American. He has a black mustache, a hat, and big black glasses that remind us of other great jazz legends (Dave Brubeck & Toots Thielemans). The physical appearance of Joe was kept classic and avoids stereotypes. The biggest contribution to his character is, according to me, the way he relates to music.

Pixar consulted with many jazz musicians, including Herbie Hancock, during the process. They also did extensive research in jazz clubs where they interviewed musicians about their life. This research was used for Joe’s character. For the compositions and recordings, they worked with pianist and bandleader, Jon Batiste (The Late Show with Stephen Colbert).

Usually, Pixar would add music as one of the final steps in the creative process but for this movie, they followed another approach as they felt the music is a central and important piece. Joe’s authenticity was brought to life in two ways. The first one being the voicing by Jamie Foxx, who is a trained pianist himself. The second element is Jon Batiste’s compositions, recording, and physical movement. The recording was digitally filmed and reverse-programmed into animation. This means that when you see Joe play, you can see him play the notes that you are hearing. The way Jon Batiste sits behind the piano, and the way he moves his fingers across the keys, are adding to the genuineness of Joe.

“My hands are central to my life, I was in tears when I saw my essence come to life in Joe. To have this as a part of my creative legacy is an honor.”

Jon Batiste (interview with The New York Times)

Black improvisational Music as a Metaphor for Real Life

Journalist and music critic Giovanni Russonello wrote the following for The New York Times:

In the past few years, jazz has shown up onscreen most prominently in the work of Damien Chazelle. His “Whiplash” (2014) and “La La Land” (2016) tell the stories of young white men who are torturously committed to playing jazz and the feeling of excellence it gives them. In these movies, jazz is a challenge and an albatross. But in “Soul”, the music is more a salve: a river of possibility running through a hostile country, and — as Rainey says in Wilson’s script — simply the language of life.

Take for example Andrew in Whiplash (Miles Teller) whose purpose is to become a master drummer by studying at Juilliard and by practicing night and day but, he has little focus on the spirituality of jazz. Or take Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) in La La Land, who sees himself as the conservator of jazz and has the sole purpose to open a jazz club. They relate to jazz in a very different way compared to how Joe Gardner relates to the music. Jazz is part of African-American history and this is an important element in the movie.

Yes, Joe starts with a purpose as well. His life goal is to become a professional jazz musician. He is fixated on the idea that if he does not accomplish this, his life won’t have meaning. He says that he only exists to play and that nothing else matters. But the character is built around the idea that above purpose, there are more aspects in life. During the movie, Joe becomes aware of this when he sees the joys he missed after accomplishing his goal. Joe’s character is built around this epiphany and not around accomplishing one single goal. He understands that people, including himself, can become disconnected from life because they are fixating on one thing instead of all aspects of life.

In this movie, jazz music, or black improvisational music, is a metaphor for real life and its unexpected situations that force us to adapt. Director, Pete Docter, said in an interview that he was inspired by a story Herbie Hancock told. While touring Europe in the 1960s with Miles Davis there was one concert where Hancock played a piano chord so bad that he thought the whole concert was ruined. But, Miles Davis reacted to the chord by playing a series of improvised notes, and by doing this, he made Hancock’s chord look right. Miles Davis did this by not judging the mistake but by interpreting it as something new that happened. It was an unexpected situation where the musician was inspired to improvise. Miles turned something that others considered as bad, into something of value. Pete Docter said that this story contributed to the theme of the movie and that the idea of improvisation is a great metaphor for what we are doing in our daily life.

In the podcast Soul Stories the movie’s co-director, Kemp Powers, invites cast, creators, and consultants to share their experiences working on the project. Soul Stories exists out of six episodes and all of them are available on Spotify. Below you can find the episode featuring the composer, Jon Batiste.

Ⓒ images: Disney/Pixar

The Best Jazz Albums Released in 2020

2020 wasn’t a great year for culture. Luckily, we still had jazz music and its ability to adapt to any situation. A new generation of musicians emerged and they are blending jazz traditions with spoken word and contemporary sounds. It looks like jazz music has started to reinvent itself once again.

In this article, you can find my five favorite jazz albums that were released in 2020.

Rejoice – Hugh Masekela and Tony Allen

March 2020 / World Circuit ‎WCV094 / EU

Rejoice is the result of a collaboration between Nigerian drummer and co-founder of afrobeat Tony Allen, and South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela. The album is a unique fusion of afrobeat and jazz where drums and trumpet are the central elements.

The album was recorded in 2010 at the Livingston Recording Studios in London. The recordings of the unfinished sessions were archived and never released. When Hugh Masekela passed away in 2018, Tony Allen and producer Nick Allen decided to finish the album. Additional recordings took place in the summer of 2019. The album was released in March 2020. A month after the release, also Tony Allen passed away, he was 79 years old.

Tony Allen described the album as “a kind of South African-Nigerian swing-jazz stew”. The album was received very well by jazz critics worldwide.

We Are Sent Here by History – Shabaka And The Ancestors

March 2020 / Impulse! 00602508645631 / EU & US

Four years following the debut album ‘Wisdom Of Elders‘, British-Barbadian saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings recorded and released his second album with the band Shabaka And The Ancestors.

The ensemble, Shabaka And The Ancestors, is a partnership between Shabaka Hutchings (who plays in several other bands) and a group of talented South-African musicians. The result is a futuristic fusion of beats, Hutchings’ tenor sax, and South-African vocal harmonics.

New York Times wrote: “If jazz is looking to reinvent itself, the music of Shabaka And The Ancestors might be a good place to start. Shabaka And The Ancestors are making their own jazz history”.

SourceNubya Garcia

August 2020 / Concord Jazz 00888072175594 / EU

The British tenor saxophonist, Nubya Nyasha Garcia, released her debut studio album in August 2020. During the past few years, Garcia built her music career and public interest with EP releases and live concerts. This album, which is a reflection of her Afro-Caribbean heritage, was long overdue but has finally arrived.

Nubya Nyasha Garcia represents a part of a new generation of London-based jazz musicians that are making jazz history. She is reinventing the genre with a blend of modern jazz, neo-soul, afrobeat, and reggae.

On the Tender Spot of Every Calloused Moment – Ambrose Akinmusire

June 2020 / Blue Note 00602508926198 / EU & US

Music arranger and trumpet player, Ambrose Akinmusire, released his fifth studio album with Blue Note Records last June. This album isn’t as easy to listen to as the other albums from this list. On the Tender Spot of Every Calloused Moment is an abstract fusion of instruments and sounds that lean towards the blues. Yet every song of the album is a unique visionary manifesto of contemporary jazz.

Ambrose Akinmusire follows his acclaimed, genre-busting best-of-2018 manifesto “Origami Harvest” with another visionary statement on his new album “on the tender spot of every calloused moment,” which finds the trumpeter examining blackness on an uncompromising set of modern jazz laced with a heavy feeling of the blues. The album presents 11 new compositions by Akinmusire and features his quartet with pianist Sam Harris, bassist Harish Raghavan, and drummer Justin Brown with guest vocals from Genevieve Artadi and Jesus Diaz.” – Blue Note

Mama, You Can Bet – Jyoti

August 2020 / SomeOthaShip Connect / US & Canada

Jyoti, which means divine light in the Indian language, is the musical alias for the solo jazz project of singer and multi-instrumentalist Georgia Anne Muldrow. Muldrow previously released R&B/contemporary soul, such as the album Overload (2018), but her work under the name Jyoti takes her creativity to another level.

The music contains elements of jazz, funk, and soul. All blended in the abstract work called Mama, You Can Bet. The album is a compilation of ideas filled with unseen musical experimentation. Georgia Anne Muldrow plays, sings, records, and produces everything herself under her own label, SomeOthaShip Connect, and this is what gives her the creative freedom in music.

Jazz Album Cover Designs That Inspire – Part 1

My record collection is growing every day and what attracts me to purchasing an album apart from the music is the sleeve design.

For this post, I dove into my collection and hand-picked my favorite jazz covers.

Giant Steps – John Coltrane

1960 / Atlantic 1311 / Marvin Israel (design) / Lee Friedlander (photo)

What makes the design of this album sleeve so good is that you immediately recognize it. The red text and frame are unique for this album. The photo itself, taken by Lee Friedlander, is an upwards close-up of John Coltrane doing what he does best.

Marvin Israel, the artist behind it, knew how to frame it. These are the words of famous photographer Robert Frank in the documentary “Who is Marvin Israel” (Doon Arbus). The documentary brings to light the life and work of the artist. Marvin Israel worked as a freelance art director for Atlantic Records from 1957 to 1963 so, Giant Steps is far from the only sleeve design he did. He painted several abstracts of famous jazz musicians such as Charlie Mingus (Atlantic 1416) and Milt Jackson (Atlantic 1417), and he designed the cover for the albums: Joe Turner Sings Kansas City Jazz (Atlantic 1234), Charles Mingus’ The Clown (Atlantic 1260), and Ornette Coleman’ The Shape of Jazz To Come (Atlantic 1317).

Afro Blue – Dee Dee Bridgewater

1974 / Trio Records PA 7095 / Katsuji Abe (design & photo)

If you’re a fan of 70’s soul-jazz, there is a big chance you have this record sitting on your shelf at home. Afro Blue, the debut album from Dee Dee Bridgewater, is not only one of my favorite albums for listening to, but also the artwork inspires curiosity. This is how I got familiar with the album, I spotted the cover, got curious, and bought it.

The cover design and photography on the backside are credited to the Japanese photographer Katsuji Abe. Abe was a designer for Trio Records and Whynot Records during the 1970s. He also published several books including 50 Jazz Greats From Heaven (1995).

The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady – Charles Mingus

1963 / Impulse! AS-35 / Joe Lebow (design) / Bob Ghiraldini (photo)

This powerful release from Charles Mingus, where he takes on the role of composer and band-leader, consists of a single continuous composition that is written as a ballet. The record is among the most acclaimed jazz records of the 20th century thanks to Mingus’ perfectionism and ability to improvise.

The sleeve design is from the American designer Joe Lebow who worked for different record companies during his career. He used the photography of Bob Ghiraldini who was specialized in photographs of jazz stars. The cover features Charles Mingus in front of a white wall and above him, you read his name, the title, and the words: “From the poem: Touch my beloved’s thought while her world’s affluence crumbles at my feet

Love Matters! – Jowee Omicil

2018 / Jazz Village ‎33570118.19 / Yannick Le Vaillant (artwork) / Renaud Monfourny & Sylvain Cherkaoui

For this album, Haitian-Canadian Jazz musician, Jowee Omicil, impressed us with this gatefold cover design. It gives you a direct impression of the music you can expect. The photographs include a lot of light and color, what is in contrast with his previous album, Let’s Bash! (Jazz Village 33570120.21)

The artwork is by the graphic designer Yannick Le Vaillant, who is a true master when it comes to cover design. The photography used for the artwork is credited to 2 artists. The first is the French photographer Renaud Monfourny, who captures the cultural scene with his portraits of musicians, actors, and writers. The second is the French photojournalist Sylvain Cherkaoui.

*Renaud Monfourny is misspelled on the record sleeve

Miles Ahead – Miles Davis

1957 / Columbia 1041 / uncredited

Miles Davis released his second collaboration with Gil Evans in 1957. The original release of this record features a photograph of a white woman and child aboard a sailboat. Miles Davis was dissatisfied with this choice and complained to Columbia Records‘ executive producer George Avakian. No clear reasoning was given to him but in the early 1960s, a picture of Miles Davis was used on the cover (although reissues with the original cover are still being released).

Displaying a white woman on African American album covers was done quite frequently during the 1950s and 1960s. This was done with the sole purpose to easily reach and sell to the white audience as they thought it was a more attractive display. Other examples of this are the soul records Otis Blue from Otis Redding and Arthur Conley’s album Sweet Soul Music.

I prefer the cover featuring Miles Davis. It gives a stronger indication of what he does and who he is. The original cover is playing with the title, Miles Ahead, but does not reveal what to expect.

Introduction To 45 rpm Record Collecting

As a deejay and music collector, I purchase as many 45’s as I buy LP’s. Columbia Records copyrighted the term LP (Long Playing) so, let’s use the word ‘album’ going forward. You can say that there is more sense in buying albums instead of a 45 rpm (revolutions per minute). You receive the completed studio work in the order the artist intends you to listen, you have more tracks on the medium, and you don’t have to change or turn the record after one song. However, I do not always agree that an album is always the better choice. 45’s have many advantages compared to albums.

45 rpm record from my collection

The first advantage of a 45 is the higher sound quality. Of course, this is my point of view what is open for discussion. The sound quality of a 45 can be explained by looking into the record surface, playing speed, and track times. On an album, played at 33 1/3 rpm, and with a surface dimension of 12 inches, you will have about 30 minutes of music. A 45 (when talking about a 7-inch single) has a surface dimension of 7 inches, is being played at 45 rpm, and contains about 3 minutes of music. When manufacturing an album, the grooves are very narrow and tightly curved because there should be room for 30 minutes of great music. For a 45, where you only need 3 minutes of music on one side, the grooves are spread out more widely what allows them to be pressed deeper. Like this, more information can be stored. And with more information stored, the audio level of a 45 doesn’t need to be toned down (this is done with some albums to avoid audio cross-over) what makes the sounds quality of a 45 superior.

It’s no surprise that audiophile companies are reissuing classic Jazz records at 45 rpm. Because of the tiny curves on the album’s surface, it is hard for the cartridge to track everything. Fine details, which are so important in Jazz music, can get blur. You can lose the feeling of the bass player sitting next to you because you no longer can hear the fingers sliding over the strings.

A good example of this is the famous Jazz Record label Blue Note. By using the original master tapes, Blue Note records are, in cooperation with Music Matters Jazz and Analogue Productions, reissuing albums on a 45 rpm double-12-inch vinyl. The so-called ‘Blue Note Sound’ was the creation of Rudy Van Gelder, a sound engineer who started to record Jazz musicians in the early 1950s. Van Gelder’s goal was to recreate live Jazz into his recordings. It was much later, in 1994, when the idea came to reissue Blue Note albums at 45 rpm. Mike Hobson and Michael Cuscuna started cutting 45 rpm test pressings and as expected, they sounded much better.

Rudy Van Gelder in the control room of his studio

Playing at 45 rpm is faster than playing at 33 1/3 and therefore, one original album of one disc (33 1/3 rpm) needs to be converted into 2 discs at 45 rpm. It went even further, Blue Note never stopped innovating and improving the sound experience. In some tests, they had better sound quality on a single-sided record. Meaning that grooves were pressed on one side, and the other side stayed blank. The result of this is that 1 original double-sided album was repressed on 4 single-sided 45 rpm discs of 12 inches. Although audiophiles agree that the sound is better, these albums were expensive to buy and it is not so common to find them in your local record store.

Kenny Burrell – Midnight Blue ‎(2xLP, Album, Ltd, RE, 45 rpm) released on Blue Note and Analogue Productions

Another great advantage of 45’s is that there is much more great music available on 45 rpm. For the genres I play during sets, mainly soul and rhythm-and-blues from the 1950s through the 1960s, there is more music out there on 45 rpm. The main reason for this is that the smaller independent labels were contracting artists to record one track. A 45 was pressed and released and depending on the success, artists were offered a contract to record an album. For many of them, the success was too low to record and release on a full album (songs may have been released on later compilation albums). Just one example is the artist under the name Little Mummy. Little Mummy only recorded two tracks for Federal Records in New Orleans, Louisiana. The titles ‘Where You At Jack‘ and ‘Oh Baby Please’ were distributed in 1960 and repressed decades later because of the growing success. If his music would have been acknowledged during his life span, this artist may have recorded several albums that would find its place next to rhythm-and-blues greats such as The Drifters, The Coasters, and Jackie Wilson.

Little Mummy’s only release – white original label on the left, later repress on the right.

It is also more convenient for deejays to use 45 rpm singles during sets. You don’t have to carefully place the needle in between the grooves of an album as you only have one track on each side of a 45. The records are smaller in size what makes handling and transportation easier.

To conclude, as a deejay I prefer playing 45’s because of its superior quality, music assortment, and easy handling during sets. But don’t misunderstand me, I love albums equally! Full 12-inch albums offer better record sleeves with impressive cover art, you can listen from start to finish in the order the artists intends you to, and originals are often in better condition because they were handled with more care (45 were often used in radio stations and jukeboxes). For me, the choice of format is really subject to the purpose and music genre.

Some record collectors are more attracted to the original or first pressing of the 45. There is more to it than just the music it contains. A record can represent part of history. Owning part of this history can give more meaning to the music and its origin. As a listener it offers more value knowing its past. The reasons why we collect can be better explained in an anthropology study and I believe that each collector has its own motive. I collect vinyl records to better understand the music. By researching and educating myself, I came to understand its history, its development, its origin, and the influence it has on modern-day music. Listening to music became more valuable since the day I started to collect. Let’s say that, as an example, you watch the documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?, a portrait of the life of Nina Simone by Liz Garbus. After understanding the life of Nina Simone, I listen to her songs in a completely different way. I’m now able to understand her reasons for making music what adds its value.

In some situations, owning the original or first pressing is a must. This is the case for collectors of Northern Soul records. To better understand this, we need to have a deeper look at the history and meaning of Northern Soul.

Northern Soul is a subculture that originated in North England during the late 1960s and through the 1970s. It is powered by uptempo American soul music from the mid-1960s. Many young modernists were not convinced of the development of soul music into disco and funk. They kept a preference for the uptempo American soul music. Today it’s common to stream any song you’d like to hear, but back in the days, you had to go to your local club to listen to the songs played by deejays. The success of a deejay had a lot to do with their collection of 45’s and their ability to locate and find them. The scene was based on non-commercial lost and forgotten soul records. Many songs that were popular in the Northern Soul scene, were recorded by smaller independent labels and because of that, there are not too many in circulation. A deejay owning a song that was loved by the crowd would make him unique. Northern Soul fans, mainly the young working middle-class, would go to clubs to dance to these unique soul records. There was also a lot of competition between deejays and clubs. Deejays would often scratch off the label to keep the title secret. The Northern Soul scene is also characterized by its own unique dance. People would fill the room individually and perform light and smooth footwork with the occasional turn, drop, or karate-kick.

The Northern Soul scene still exists today and one would say it is even bigger than before. Around the world people are organizing All-Nighters where Northern Soul deejays and collectors can share their rare music collection. It was already unique to own certain 45’s back in the 1970s and this has not changed. These days, rare Northern Soul 45’s are worth a couple of hundred dollars and in some cases, a couple of thousand.

The rarest original Northern Soul 45 rpm record is ‘Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)’ by Frank Wilson (1965). It is said that only 6 copies of the record were printed and their purpose was to promote the song at radio stations. Out of those 6 copies, only 2 are still in existence and only 1, is in playable condition. this record was sold in auction for over $30,000.

The story behind this is not fully confirmed but many believe that it was Berry Gordy, the founder of the Motown records label, who ordered the copies to be destroyed and who blocked the official release of the song. Frank Wilson was hired as a producer by Motown but in return, he had to renounce his musical career. However, he moved forward with the pressing of his promo single for ‘Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)’. This was not appreciated by Berry Gordy and, he ordered the destruction of the pressed records. However, two records survived and in 1977 the song reappeared in the Northern Soul dance scene. The record’s rarity and its original soul sound is what made it one of the most popular songs in Northern Soul and in 1979, the record was officially released to the public by Tamla Motown.

On the left, you can see the promo records. It was signed by Frank Wilson himself with the words “to Kenny” referring to the previous owner. On the right, you can see the official release by Tamla Motown

‘Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)’ by Frank Wilson – promo on the left (1965), official release on the right (1979)

Comparing the Sound – Mono vs. Stereo

The mono (monaural) vs. stereo (stereophonic or binaural) sound is an important aspect to take into consideration when purchasing a record. But what does it mean and what influence will it have on the music experience?

Let’s start with an example. We’re looking at 2 album covers from the album ‘Help!’ by The Beatles. The one on the left has the indication ‘mono’ and the one on the right says ‘stereo’ (right top corners). You can say that apart from this, the albums are identical. They have a similar cover, and contain the same track-list. So what is the difference?

Help! by The Beatles – mono version on the left, stereo on the right

In short, as a listener, you will notice one main difference while playing both records. Imagine you have your turntable in front of you and you use two speakers for the output. The mono records will output the same audio signals from both speakers. You will not experience a difference in sound from the left or right speaker. Stereo records will split the sound and will output different audio signals from each speaker. For mono, we are using only one channel or signal while stereo, is using two channels. When playing stereo, you can control the balance of each channel and adjust the position of the sound.

Mono versus stereo channel outputs

Imagine a live concert where each band member is producing its own sound. We will receive the sound from many different angles. Stereo recordings are innovative because they create a similar effect. When playing a stereo recording, you can have a more clear idea of the position of the trumpet player and the sound will be more isolated from the other instruments. you can have, for example, the trumpet coming from the left channel while the drums are coming from the right channel.

Now let’s say you are listening to a live recording or bootleg in stereo. the recording microphones will be placed at different locations. One at the bell of the trumpet, one at the drums, one at the guitar, and one pointed to the audience. At the end of the song, you can clearly hear that the applause is different from the music. The audience will be more surrounding, distant, and blur.

Understanding the music history and the recording technology developments is important to analyse the differences between mono and stereo, it will also help you with your choice of purchase.

It was in the year 1948 when the first albums were up for sale. All these albums were mono and it took another decade before the world was introduced to the sound of stereo. Stereo records offered many new audio benefits but they would not yet exceed mono in terms of popularity and sale. One reason for this is that for playing a stereo record, you need to have certain equipment. Remember, it may seem common now to play stereo but this was in the late 1950s.

In the pictures below you can see the comparison of a studio mono recording (left) with a stereo recording (right). For the mono recording, the audio comes from one single source while with stereo, the audio comes from each individual instrument.

Early studio recordings

After a recording session is finished, the audio mixing process kicks off. During this process, the individual multi-track recordings are mixed into a final mono or stereo sound. This means that even when the recording happens from individual sources, a mono sound can be created. It is up to the artist and record company to decide on the album release. Many albums were released both mono and stereo.

50/50 system by audio mastering engineer Kevin Gray 

What is better and how will you decide between mono or stereo albums?

It’s a personal preference that may require some research.

We no longer need to be concerned about our installation because most commercially available installations can play both mono and stereo. Artists still release both versions today and this can cause a dilemma for collectors. It is my opinion that you have to research each album before making your choice. There are many forums out there that review the album you want to purchase. Many experts will share their view on what is the better version. Another recommendation is looking at the creative intentions of the artists.

For albums that were originally released before 1958, meaning before the stereo albums were publicly released, it is recommended to purchase the mono version because of its authenticity. These albums will be in there more pure and original form. Many experts may argue this because the original master tapes can be used for stereo reissues.

Albums released after March 1958, when the first stereo album was commercially available (Johnny Puleo and his Harmonica Gang Volume 1), will require more comprehensive research.

I can also recommend that albums released in the 1980s and onward are probably better in stereo as studio technology advanced.

When you really can’t make up your mind, there is nothing wrong with buying both versions. Mono and stereo versions are not released as a commercial sale trick, their main purpose is the music experience. When you buy both copies, please make sure to share your personal experience with the rest of the vinyl community!