You don’t have to be rich to collect Blue Note
I now have amassed a modest collection of 350 Blue Note records, with the majority of them costing me less than $25, the most I have paid was $72, and many I’ve paid only a few dollars for.
Only forty of my 350 are deep groove pressings, the rest are second or third pressings, and about half are 70’s reissues.
Blue note changed its label design completely under the before mentioned Liberty records, to a dark blue label with a black lower case b.
These 70’s issues are still highly collectible, with very good sound, and the same nice vintage covers. The black b pressings can be had in the ten to twenty-five dollar price range.
Read on for some helpful info to those just starting out collecting Blue Note records.
What is dead wax?
Dead wax refers to the area of a vinyl record between the grooves and the label, in this area, when you hold the record up to bright light you can see catalog numbers or “matrix” numbers, and many other little tells.
Why would collectors need this info? Well, to a serious collector, the original first pressings, or as close as you can get to it, is what those collectors strive for, It is a matter of taste of course. I have run into a few originals with such bad groove wear, that I would rather listen to the CD.
If you need to know more about the ins and outs of what’s in the dead wax/run off area check out my blog where I compiled many help articles in one place.
Really, better sound with earlier pressings?
I tend to agree with the avid collector, even some of the lesser condition original copies of Blue Notes I have, display a power and clarity not in later pressings. It is true, there is enough of a difference to really notice it.
In my instance, the difference between Art Blakey 4003 original and say a NY USA copy was noticeable, but the NY USA copy still sounded quite nice. Admittedly though, you do reach a point where your splitting hairs, and it seems pointless to strive for even better sound.
I have actually as of 2015 begun to think that perhaps reissue are the way to go, with so much groove wear out there, and the prices going to level where I know I likely will never get my hands on any.
Van Gelder in the Dead Wax
Rudy Van Gelder was the main recording engineer at Blue Note after 1952, and many times his stamp will be in the dead wax, RVG, RVG STEREO, or just VAN GELDER will be in the dead wax. Usually the plain hand etched RVG is mostly sought after, indicating this as an earlier pressing, all though any pressing with a Van Gelder stamp is worthy in my opinion.
Rudy really knew how to record drums, many say that his recording of piano was sub par though. In fact, Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage is possibly one of the worst of Van Gelder’s masterings piano wise, Herbie’s piano sound is way down in the mix, very thin, but normally the Rudy’s Piano sound is good enough to my ears.
Ear in the dead wax?
This means the record was stamped by Plastylite, the pressing company Blue Note used prior to the Liberty Records Buy out of 1967.
This also can show a superior quality record sonically, but of course sound quality is always a matter of preference, and sometimes the gap isn’t so wide to call for extreme prices in my opinion.
Don’t ignore the late 60’s and 70’s Liberty pressings
Many collectors ignore anything released after the Liberty buy out, especially the more commercial organ soul jazz. I freely admit I love this music itself more than the vinyl. If I had to unload my collection someday, I could live with it, knowing I still have CD’s and Digital copies of the music I love. The hardest thing would be missing those 12 inch covers and that connection of feeling closer to the artists themselves.
I have found Dozens of fantastic artists on the cheap, Big John Patton, Brother Jack McDuff, Lou Donaldson, and Jimmy McGriff, all worthy of enjoyment.
Also one of my best liberty label discoveries was Tyrone Washington, the mysterious tenor saxophonist who has almost disappeared from jazz, he made one Blue Note in 1967.
Natural Essence, an album that seems out-of-place on Liberty’s Blue Note, a throw back to earlier albums in the decade. A mildly avant-garde session that sounds more in line with what Jackie McLean was doing in the early to mid 60’s.
Michael Cuscuna and Charlie Lourie of Mosaic Records fame put out some fantastic 2 fer reissues in the mid 70’s of unreleased music in the blue note vaults, much of this same music has shown up in their award-winning reissue box sets.
I nearly have all of these double albums, Freddie Hubbard, The Jazz Crusaders, Andrew Hill, Sam Rivers, Thelonious Monk, Art Pepper, Jackie McLean and many more.
Much of this music was released in single CD form, Lee Morgan’s The Procrastinator and Freddie Hubbard’s Here to Stay come to mind. These 2 fers have expanded liner notes inside the gate fold covers and can be found for usually 7-15 dollars, an incredible bargain indeed.
The track below “Moanin” written by pianist Bobby Timmons may be the quintessential example of the Vintage Blue Note sound. Moanin’ is the lead off track from the self titled Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers Blue Note 4003.
Buying Blue Note Vinyl on eBay
You will see many deep groove original pressings fetching well over a thousand dollars, some near $5,000, these are way beyond my level, so I focus on finding bargains, taking some risks, and understanding, that lesser condition first press Blue Notes are not necessarily bad.
In fact, many times I have gambled on an LP lot of 5 or more, listed as very good minus with some marks you can feel with a brush of the finger. One thing about these deep groove mono copies, they seem to withstand moderate wear quite well, many of these sound astonishingly good, and almost always play better than they look.
Just yesterday I found a copy of Freddie Roach’s Mo Greens Please, a microgroove with the NY USA address on the label, it had moderate marks and scuffs, and 1 pretty deep mark on side 2, it played well, with only a few ticks.
Perhaps the heavier vinyl was made so well, that the defects aren’t enough to hurt the music laying inside the grooves. This does depend on your surface noise tolerance, if you have zero tolerance, you had better stick to Near Mint or sealed reissues, or pay the hundreds or even thousands of dollars for vintage originals in near mint condition.
I paid $3.99 for the Roach record, a mint copy would have cost well above a 75 dollars. My point is, if you search, and realize that even a scratched deep groove Blue Note may still play fine, and will sound very good usually. It is a great way to get the real deal, even if it is lesser in condition.
You will need a basic understanding of what features distinguish early and later pressings of course.
One of the more frustrating aspects of Blue Note hunting on eBay is: The seller who lists a record with a generic VG, VG+ or EX, with no details what so ever, and just a cover shot, no pictures of the labels.
You have no idea what pressing it is, and when you ask about it, they have no idea either. So obviously you can’t trust the record grading as well. Make sure you educate yourself in-depth on the labels.
The main point is this, just be careful, ask questions, ask about deep possible sounding marks, did they grade under bright light? Ask for more photos, don’t be shy about making sure.
Sometimes this can work against you, if you give the seller all this info: Very likely he is going to add more photos, then the record you could have gambled on for 15 bucks, shoots up to 200 bucks, that has happened to me. Now I am a little more careful about asking too many question.
Blue Note jazz on vinyl can’t be beat
I love the Blue Note sound, I have listened and collecting the music in CD form for nearly 20 years now. Back around 2005, I started thinking about the original vinyl, and how cool that would be having a piece of the past in my possession.
I was one of those vinyl’s better than digital skeptics, not that I had any proof one way or the other, but I sure didn’t believe vinyl would sound that much better.
Boy was I wrong! Just a good reissue on vinyl won’t have that shrill top end many CD reissues have, as I’ve mentioned, I am not a hard-boiled audiophile, but to my ears I could tell a difference.
Be careful though, some reissues are only using a digital copy burned to vinyl if you will, meaning your only getting the CD you already have in vinyl form.
Not just hard bop jazz
Undoubtedly the music most identified with Blue Note is the classic 50’s and 60’s hard bop of Art Blakey, Horace Silver, and others.
But that sure isn’t the end of the story, many great artists from that era like Jackie McLean, Andrew Hill, and Bobby Hutcherson created some of the best avant-garde music of the era. Music that is out there, but has just enough of the hard bop/classic jazz flavor to draw in those adverse to atonal free jazz of say Coltrane’s later period, or Albert Ayler.
Eric Dolphy created his masterpiece Out to Lunch for the label, his only record for Blue Note. When Liberty purchased the label in the late 60’s, the focus of the label changed to a more contemporary jazz approach.
Funk grooves, and soul jazz became the norm, with the Hammond B-3 organ becoming the house instrument if you will, dance grooves over chamber jazz for sure.
Organists like Big John Patton, Brother Jack McDuff, and Jimmy McGriff made big bucks, classic artists like Lou Donaldson also did well with a funky commercial style.
Note: Click any album cover to check out the current prices for that particular record on eBay. I am an eBay and Amazon affiliate, and would receive a small “less than 8% commission” on any thing you purchase there.
*All Blue Note LP Cover Photos are my own: From my collection.*
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Jason Sositko, a freelance writer and entrepreneur is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. I also use services such as Viglink and Skimlinks to earn income via links placed inside articles.