SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

The Sound of Jazz – Soundtrack from 1957 CBS-TV Special – [TrackList follows] Columbia/ Pure Pleasure Records vinyl

The stereo soundtrack version of the most perfect hour of jazz ever carried on national TV.

Published on April 27, 2012

The Sound of Jazz – Soundtrack from 1957 CBS-TV Special – [TrackList follows] Columbia/ Pure Pleasure Records 180gr. audiophile mono vinyl CL 1098 *****:

(Henry “Red” Allen All-Stars, Billie Holiday with the Mal Waldron All-Stars, Mal Waldron solo, Jimmy Giuffre, Pee Wee Russell, Count Basie All-Stars with Jimmy Rushing)

In early December of 1957 the most perfect hour of jazz ever on TV was telecast. Four days before that, all the musicians (except Gerry Mulligan, who reneged because he wasn’t paid extra for it) assembled in Columbia’s 30th Street studios in NYC to record, in early stereo, the same selections that would be featured on the live TV show four days later. It was such an excellent hour of jazz TV because CBS had the good sense to leave everything to two jazz experts: Whitney Balliett and Nat Hentoff. They decided from the start to concentrate on the music and forget about the usual TV show trimmings. Everyone dressed casually, the cameras, mikes, lights and wires were visible. Media critic John Crosby was the relaxed host, who only introduced the hour and gave credits at the end of it. The way Billie looks at Lester Young during closeups in her tune is priceless; within two years both were gone. (The DVD is available; get it!)

I wish I could be more positive about this audiophile LP.  A number of times in the past I had identified and complained about CD reissues (mostly on the Fantasy label) which were only released in mono and yet I owned perfectly fine actual stereo LPs of the same material. This one is the reverse—there is a fine Columbia/Legacy stereo CD reissue of The Sound of Jazz. Not only does it add an eight-minute double-length alternate take of “Wild Man Blues,” but it is also burned as a CD-R, which if done right can sometimes be superior fidelity to a pressed CD. Audiophile vinyl reissue labels request the best possible master from whomever they are licensing the material from, and both Pure Pleasure and myself deduce that Sony Music must have found some damage—dropouts, for example—on the original stereo tapes. (But that seems strange because Sony Music has supposedly archived all their analog masters to DSD—that’s what they invented it for in the first place—and surely the stereo version of the best hour of jazz on TV ever would be one of the first things to be so preserved.)

Anyway, what I had to compare was this mono audiophile vinyl with the Columbia/Legacy stereo CD. Switching back and forth, the vinyl sounds a bit rolled off in the treble compared to the more distant-sounding but more harsh and somewhat metallic stereo CD. Mal Waldron’s solo piano on “Nervous” (misidentified at Wikipedia as Thelonious Monk—though he does sound a lot like Monk here) actually sounds better on the mono vinyl. More natural and placed at dead center of the soundstage of course. The stereo CD suffers from the too-wide-piano mike pickup which so many piano recordings suffer from. (And the first few years of jazz stereo recordings generally suffer from this “hole-in-the-middle” miking.)

However, on nearly everything else the early stereo adds a tremendous impact and boost to the sonics—especially of the Allen and Basie Bands. Hearing the brass on one side answer the winds on the other is a kick. Even on intimate tracks such as the Jimmy Giuffre Trio, it is a pleasure to hear the guitar on the left, doublebass in the center and Jimmy’s clarinet on the right—rather than all coming out of the center speaker in mono. Both vocals with the bands’ backing—by Billie and by Rushing—are a delight and probably the highlights of the hour. Considering not only stereo but the price difference, the CD reissue gets my vote here. Both formats reprint the original liner notes by Eric Larrabee, which originally appeared in Harper’s Magazine.

Wild Man Blues; Rosetta – Red Allen, Fine and Mellow – Billy Holiday with Waldron All-Stars, Blues – Giuffre & Russell, I Left My Baby – Jimmy Rushing with Basie All-Stars, The Train and the River – Giuffre Trio, Nervous – Mal Waldron, Dickie’s Dream – Basie All-Stars

—John Sunier

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