"The Sound of Jazz" Finally Reissued on AAA 200g Vinyl

With its compilation-like title, black and white cover art and wide ranging artists roster, The Sound of Jazz, originally issued in 1958, is often confused with one of Columbia Records' early stereo sampler albums.

Some browsers exploring the back jacket annotation—a reprint of a Harper's magazine article about the show— get no further than the first paragraph that explains it's not a compilation album at all but rather the soundtrack to a 1957 television show. TV sound back then was monophonic and often mediocre so the "stereo" band at the jacket top has many thinking it must be "electronically reprocessed for stereo" sound. it's anything but.

Many of the musicians who performed live on the December 8th 1957 CBS television show "The Sound of Jazz" "pre-created" their performances four days earlier in Columbia's legendary 30th Street Studio—a de-sanctified church with the superb acoustics that later produced many of the label's greatest musical and sonic recordings including Miles Davis's Kind of Blue.

That's what's on this record originally issued by Columbia Records in 1958. The original is a sonic stunner. A few artists who performed on the television show, including Thelonious Monk and Gerry Mulligan were not signed to Columbia at the time and so were not permitted to appear on the record.

The musicians who appeared on both television and vinyl were a mix of the traditionalists like trumpeter Henry "Red" Allen and clarinetist Pee Wee Russell and the more modern ensembles like The Jimmy Giuffre Trio featuring Giuffre on baritone and tenor sax and clarinet, Jim Hall on guitar and Jim Atlas on bass. Some were past their prime but still vital. Guiffre also plays with Pee Wee Russell, Jo Jones (drums) and Danny Baker (guitar). The musicians mixed and matched per the vision of jazz critics Whitney Balliett and Nat Hentoff.

For some the standout performance is "Fine and Mellow" with Billie Holiday on vocals backed by the Mal Waldron All-Stars featuring Holiday's ex-beau Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Doc Cheatham and others. The Count Basie All-Stars contribute "I Left My Baby" (with vocals by Jimmy Rushing) that covers "St.James Infirmary" territory, and "Dickie's Dream".

Hearing these mostly veteran players let loose under great studio conditions is a joy. Of course by 1957 jazz had become far more adventurous than what's here, but the point of this assemblage was to bring real jazz to a mainstream "straight" American television audience, many of whom in "white bread" America had never before heard it or seen so many black people on screen in one place. Not only that; the television show producers asked that the musicians dress as they might for a studio gig, not for a stage show. The cameras were there to capture the studio experience, not to fake a "show". And it was all done "live".

The sound is "wide spread" stereo not unlike "KOB" though with more center fill and less reverb. It's also remarkably transparent and natural-sounding.

The only reason Classic Records failed to reissue this one back in the 1990s and 2000s is because the reel containing one side had gone missing. For this reissue Sony/BMG located the original 3 track recording from which this stereo record was sourced so it's one generation ahead of the mixed two track master. This tape probably hadn't been played in almost sixty years and so sounds remarkably fresh.

Analogue Productions reissued this in a tip-on gatefold sleeve with great black and white photos taken at the recording session of Count Basie, Billie Holiday and Ben Webster.

A moment in musical time perfectly captured that's easy to recommend for the music, the sound and the packaging. The reissue sound is somewhat drier than the original, which makes it all the more intimate and less dated. A great lacquer cut by Ryan K. Smith.

When you have Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, Harry Carney, Jim Hall, Jimmy Guiffre Ben Webster, Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Jo Jones, Milt Hinton and Jim Hall together under one cathedral roof, how could it not be great?

You can watch most of the television show via this kinescope:

Music Direct Buy It Now

Analog Scott's picture

Did you have the chance to directly compare the AP reissue with the Pure Pleasure reissue? They are both available and comparably priced.

Michael Fremer's picture
I believe PP reissue is MONO because the stereo tape was unavailable until now. If they are priced similarly it's a no-brainer: one's from the original 3 track tape, tip-on gatefold jacket with session photographs and one is none of those things!
Analog Scott's picture

and you are correct. I should not have missed that. I know in jazz in particular many audiophiles prefer mono mixes. I am not one of those folks aside from recordings with just plain crap stereo mixes. Definitely a no-brainer. Thanks!

HalSF's picture

I’m pretty sure that the producers of this recording were Nat Hentoff and Whitney Balliett.

mrl1957's picture

According to the liner notes of the Columbia Jazz Masterpieces reissue of "The Sound of Jazz", Irving Townsend and George Avakian produced the original recordings. Maybe Nat Hentoff and Whitney Balliett were part of the production team for the TV broadcast.

Michael Fremer's picture
That makes sense. I'll amend the credits.
Michael Fremer's picture
They were consulted and chose the musicians but that doesn't make them the "producers". It's kind of nebulous...
elliotdrum's picture

I was fortunate to have seen this show when it was broadcast.
I also saw the Timex Jazz program which was also very good.
There were not very many Jazz programs on tv back in the 50's
Jerry Lewis had a program once that featured the Count Basie
Orchestra and Dinah Shore on her Sunday night weekly show devoted
a whole hour to Ella Fitzgerald which was fantastic.
Robert Herridge did three shows on KCOP in late 1959 and early 1960
which featured The Joffrey Ballet doing a Frankie and Johnny suite
backed by the Charles Mingus group -Miles Davis Quintet with John Coltrane, and Miles with the Gil Evans orchestra doing music from
Miles Ahead and a group with Ben Webster -Vic Dickenson-Buck Clayton and also if my memory is correct the Ahmad Jamal Trio.
KCOP was a L.A. tv station.
In the 1960's there were a little more Jazz programs.
Jazz was swingin back then!

AnalogJ's picture

I'm curious as to how many minutes per side. Sometimes Columbia stuffed too much music on one side of a record. Four and More has almost 40 minutes per side.

mrl1957's picture

"The Sound of Jazz" clocks in at 41:37 (side 1 = 22:53, side 2 = 18:44).

kdl6769's picture

any reason to get the new one?

HiFiMark's picture

The day after this post by Michael, I was in a local, gritty record shop flipping through new jazz arrivals. Wasn't particularly interested in this from the review, but spotted a clean copy for 6 shekels. Done.
Holy cow: what a delightful 50's vintage slice of jazz / blues / roots. Don't know if I'd pay $35 for it, but either way, a sheer, good sounding delight.

HiFiMark's picture

This is an original Columbia Six-Eye. Primo condition.

randybass's picture

Mono or stereo?