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date: 23 April 2024



  • revised by Gordon Mumma,
  • Howard Rye
  •  and Barry Kernfeld
  • Chris Sheridan

A term applied to any of the various means by which sound and visual images are stored, and to the storage medium. This article concerns the general developments in sound-recording technology and their applications in jazz; for a discussion of recordings involving visual images with sound see Films. The systematic study of sound recordings as documents and as physical objects is the subject of the article Discography.

I. Technological developments

1. The acoustical era: 1877–1925

(i) Cylinders and discs.

The earliest methods of sound recording are described as “acoustical” and employ only mechanical means for both recording and playback. The sounds to be preserved are directed into a large horn, which at its tapered end is connected to a cutting stylus. In response to the vibrations of air in the horn, the stylus cuts a spiral groove in the thick wax coating of a cylinder or disc, rotated steadily by means of a crank. The cutting process creates variations in the groove analogous to the varying frequency and amplitude of the vibrations; the stylus moves up and down in “hill-and-dale” or “vertical cut” recording and from side to side in “lateral cut” recording.

To convert a disc from its original form into a marketable commodity, a process known as “pressing” is employed. It involves several stages during which alternately negative and positive images are made of the master version. The procedure as it is described here in terms of disc recording remained essentially unchanged until the advent of digital technology in the 1980s, though an additional stage was added once master recordings began to be made on magnetic tape instead of disc (see §3(i) below). The grooved master disc (sometimes called a wax (see Wax) in the early recording era, later sometimes a “lacquer” – in both cases owing to the material with which it is coated) is electroplated; from this is formed a ridged negative (also called a master), which is stronger than the original positive; a further, sturdy positive, the “mother” (also known as the “matrix”), is made from the second master, and a metal negative stamper from the mother; from the stamper (which can withstand heat) the final discs are pressed. Roughly 1000 to 1500 discs can be produced before the stamper wears out and a new one must be made. A “master pressing” is one created from a master cut directly from a microphone or recording horn; the term thus applies to all recordings made before the introduction of magnetic tape recording (and also to those produced in the 1970s by the direct-to-disc method, see §3(iv) below). A “dub pressing” is one made from a master cut from a pre-existing pressing, a process adopted when all master material is lost or otherwise unavailable.

Mechanical playback of acoustical recordings involves a reversal of the recording process: a stylus tracks along the groove, following its contours, the variations of which are converted into analogous vibrations of the air inside the horn. (Acoustical recordings may also be played back on electrical equipment; see §2 below.)

The principal deficiencies of the acoustical recording process were the limitations and variability of its “fidelity.” (Fidelity is the accuracy with which the original sound is reproduced by recording and playback, and depends on the range of frequencies reproduced and on the degree of distortion caused by the recording, pressing, and playback processes.) Acoustical recording never yielded high fidelity, its dynamic range was limited, and, because of the sensitivity of the technology, it required a high degree of skill in the recording engineer. The quality of acoustical recordings varied greatly, depending on the equipment used and on the ability of the engineer to position the performers correctly in relation to the horn. The quality of the equipment and the technical expertise available to some companies was so low that they were unable to use standard instrumentation; bass instruments were particularly problematical (see §II, 2, below).

The first sound-recording mechanism practical for commercial use was invented in 1877 by Thomas Edison (1847–1931) as an adjunct to his experiments with a telegraphic repeater. Edison’s “phonograph” used a wax cylinder about five to six inches long and utilized the hill-and-dale recording technique. In the first decade after the invention of the phonograph, other important inventors in the USA received patents for recording devices; they included Alexander Graham Bell (1847–1922), who shared a patent with his cousin Chichester A. Bell and Charles S. Tainter in 1886 for a flat recording disc of wax-coated cardboard, and Emile Berliner (1851–1929), who received a patent for a disc phonograph in 1888. The duration of both cylinder and disc recordings was typically two to four minutes. Berliner’s machine employed lateral cut recording, which became the standard method of commercial disc recording until the introduction of stereophonic recording in the 1950s (see §3(iii) below).

The principal uses that Edison and other early inventors envisioned for recording were communications, business stenography, telegraphy, and to some extent entertainment; Berliner appears to have been the first to look upon recording primarily as an entertainment and cultural medium. Venture capital was obtained for the manufacture of sound recorders from investors who were attracted by the apparent security of the patents and the likelihood of substantial returns. In spite of continuing patent litigation, the financial rewards of the recording industry on the whole justified their confidence. In 1889 the first playback device was produced for sale by a German toy factory, Kammerer & Reinhardt of Waltershausen, and in 1893 machines of the same kind became available in the USA.

Other developments in the late 19th century were also of great importance to the future of sound recording. Patents for recording sound in synchronization with moving film were established by Georges Demeny in 1892 and Edison in 1894, and a patent for the “telegraphone,” a magnetic recording device, was issued in 1898 to Valdemar Poulsen (1869–1942). A number of patents for “wireless” devices for radio broadcasting were secured by Guglielmo Marconi (1874–1937), beginning in 1896, and other radio equipment was soon under development by the international firms of Marconi (1897) and Telefunken (1899).

By the turn of the century several companies had been set up to manufacture recordings and playback equipment based on the patents of Edison, the Bells and Tainter, and Berliner and his associate Eldridge Johnson. The phonograph and gramophone industry expanded rapidly in the USA, England, and Europe; among the important firms were American Graphophone, Berliner Gramophone, and Columbia Phonograph. Patent-pool agreements in 1902 between Columbia and the Victor Talking Machine Company (which had grown out of the Berliner firm and taken over its patents) helped to establish the dominance of these two companies in the USA during the first half of the 20th century. Between 1900 and the outbreak of World War I the cultural and entertainment applications of recording came to surpass other uses in commercial significance.

In 1914 several basic patents expired, which led to a diversification in the manufacture of records and record-playing equipment by new companies such as Brunswick–Balke–Collender. In the same year the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) was organized to collect fees for the use of published music, and General Electric began the manufacture of vacuum tubes for electronic amplification (Lee de Forest’s patent on this process had been granted in 1907).

By this time flat discs were the predominant medium for sound recording. (Although Edison continued to manufacture recorded cylinders until 1929, and blank cylinders continued to be used for business stenography and portable recording equipment, it was, by 1930, many years since any repertory had been recorded only on cylinders.) In the early period of sound recording the characteristics of discs varied from one manufacturer to another. Until the mid-1930s sizes varied greatly: discs of diameters of between 5 and 20 inches were made, and although the standard sizes became 10 and 12 inches, 8-inch discs continued to be produced in large numbers into the 1930s. The playing time of the standard disc was between three and four minutes per side. Recording and playing speeds ranged from 72 to 86 r.p.m. before the standard settled at 78 (though Columbia, for example, issued 80 r.p.m. discs for some time after 1920). The materials of which discs were made and with which they were coated were also various; shellac eventually became the commonest material. By around 1920 lateral cut recording was the norm; a less exacting technique than vertical cut, it produced a level of fidelity adequate to the standard of the equipment the general public could afford to buy.

(ii) Piano rolls.

Another mechanical recording medium was developed during the acoustical era – the piano (or pianola) roll. This is a roll, usually of paper, on which music is encoded in the form of perforations. The roll is marked mechanically as a player performs the piece on a recording piano; the marks are then cut by hand by an operator. The recording is played back on a mechanical instrument, known as a player piano or pianola, by means of a pneumatic system that automatically operates the keys of the instrument in response to the perforations in the roll.

Player-piano devices were first developed in the 1890s, in the form of separate cabinets that were moved up to the keyboard and played it mechanically; they gave a range of 65 notes at first, later the full 88. Around the turn of the century the apparatus was built into the piano itself. The first instruments to record faithfully all the nuances of a performance were built in Germany, by Edwin Welte in Freiburg in 1904 and by the firm Hupfeld of Leipzig in 1905. By 1913 two American reproducing player-piano mechanisms had been developed, the Duo-Art, made by the Aeolian Company, and the Ampico, made by the American Piano Company (which became the Ampico Corporation in 1915). At their best, reproducing player pianos could re-create the style of the original artist to a remarkably accurate degree.

2. The electrical era: 1925–47

(i) Recordings for commercial distribution.

In electrical recording the sounds to be preserved are gathered by a transducer (a microphone) and the vibrations converted into an analogously varying electrical signal, which is amplified and applied to another transducer (a stylus), which cuts a spiral groove in a waxed or (later) lacquered disc; the deviations of the incised groove from the regular path correspond to the variations in the electrical signal. In playback the process is reversed, the signal being converted through a phonograph cartridge, an amplifier, and a loudspeaker into sound. The term “electrical recording” is normally used in contradistinction to “acoustical recording” (in the preceding era) and “magnetic tape recording” and “microgroove recording” (in the succeeding era); even though the process described here continued, broadly, to be standard until the advent of digital recording in the 1980s, and electricity, of course, has remained essential to recording and playback processes of all kinds, the term “electrical recording” is not customarily used after the introduction of magnetic tape in 1947.

The first electrical recording was issued in 1925, and from that time electronic amplification became the principal technological factor in the development of recording. The physical format of electrical recordings remained the same as that of the many acoustical ones utilizing the lateral cut technique; thus acoustical and electrical recordings were usually compatible and could be played on the same equipment. Electronic amplification made possible a dramatic improvement in fidelity. Other developments of importance to the recording industry during this period were the growth of commercial radio broadcasting, the standardization of synchronized sound-film recording, and the invention of the coin-operated jukebox; connected with the increase in the number of radio stations was the making and marketing of recordings designed specifically for broadcasting, so-called broadcast transcriptions (see Transcription), which employed a technology superior to that of commercially available recordings, based on a 16-inch disc that played at 33⅓ r.p.m. and offered about 15 minutes of playing time.

(ii) Private recordings.

A great many sound recordings survive from the pre-tape era which are not commercial pressings, transcriptions, film soundtracks, or part of the process by which such material was prepared for issue and distribution. Many such sound documents have later been issued commercially, particularly in the microgroove and CD eras.

The largest class of private recordings is test pressings, which may be of unissued material or of material that was later released. Although their name implies that they were made for assessment purposes – and this forms the greatest proportion – pressings with similar characteristics were also made as favors for artists and staff members, and some companies maintained matrix series whose sole purpose was to catalogue recordings of this character (for example, the TO- series at ARC). Before tape duplication was possible there was no reason for record companies to restrict the circulation of such material, since it could not be copied in sufficiently good sound quality for commercial release, and some enthusiasts who assisted in early reissue programs were actually “paid” in test pressings of their own choice. This, coupled with the large number of such pressings given to artists and staff, accounts for the quantity of such material that has survived in private hands to appear in reissue programs (which have always been so called, even when the material has not in fact been available to the public before). From the late 1930s many companies also recorded whole sessions, including breakdowns and studio chatter, onto “safeties,” which provided some back-up if those takes mastered conventionally became unusable. Many of these have survived and have been used for comprehensive “reissues” of important works. Safeties, which became the main system of recording for many smaller companies as techniques for duplication improved in the 1940s, are often referred to as “acetates.”

The term “acetate” is loosely used to describe any standard-grooved recording which is not a pressing, but was directly cut, and thus embraces not only safeties and the acetate masters of the immediate pre-tape period, but also private recordings made on the recording machines available before the introduction of tape. While these used various systems, all had in common that the resulting records were not very durable. Strictly speaking, an acetate is a metal disc coated with cellulose nitrate lacquer on which an instantaneous recording has been made; from the mid-1930s into the tape era these discs were actually used for radio recording and even to distribute programs on a more limited basis than broadcast transcriptions (see Transcription). Such acetates often had an extra hole, situated off-center, which engaged a driving pin on the turntable to keep the disc from dragging under the weight of the cutting head. Most coated discs employed this driving-pin technique, but at an earlier period uncoated aluminum discs, which were held in place by a weight, were used for instantaneous recording.

Although many of the broadcast recordings which have survived to be issued in later years derive from issued transcriptions, acetates, whether made by broadcasting organizations themselves or by enthusiasts using their own recording machines, are the source of many of the off-air recordings from the 1930s and 1940s known as “air-checks” (or “air-shots”). It is often forgotten that contemporary listeners were not necessarily aware whether a broadcast was being made live or was a transmission of a published transcription; privately made air-checks may therefore survive of commercial transcriptions, thus accounting for the wide variation in fidelity that may be encountered in different issues of the same “broadcast.”

3. New techniques of recording and playback after 1947

(i) Magnetic tape.

The process of recording on magnetic tape involves the conversion of sound signals, by means of a transducer (a microphone), into electrical impulses, which are recorded analogously as variations of magnetic flux along the tape. To make discs from tape masters the recording is first cut on a master disc before the normal series of operations that constitute the pressing process can begin.

Although Poulsen’s magnetic recording patent was granted in 1898, it was not until the advent of electronic amplification that the musical potential of the technique could be realized. And because of complex economic and political factors a practical method of recording music magnetically, which required a reliable and inexpensive medium, was not arrived at until around 1950.

Poulsen’s magnetic recorder used steel wire, and solid steel tape was used for magnetic recorders developed in Europe by both Kurt Stille and Ludwig Blattner in the 1920s, and by S. J. Begun and C. Lorenz in 1935. Work on paper and plastic recording tape coated with magnetic oxides was carried out in the 1930s by BASF in Germany and TDK in Japan, and by 1936 these companies were producing a limited amount of coated paper and plastic tape. The German company AEG demonstrated its Magnetophon tape recorder in 1935. In the USA magnetic recording techniques were being developed by such firms as Bell Laboratories (1937) and Brush Soundmirror (1938). Development (by Brush and the Webster–Chicago Corporation) of magnetic wire recorders for American military applications continued throughout World War II on a limited basis, but major work took place in Germany between 1935 and 1945. In September 1944 an improved version of the AEG Magnetophon was obtained by American forces as war booty from Radio Luxembourg, which had been occupied by the Germans. That machine provided the model for the first high-quality magnetic recorder for studio use in the USA, produced by the Ampex Corporation in 1947; the Brush and Magnecord companies also had tape recorders in production by 1947. By that time, too, oxide-coated recording tape with a paper or plastic base, which had been under development in the USA by the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (3M) from 1944, was available commercially.

After 1947 the recording, broadcasting, and film industries in the USA achieved general agreement on standards for magnetic recording. The main advantages of tape over the disc were the relative ease of editing and the substantially lower cost. Magnetic tape was also reusable and seemingly less fragile. (In some cases, though, it has proved disastrously fragile: in the 1980s it was discovered that after 20 or 30 years some types of adhesive used to bind the oxide to the plastic base, notably that produced by 3M for the recording industry’s standard tape in the 1950s and 1960s, had disintegrated, transforming irreplaceable master recordings into useless boxes of blank tape and magnetic dust.) By 1950 magnetic tape had become the predominant medium for making sound recordings.

(ii) Microgroove discs.

Changes of parallel importance took place in the area of disc recording in the postwar period; these arose principally from the development of polyester plastics, called polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or “vinyl,” a comparatively unbreakable material, with a smaller grain structure than shellac (of which 78 r.p.m. discs were commonly made) and thus capable of receiving more refined impressions. The introduction of vinyl discs made possible a new standard “pitch” (or groove spacing) of around 100 grooves to the centimeter (superseding the old standard on shellac and other discs of fewer than 40); these “microgroove” discs allowed the recording of a broader range of frequencies and dynamics than their predecessors and suffered considerably less from surface noise. An incidental advantage of vinyl was its ready availability: since it is made from petroleum it could be obtained from sources within the USA, whereas shellac had to be imported (principally from India and Southeast Asia).

The advent of the microgroove disc led to the fixing of new standard speeds for recording and playback, longer playing times, and new physical formats for records. The 33⅓ r.p.m. “long-playing” disc, introduced by Columbia in 1948, eventually allowed for about 25 minutes of music per side (although its duration was initially limited, for technical reasons, to that of a broadcast transcription – about 15 minutes); though by no means the first disc of its kind (there were experiments with long-playing discs in the 1920s and 1930s, see §II, 3, below), the 12-inch (less often 10-inch or 7-inch) 33⅓ r.p.m. disc quickly became standard, replacing multiple-disc albums of 78s. The 45 r.p.m., 7-inch “single,” first marketed by RCA Victor in 1949, ultimately replaced the single 78 r.p.m. disc (having a similar playing time of three to four minutes per side) and continued to account for many new issues. In due course two notable variants of the 45 r.p.m. disc were devised: the 7-inch EP (extended-play disc), which normally has two tracks on each side and runs for twice as long as a single, and the 12-inch single, which normally runs for up to 12 minutes per side.

A combination of factors accounts for the volatile expansion of the recording industry after 1950. The new discs gave better fidelity and were less fragile than their predecessors; a decrease in the cost of materials, manufacturing, and distribution also made them more affordable than recordings had been in the past. The use of easily edited magnetic tape improved the efficiency of the record companies’ operations, and this, together with the favorable economic conditions of the 1950s, encouraged new companies to compete with established larger firms. Finally the record-buying public was larger, more affluent, and, as a result of wartime travel and radio broadcasting, more catholic in its musical taste than it had ever been.

(iii) Stereophonic sound on tape and disc.

The technique of stereophonic (or stereo) recording and playback produces the effect of sound coming from different directions in three-dimensional space. It is achieved by means of two channels, recorded and played back independently, and relied for its development on the invention of two-track magnetic tape. The principal manifestation of the technique is the stereophonic, long-playing, microgroove disc made from two-track master tapes (later from multitrack master tapes mixed down to two channels, see below). (Other formats in which stereophonic recordings are issued are the cassette tape and the compact disc, see respectively §(iv) and §4 below.) On a microgroove disc the two channels are recorded as independent variations in the left and right walls of a V-shaped groove (the stylus moving vertically and laterally at the same time). The introduction of stereophonic sound thus gives higher fidelity than a process involving only lateral cutting. Although stereo recordings were made as early as the 1930s, it was only with the advent of high-fidelity microgroove discs that the technique gained importance.

Spurred on by the use of stereophonic sound in both broadcasting and films, the recording industry introduced stereophonic discs in 1957. Stereo recordings rapidly supplanted monophonic ones in the 1960s, and for newly made recordings this represented a significant improvement in every way. But the market forces set in motion by the introduction of the new technology proved disastrous in the area of reissues of recordings made earlier. Monophonic recordings were quickly relegated to a separate section of standard record listings, such as Schwann’s Long Playing Record Catalog, and then disappeared entirely. In order to continue selling established material, record companies needed to adapt it so that it qualified for inclusion in the catalogues and satisfied public demand for stereo sound. Many (not all) companies added a false and muddled second track to monophonic recordings, marketing them as “enhanced for stereo effect” or “simulated stereo.” Unfortunately such “improvements” were commercially successful. Only from the 1970s were substantial collections of classic monophonic recordings issued in their original form, with identical signals recorded on each channel.

Two-track tape was the first step in what became known as “multitrack recording,” which made possible not only stereophonic sound but also new and complex editing techniques in the recording studio; introduced in the late 1950s, it was standard practice by 1970. Multitrack recording involves the synchronized recording, either simultaneously or consecutively, of multiple tracks (each normally carrying a single voice or line), which are then mixed and remixed until the desired result is obtained; up to 24 tracks may be recorded on tape up to two inches wide. (Some analogue studios can offer extended facilities by linking two 24-track consoles. This technique is commonly referred to as “48-track” recording, though in fact only 46 are available because, to enable the two recorders to be synchronized, a time pulse is recorded onto one track of each console. Techniques using digital technology – also referred to as “multitrack recording” – follow related procedures, but there are fewer limitations as to the track capacity; see §4 below.)

(iv) Other developments.

A number of other experiments with recording formats and techniques were made possible by the technological advances of the postwar era; some produced results that proved short-lived, others were commercially highly successful.

In the early 1960s an attempt was made to introduce long-playing discs recorded at 16⅔ r.p.m., but by that time the 33⅓ and 45 r.p.m. discs were well established and the slower speed attracted little interest. A decade later a similar failure attended quadraphonic sound, which extended the stereo principle to the use of four channels. In the mid-1970s direct-to-disc recording enjoyed a brief vogue. This technique combines the high fidelity made possible by contemporary equipment with the simplicity of the electrical recording process, whereby the signal is recorded directly onto the disc; although it gives higher fidelity than conventional tape-transfer methods (in which a subtle loss of quality results from the transference of the signal from tape to disc), the direct-to-disc process means that recordings cannot be edited, since each sound is irrevocably etched on the disc as the performance proceeds.

The commercial exploitation of magnetic tape was revolutionized by the introduction by Philips in 1966 of the stereophonic compact cassette (a sealed case containing a miniature reel-to-reel tape), and the machine on which it could be used. By 1980 the cassette had become competitive with the disc, and albums were usually issued in both forms. Cassette recorders have the additonal advantage of portability. From 1965 electronic devices for reducing unwanted noise were developed and applied by the recording industry for studio use, and later included in domestic equipment; one of these, Dolby-B (1970), markedly improved the sound quality of cassette tapes and contributed substantially to their success. The level of fidelity on cassettes was further improved by Dolby-C, Dolby-SR, and the studio system DBX, as well as variations in the materials used for tape coating – cobalt, chrome, and combinations of these with iron.

4. The digital era.

Digital technology had been in use in computers for a quarter of a century before it began to be employed by the recording industry. Until the mid-1970s most advances in recording technology were refinements or extensions of basic analogue principles established in the 19th century.

So-called digital recording techniques use digital technology either in combination with or in place of the analogue techniques based on the continuously varying signals that characterize electrical and stereophonic recording. In 1976 the process of “digital mastering,” which combines digital and analogue techniques, was introduced. It involves the initial preservation of sound on magnetic tape by encoding the continuously varying characteristics of sound waves as a sequence of discrete numbers, stored in the form of magnetic pulses; the digital master tapes are then decoded to produce analogue discs (sometimes described, misleadingly, as “digital recordings”). An important application of such hybrid techniques, particularly in jazz, is the potential they offer for subtle manipulation of the recorded sound: using “digital remastering” – that is, the making of a new digital master on magnetic tape – recordings of the acoustical and electrical eras can be re-recorded while in digitally encoded form for the purpose of improving clarity and balance and minimizing undesired noise.

In the early 1980s a medium based entirely on digital recording and playback technology – the compact disc – was introduced. The fidelity of discs recorded by analogue methods is affected by the inability of the medium to reproduce the sound signal in its entirety with sufficient accuracy at the extremes of the frequency range, and by the surface noise produced in playback by the physical contact between the stylus and the disc. Digital methods of recording and playback aimed to solve both these difficulties. A digital recorder “samples” the sound signal 44,100 times per second, and assigns each sample a binary number, thus creating multimillion-character streams of numbers. This digital representation of the sound is encoded by a process known as pulse-code manipulation (PCM) and recorded optically as a sequence of microscopic pits in the surface of a plastic disc (approximately eight billion pits are needed to record the hour or so of music that can be carried by the 4¾-inch disc). The stored signal never loses its original quality and can be copied many times with no audible change. A small semiconductor laser is used to play back the recording from the disc so that there is no loss of definition in the sound and no surface noise; compact discs revolve at a constant linear speed rather than at a constant angular speed, as do conventional discs. The industry standard for maximum playing time is 74 minutes, but discs are sometimes issued with as much as 81 minutes of music; far more often, however, this capacity is underutilized.

The first applications of digital technology in recording appeared in the late 1970s in the form of electronic equipment used in the studio in multitrack recording; the public first encountered its results in the sound-modification devices used in rock and electroacoustic music. At the turn of the decade the more affluent recording companies installed expensive digital magnetic tape recorders for making master tapes. By the mid-1980s marketing decisions about the format in which recorded music was issued indicated that the compact disc would supersede the 12-inch microgroove album, just as the album superseded the 78 r.p.m. single; within a few years this changeover was fully in place.

Other developments in digital recording took place during the late 1980s, notably a system on magnetic tape called “DAT.” One implementation of DAT, known as RDAT, followed standards of compatibility reached by international agreement. The RDAT system uses a special cassette to hold the recording medium and, in contrast to the compact disc, enables digital recordings to be copied. The RDAT format can record both stereophonic and quadraphonic music, as well as computer data; intended to replace the conventional cassette tape, just as the CD supplanted the LP, it has had useful applications in the recording studio, but it has never become a significant commercial product.

In its first years the compact disc utilized 16-digit codes for both recording and playback. This “16-bit” technology allowed for nearly 66,000 possible timbres, but that number proved too small for audiophiles, who sought a greater sonic palette. The industry thus introduced 20-bit recording (with more than 1 million timbral possibilities), 24-bit recording (exponentially increasing this timbral palette into the millions), and other non-linear methods (some imitating analogue recording), each of which was then translated into a 16-bit format for playback.

In 1999 two new formats emerged, both endeavoring to supplant the CD and thus generate another boom in sales. Following on the success of the digital video disc (which aimed to supersede home videotape), DVD audio utilizes the technology of compact discs, including the same maximum playing time, but offers a sampling rate as high as 192,000 times per second and the capacity for disseminating a six-channel signal (“surround sound”). Its competitor, Super Audio CD, utilizes a faster and simplified type of sampling which more closely approximates an analogue soundwave, and offers a playing time of up to 110 minutes; early models produced stereophonic, not multi-channel sound.

II. History of jazz recording

1. Introduction.

  • Chris Sheridan

The relationship between jazz and sound recording is of paramount importance. Most jazz has the property of spontaneity, its creativity being concentrated in the act of improvisation – a form of impromptu composition. As a result, any recording of improvised or partly improvised jazz acts as a snapshot, freezing a single creative moment which can never be repeated without subconscious change. Because it is impossible for such a performance to be repeated exactly, each recording acquires a unique value, and it is this that has made the recording of jazz so vitally important: no other genre rivals jazz in its preoccupation with issues of alternative and multiple takes of individual titles.

In addition, jazz quickly came to rely for its geographical expansion, and hence its continued existence, on documentation by means of recordings. At first it spread locally by aural experience; its dissemination beyond the immediate locality of its origins was achieved through demonstrations given by itinerant musicians plying their trade. Economically generated migrations carried it further afield, but it was the advent of sound recordings that transmitted it fastest and gave rise to further musical development.

2. Early recordings.

  • Chris Sheridan

Initially the paths of jazz and recording did not cross, even though they originated in the same period. Nothing more frivolous than telegraphy and communications was at first seen as the object of the fledgling technology, so it is unsurprising that the musical movement then growing up in New Orleans and elsewhere, at that time also in its infancy, went largely undocumented. No recorded evidence survives of the manner in which jazz developed from its roots in blues, spirituals, folk music, African rhythm and harmony, marches, dance music, and creole music. A persistent but unsubstantiated claim exists that Buddy Bolden, who is generally credited with taking important steps in the shaping of the music, was recorded on cylinder in 1894 improvising the instrumental blues Make me a pallet on the floor.

While Bolden’s cylinder remains part of the music’s colorful mythology, there is a surprisingly large number of extant recordings of ragtime, one of the principal roots of early jazz. They serve to highlight a major problem of early recording techniques: although ragtime was essentially piano music, it proved difficult to register the sound of the piano on recordings, so banjo and small ensembles were often substituted for it. The characteristics of ragtime were diluted by the use of saxophone, accordion, and trombone (by Arthur Pryor, among others), and xylophone, the piano appearing only rarely before World War I; Charles H. H. Booth’s unaccompanied piano solo Creole Belles (1901, Vic. 1079) is a notable exception.

Because of these technical difficulties almost all early piano recordings, especially those by the composers themselves, including Scott Joplin, were made on piano rolls. The crucial drawback of this medium was that the rolls could very easily be “doctored” by the cutting of additional holes, and this has caused the accuracy of some surviving recordings to be questioned. The piano roll, the most important producer of which was QRS, flourished into the 1920s and has continued. It provides an essential source for early recordings of the Harlem stride pianists, such as James P. Johnson (who made nearly 60 piano rolls as a freelance player in 1917–18 and exclusively for QRS from 1921 to 1927) and Fats Waller. In the 1970s QRS made many recordings on piano roll of the work of Earl Hines.

Identification of the first jazz recording is of course dependent on the permanently contentious question “what is jazz?” Some listeners credit James Reese Europe with the earliest, in 1914, but there is general agreement that it was not until 1917 that the first jazz records were made and released – ironically by several different companies; after ignoring the music for 30 years, record companies began to compete for jazz, and the race commenced, albeit with a stuttering start. The immense popularity of ragtime, boosted by sheet-music sales and spurred on by early recordings, provided the commercial bedrock for the infant recording industry. It is hardly surprising, then, that late in 1916 two leading companies, Columbia and Victor (both founded at the turn of the century), began casting about for a fresh novelty. Early the following year that need was satisfied when the Original Dixieland Jazz Band opened at the chic Reisenweber’s Restaurant in New York. By mid-January the group had become a sensation, and on the penultimate day of the month it recorded for Columbia the tunes Darktown Strutters’ Ball and Indiana. Columbia was slow to issue its recordings, however, and, as the ODJB’s phenomenal success at Reisenweber’s continued, Victor stepped in. On 26 February 1917 the group recorded Livery Stable Blues and Dixie Jass Band One-step, and Victor rushed the first pressing into the shops a week later, on Monday 5 March. The first jazz release was numbered 18255, cost 75 cents, and sold many copies (but not, as is often claimed, a million).

However, it has been realized recently that these recordings are not in fact the first on which jazz improvisation occurs. This honor belongs to Wilbur Sweatman’s two versions of Down Home Rag, recorded in December 1916 (6-inch version, Emerson 5163; 7-inch version, Emerson 7161) with the Emerson String Trio; the latter is not a jazz group and provides what is largely an inappropriate accompaniment, which helps to account for the general indifference to the recording’s claim to stylistic precedence. Sweatman’s Joe Turner Blues (April 1917, Pathé 20167), and others recorded at the same session, has the curious characteristic of being performed by six reed players with no rhythm section, but the resulting music is unambiguously jazz. These recordings by Sweatman are probably the earliest by African-Americans of which this can be said. It is to be noted that they were made for companies with poor distribution and are vertical cut discs, which many later students of the music have been unable to play.

Despite the commercial success of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, recording companies’ interest in jazz remained low. A number of lesser-known bands modeled on the ODJB, including the Louisiana Five, recorded between 1917 and 1920. Mention should also be made of W. C. Handy’s Orchestra of Memphis, whose recordings, made in September 1917, offer some insight into the sound of an African-American territory band at this early date. On the whole, before 1920 the companies grossly underestimated the possible market for jazz, especially among the African-American population, none of whom, it was erroneously believed, could afford the equipment to play back records. Even when this view was modified, the companies still failed to grasp the extent of the jazz market.

Their second chance to exploit the untapped resources of the record-buying public – which again they failed spectacularly to realize – arose with the arrival in New York in 1919 of the African-American songwriter Perry Bradford, a shrewd southern businessman, who had identified the possibilities offered by the market. After unsuccessful attempts to interest the prominent Columbia and Victor companies in his work, Bradford eventually persuaded Fred Hager, a director of the General Phonograph Corporation, to record two of his songs in February 1920, using Mamie Smith. Issued on the General Phonograph Corporation’s label OKeh, the pairing That Thing Called Love and You can’t keep a good man down (OK 4119), though not a resounding success, sold well enough to justify a further venture. Crazy Blues and It’s right here for you (OK 4169) were recorded on 10 August 1920 and 100,000 copies were sold in the last month of summer, sparking off interest in the neglected black market.

Thus so-called race records were born. At this time of the Harlem renaissance, with its emphasis on African-American virtues, the word “race” was not regarded as pejorative. The term Race record was subsequently assigned to many (though by no means all) recordings by black artists, and it indicates a segregationist attitude that led to what has been perceived as the second great mistake made by many record companies. Assuming that white buyers would have no interest in blues, gospel, and, later, some jazz, companies issued recordings by African-Americans in special series, often on separate labels (Victor even scratched the word “colored” in the record’s wax). In the populous North, race records were advertised only in the black media and distributed only to African-American areas; in the rural South they were marketed by mail order, which accounts for the extensive race catalogues maintained by Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward.

Now, swept along in the wake of a tide of classic blues recordings by such singers as Ma Rainey, Clara Smith, Mamie Smith, and, most notably, Bessie Smith – who often included among their accompanists distinguished jazzmen such as Fletcher Henderson, Charlie Green, Louis Armstrong, and Jabbo Smith – and with not a little commercial impetus from the hyperbole of such musicians as Paul Whiteman, the record companies discovered jazz. Their activities baptized the “jazz age.”

The development of jazz through recording was initially, and has continued to be, fostered not only by the major recording companies but also (except during the 1930s) by numerous independent labels. Among the earliest and most important of the latter were Gennett, Paramount, and OKeh.

Gennett not only established the noteworthy claim of being the first recording concern west of the Allegheny Mountains but also served as a model for similar companies. Formed by the famous Starr Piano Company in 1917, the recording side of the business was named after the Starr directors, Harry, Fred, and Clarence Gennett. Gennett operated two studios, one in New York, the other in Richmond, Indiana (see fig.3); the latter especially carved a niche in jazz history for turning out important early recordings, yet the company entered the jazz field almost by accident. As the result of a chance call at the neighboring Friar’s Inn, Fred Wiggens, the manager of Starr’s Chicago music store, strongly recommended the resident band to the Gennett executives. The success of the recordings made in 1922 by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings (under the name Friars Society Orchestra) gained for Wiggens a free hand in deciding whom the label would record. His musical judgment, allied with his liberal attitude towards jazzmen, white or black, enabled Gennett to attract many of the seminal artists and bands of early jazz. Besides the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, these included King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, Bix Beiderbecke and the Wolverines, Jelly Roll Morton, and Alphonso Trent.

However, recording jazz in the acoustic era was a taxing business. Gennett’s Richmond studio was especially notorious, consisting of a wood-paneled room, capable of squeezing in eight musicians; they were asked to play into (or at) two large horns suspended on the wall at one end. Interruptions were frequent: if cold weather did not cause grease to clog the recording machinery, then steam locomotives clanked past on the line running alongside the studio. Even playing caused problems. Georg Brunis, the trombonist on Gennett’s first recordings by the Friars Society Orchestra, recalled being made to face the side wall of the studio because when he played directly into the horn the cutting needle jumped about on the wax master disc. George Wettling, a white Chicagoan drummer, noted that the first great percussionist in jazz, Baby Dodds playing with King Oliver, was confined by the limitations of early recording technology to playing on woodblocks and the rims of snare and bass drums, and struck the cymbals only sparingly. The recordings therefore obscured more than they revealed of his work. If a bass instrument was used, similar problems of balance and audibility meant that it was more often a tuba or bass saxophone, or the pianist’s left hand, than a double bass.

Compared with the major companies, Gennett undoubtedly produced low-fidelity recordings, but at least the documentation of jazz was under way. Other race-music specialists included Paramount, which began recording jazz, hillbilly music, and foreign-language discs as an adjunct to the manufacture of phonograph cabinets. Centered in Chicago, Paramount built the foundations of its catalogue with classic blues recordings by singers such as Ma Rainey and Ida Cox, but also recorded important instrumentalists, including Johnny Dodds. In 1924 it reached a leasing agreement with the first, and for a time the only, African-American recording company, Black Swan.

Other important small labels were Banner, Brunswick, Columbia’s subsidiary Harmony, and OKeh, which swiftly outpaced Gennett in the astute ability to select fine musicians. OKeh contracted such luminaries of jazz as Oliver, Beiderbecke, the duo of Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang, James P. Johnson, Clarence Williams, and, most notably, Louis Armstrong, whose Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings for the company would prove to be among the most influential and enduring of all jazz.

The series of sessions Armstrong led for OKeh (1925–8) straddled the next great step forward in recording techniques, the first electrical recording, issued in 1925. Electronic amplification dramatically improved the fidelity of recordings, but it was a measure of the low status of jazz and the relative poverty of the smaller labels that the breakthrough, patented by the company Western Electric, did not have an impact on jazz for another two years. When it finally arrived, electrical recording emancipated drummers, pianists, and double bass players from the shadowy position imposed on them by more primitive recording techniques. It also facilitated the carriage of recording equipment into the field, though some acoustic recordings had already been made in temporary studios on location: OKeh recorded Bennie Moten’s orchestra in St. Louis (1923–4) and Kansas City (1925) and Papa Celestin in New Orleans (1925). But electrical recording increasingly opened up these fresh areas of development to listeners, notably the territory bands, which were a barometer of the burgeoning of jazz in Kansas City and the Southwest. Recordists also moved properly into the birthplace of jazz, New Orleans, and captured elements of the music’s prehistory through distinguished recordings made en locale; Papa Celestin (1926) and Sam Morgan (1927) recorded for Columbia, and the cornetist Louis Dumaine’s Jazzola Eight (1927) and the Jones and Collins Astoria Hot Eight (1929) for Victor.

3. Major companies and the big bands.

  • Chris Sheridan

Other significant technical advances – the growth of radio and sound films – began to affect jazz in the 1930s. Allied with the economic depression, radio, films, and later the jukebox had far-reaching effects on the recording industry and the music profession as a whole. During the 1920s many musicians, including those in jazz, had been regularly employed in performing for silent films, but moving pictures with synchronized sound removed some of their job opportunities. Musicians who worked in cafés, taverns, and clubs were similarly replaced by jukeboxes. Radio became a popular diversion, rivaling phonograph recordings; from the late 1920s, and especially from 1935 until the late 1940s, many broadcasting organizations installed land lines to clubs and ballrooms to allow them to make remote broadcasts of performances.

Of greater immediate consequence was the onset of the Depression following the 1929 Wall Street crash. Between 1927 and 1932 annual sales of records in the USA dropped from a flood to a trickle – from nearly 100 million to 6 million – and annual sales of phonographs fell from nearly 1 million to 40,000. This caused a sharp cut in recording activity and wiped out almost all of the independent labels. Most disappeared altogether. Gennett stopped making commercial discs but continued in business as a custom-recording concern. Paramount went bankrupt. Others of the best, such as Brunswick, OKeh, and Vocalion, were taken over by major companies. Furthermore the major companies realigned. Symptomatic of the growing symbiotic relationship between radio and recording was the merger in 1929 of Victor and RCA (Radio Corporation of America), which had been formed from the Marconi Company in 1919. Other important changes included the mergers of the Plaza Music Company, Pathé Phonograph and Radio Corporation, and Cameo Record Corporation with the American Record Corporation (ARC) in 1929, the further merger of ARC with the Brunswick Record Corporation (BRC) in 1931, and the acquisition by the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) of American Columbia and ARC–BRC in 1938.

1932 may have marked the recording industry’s nadir in one respect; in another it saw a technical advance – stereo recording – the earliest examples of which were to remain, paradoxically, a secret for 55 years. Why these first examples were made is uncertain; it may have been simply a matter of chance. At that time jazz was becoming increasingly constrained by the three-minute time limit imposed on recordings by 78 technology. In informal clubs and jam sessions musicians were improvising quite lengthy performances (Kansas City was noted for jam sessions that continued all night on a single tune), and the formal theaters, where big bands would evolve the swing style, also required elaborate, extended performances.

Chief among those trying to break out of the straitjacket of the three-minute piece was the music’s principal composer, Duke Ellington, who had already produced his first formally extended work, Creole Rhapsody (1931), which spread over two sides of a 78. At this time Ellington was recording largely (but not exclusively) for Victor, who in 1931–2 began to experiment with recording at a speed of 33⅓ r.p.m. as a means of extending the playing time of a record. The process was expensive, and it is thought that, to avoid any possibility of failure, two cutting turntables, each with its own microphone, were used; the result was a pair of masters, which, played simultaneously, reproduced a performance in true stereo. But this was not discovered until 1981, when a collector in California obtained a pair of masters of one of the two recordings now known to have been made – full-length versions of Black and Tan Fantasy and Creole Love Call. Whether Victor’s stereo recordings were simply a lucky by-product of an experiment directed towards other ends or a deliberate attempt to obtain stereo sound remains open to conjecture. In either case their discovery sparked off speculation that many other stereo recordings were made.

But the Victor experiment fizzled out and Ellington was left to create extended works that divided in a way that coincided with the duration of the 78, notably Reminiscing in Tempo (1935), which spreads over four sides. These extended works were exceptions in an output that sublimated the three-minute form.

By now jazz had also begun to be seen and heard on film. The work of a handful of makers of “shorts” has become justly celebrated, whereas Hollywood’s attitude from the beginning was largely patronizing and has remained so. An interesting sidelight on the sound film (which is discussed at length in Films) is that, although optical track recording allowed extended playing time, this was rarely taken up. In addition it is worth noting that, apart from a few flimsily plotted musicals and generally embarrassing biographical features, the genre’s one concession to the commercial success of swing was the series of so-called soundies recorded in the early 1940s (see Films §II 2.). These productions – by RCM (Roosevelt, Coslow & Mills) – were three-minute films of a single performance for replay on a kind of jukebox in bars and clubs, each play costing 14 cents; they featured such musicians as Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, and Lucky Millinder.

More significant for jazz was the continuing growth of radio broadcasting, which in the 1930s gradually took over as the leading source of entertainment for the family; by 1935 the radio set was a standard item of furniture in most homes. Once that had happened the broadcasting of jazz provided another source of unique performances for recording.

The swing era at its height saw a battle fought by the major record companies, involving price cutting and the taking of large stakes in the infant broadcasting industry with its potential for promoting their recorded product. At the same time radio itself was a voracious user of material, broadcasting nightly for hours at a time from a succession of ballroom venues where the big bands played. However, the most popular bands were not always booked by the most accessible venues, so their popularity boosted another recorded product, the broadcast transcription (see Transcription), a type of recording made exclusively for the purposes of broadcasting. Transcriptions were usually on 16-inch discs which allowed up to 15 minutes of playing time, but once again few bands or musicians took advantage of it, though the arrangements used in ballrooms and dance halls regularly included more instrumental parts and solo opportunities than commercial releases.

Independent of this burgeoning business were the activities of devoted amateur recordists, ever mindful that every jazz performance is unique. Using disc cutters and, later, wire recorders, they made recordings for their own pleasure on location or from radio broadcasts (the latter are known as “air checks” or “air shots”), capturing much material that would otherwise not have survived; although the sound quality was predictably inferior to that of recordings made in the studio with professional equipment, they provided material for an explosion of unofficial issues when copyrights began to expire in the 1970s. By 1938 Carnegie Hall was equipped with a recording system which was used by John Hammond to record his “From Spirituals to Swing” concerts, and an ever-growing number of jazz aficionados in the United States were equipped to make unofficial recordings of this type; the efforts of Jerry Newman at Minton’s Playhouse and Monroe’s Uptown House are merely among the most important documentations of this type to have come to public notice. Instantaneous recordings were also used by music publishers to facilitate notation for publication, such as the recordings of Fats Waller's London Suite made at Billy Higgs’s London studio in 1939.

4. Developments outside the USA.

  • Barry Kernfeld

Throughout the 78 r.p.m. era, and even later in some areas (for example, Japan), non-Americans learned about jazz primarily by listening to recordings and to radio broadcasts (usually themselves consisting of recordings, rather than of live transmissions). The simple reason for this is that the early history of jazz is dominated by musicians who usually performed and recorded in the USA. Certainly there were many instances of Americans touring and even living abroad (see Jazz, §IV, 5), but all such events and circumstances taken together were comparatively insignificant beside the activity going on in the USA, particularly in the matter of stylistic innovation.

In the early decades of jazz, therefore, non-American record companies were important for rather different reasons from their American counterparts. Their significant contributions were, first, to issue recordings made in the USA, an activity (pursued by labels such as Brunswick, Odeon, and Panachord) that formed the bedrock of the dissemination of jazz in Europe and the rest of the world; second to document the development of the music in their own countries; and only third to make important new recordings by performers of the first rank.

Although they may have been comparatively few, noteworthy recordings of major figures were nevertheless made by European countries. Columbia recorded the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in London in 1919–20. Deutsche Grammophon recorded Arthur Briggs in Berlin in 1927–8. During his residency in Europe in the mid-1930s Benny Carter recorded for Vocalion and in the same period Coleman Hawkins, also living for a time in Europe, recorded for Parlophone. In addition Carter and Hawkins recorded for Decca, as did Duke Ellington, Stephane Grappelli, and Django Reinhardt; the Quintette du Hot Club de France for Ultraphone; Carter, Hawkins, Bill Coleman, and the Quintette du Hot Club de France for His Master’s Voice; and Hawkins for Panachord. Perhaps the most important of the European organizations was the small label Swing, established in Paris in 1937 by Charles Delaunay and Hugues Panassié, which produced fine items by the Quintette du Hot Club de France, Carter, Hawkins, Coleman, Rex Stewart, Dicky Wells, and Teddy Weatherford. Weatherford also later recorded for Columbia in Calcutta (1942–3).

5. The war years and the AFM recording ban.

  • Chris Sheridan

As the 1940s began, little at first sight seemed likely to affect the enormous boom being enjoyed by those guiding the progress of the swing era. But events were combining that would forever change the face of jazz and the way it was documented on disc. The crucial event was the war. Its immediate effects on the American treasury led to several significant fiscal and other measures. Driving for pleasure was banned to save gasoline; a cabaret tax of 30 per cent (later reduced to 20 per cent) was imposed, making smaller, cheaper bands a more attractive booking proposition; and for a time a midnight curfew was introduced. In addition, the stresses of wartime, as though echoing those of the Depression, increased popular demand for the sentimental and the reassuring; this in turn boosted the standing of vocalists, who very soon began to see their names appearing in headlines at the top of the bill, before the bands’ names.

At the same time the loss of employment opportunities for musicians, which the AFM put down to the new popularity of radio, caused a backlash against broadcasting. Because musicians were losing jobs as places of public entertainment closed – partly as a result of potential patrons having a ready-made source of entertainment at home in the form of broadcasting, partly because of wartime measures – the AFM called for a royalty payment to be made to the union by record companies for each commercial disc sold. When no progress was made in talks, the union demand was backed by a ban on instrumental recording from 1 August 1942, which lasted roughly two years. Decca came to an agreement with the AFM in September 1943 and Blue Note in November, but Columbia and Victor did not settle the dispute until November 1944, when they agreed to pay into a union fund a percentage of their income, amounting to between 0.25 and 5 cents for each disc sold. In the meantime singers, who were not members of the AFM, continued to be able to record, and the prominence this gave them put another nail in the coffin of the big-band business.

The strike, coupled with the dispersal of vast numbers of people into branches of wartime service, led to a need to organize the entertainment industry in new ways. Major network radio series and wholly new ones were transcribed for the Armed Forces Radio Service on 16-inch discs, which were freighted to service personnel all over the world for replay at their bases. And, in the absence of commercial record issues, the US War Department authorized the special series called V-discs exclusively for military personnel. Culled from commercial recordings, broadcasts, and transcriptions, as well as specially organized sessions, some 8 million V-discs were distributed between 1943 and 1949, on 12-inch 78s that could carry up to 6½ minutes of sound. The AFM, having banned commercial recordings, permitted musicians to take part in the V-disc sessions on condition that the discs would be treated as army surplus at the end of hostilities and destroyed; many were, but it is believed that few, if any, titles were lost altogether.

Thus V-discs, together with the broadcast transcription products of AFRS, Associated, Lang–Worth, Standard, Thesaurus (of NBC), and World Transcriptions, form a jazz archive covering an immensely important period, which (except for “soundies”) is otherwise undocumented because of the AFM ban. However, instead of providing a view of the music’s continual development in the mid-1940s, these recordings effectively present a picture of jazz frozen as it was at the beginning of the decade, thus obscuring the major changes that emerged suddenly, as though they were revolutionary, when recording began again in 1944–5.

6. The re-emergence of independent labels.

  • Chris Sheridan

After the demise of many independent companies during the Depression, a certain recovery had already begun before the AFM ban. Towards the end of the 1930s, as a reaction to the commercial excesses of the swing era, a fresh group of companies emerged to record “pure” styles that their proprietors felt were being neglected.

Among the first was Milt Gabler’s label Commodore, named for his record store in New York. Although it was formed to record the greatly neglected music of the white Chicago school of the 1920s led by Eddie Condon, its short existence (to the mid-1940s) resulted in highly influential recordings by small swing bands, featuring such musicians as Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Chu Berry and Roy Eldridge, Eddie Durham (who made some of the first recordings on electric guitar), Hot Lips Page, Don Byas, and many others. Commodore was also one of the first record companies to encourage longer performances by issuing them on 12-inch 78 r.p.m. discs, a format avoided by the major companies, who were locked in a price war and regarded 12-inch discs as uneconomic, reserving them for classical music.

Varsity was established in 1939 by Eli Oberstein, formerly a recording manager at Victor. Although it was also short-lived, the label preserved important performances by Roy Eldridge, Benny Carter, and Coleman Hawkins (each as a principal soloist in a single group), Stuff Smith, and John Kirby’s sextet (under Buster Bailey’s name), which together with Fats Waller and his Rhythm (on Victor and Bluebird) was the most commercially successful small group of the era. Other notable documenters of small-group swing and the transition to bop were Black & White, Continental, Musicraft, and the vital label Keynote, run by Harry Lim (who later, in 1972, established the company and label Famous Door).

Alongside these, another group of entrepreneurs was allowing the public to rediscover New Orleans styles through recordings for Jazz Man, Climax, and, most important, American Music, on which players such as Bunk Johnson, George Lewis (i), Wooden Joe Nicholas, and Baby Dodds provided a glimpse of the music’s prehistory. Another label, King Jazz, partly owned by Mezz Mezzrow, recorded 56 masters in its brief existence (1945–8), the most important being quintet and septet titles featuring Sidney Bechet.

Such enterprises ensured that the past remained in the present, and from this time on the documentation of developing jazz styles would lie almost completely in the hands of the independent labels. The major companies, whose interest in jazz declined sharply with the disintegration of the big-band era, henceforth confined their jazz activities to styles and musicians of proven commercial worth or prospect.

The first major new style to be nurtured by the independents was bop, which had been rapidly developing in clubs along New York’s 52nd Street during the difficult years of the war and the AFM recording ban. An avant-garde movement, its documentation was left almost exclusively to the custody of small, independent, specialist labels such as Guild, Manor, and Ross Russell’s Dial, and three that were destined to become giants – Clef, Savoy, and Blue Note.

Clef, under the direction of Norman Granz, arose from the documentation of the rousing and often rowdy jam sessions given as part of his Jazz at the Philharmonic series. It grew to encompass both new and old styles and became perhaps the most important label in defining the jazz mainstream. Absorbed into Verve in 1956, it was sold to MGM late in 1960. Clef was also one of the few labels before the LP era (another was Gene Norman Presents) to break away from the restriction of commercial issues to a duration of three or four minutes: many of the jam-session recordings preserve performances of between ten and 25 minutes, and in their original form were therefore issued on three to seven sides of a set of 78 r.p.m. discs.

Savoy, founded in 1942 by Herman Lubinsky, owed its musical success to its artists and repertory men, including Ozzie Cadena, Buck Ram, and Teddy Reig. But its economic survival was due to its activities in the area of rhythm-and-blues and gospel music, though it recorded many important bop sessions, notably one by Charlie Parker’s quintet in 1945.

Blue Note more than any other label gained cult status among listeners, not through following fashions but simply because of the quality of its recordings. It was founded in 1939 by Alfred Lion to provide a practical means of expressing his enthusiasm for the boogie-woogie pianists Albert Ammons and Meade “Lux” Lewis, who had impressed him at John Hammond’s first “From Spirituals to Swing” concert in Carnegie Hall in 1938. 50 pressings each of the five performances could hardly secure a future for the new label, but a single performance from the next, greatly contrasting, session did: Sidney Bechet’s profound interpretation of Summertime (1939, BN 6).

Although they suspended recording activities during the war, Lion and his partner Francis Wolff continued to sell existing recordings; Wolff noted that wartime and the AFM ban sharpened demand and allowed Blue Note to build financial reserves for its next phase of recording. This began in November 1943 and documented the first aspect of the postwar changes in jazz – the rapid growth of small swing groups that split away from the disintegrating big bands. Some of these were led by Ike Quebec, who became the talent scout for Blue Note, leading Lion and Wolff to bop and enabling them to make classic recordings by Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Fats Navarro, and others. In the 1950s Blue Note groomed the talents of such musicians as Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Hank Mobley, and Kenny Dorham, dominating the scene against powerful competition by means of carefully planned sessions, always preceded by sufficient rehearsal time to allow challenging material to be played with the greatest creativity.

In the middle of this period there was a second recording ban, less effective than the first. By October 1947 the AFM had announced that a strike would begin on 1 January 1948. The warning gave companies several months in which to accumulate new recordings, which they did with the cooperation of their musicians; they then issued these recordings through the period of the ban, which ended early in 1949. The ban seems to have pushed forward somewhat the demise of the big bands – even Benny Goodman concentrated on leading small groups – but it was no more than a minor factor in their decline.

In general this was a great age for jazz, witnessing the simultaneous flowering of traditional and mainstream as well as modern styles, all assiduously catered for by independent producers. Blue Note documented the entire period, stamping on it a distinctive sound so beloved of collectors that the label was able to make a comeback from 1985 under the guidance of Bruce Lundvall.

But it had important competitors, notably Bob Weinstock’s labels Prestige and New Jazz, established after the ban ended in 1949, and the Riverside label of Orrin Keepnews and Bill Grauer, established in 1953, and its subsidiary Jazzland, set up in 1960. Both enterprises discovered important new stars and rediscovered important old ones: Miles Davis and John Coltrane recorded for Prestige, Monk, Bill Evans (ii), and Wes Montgomery for Riverside. As was often the case, however, these two companies lost musicians, once their reputations were firmly established, to the major companies, which tended to acquire rather than develop talent: Columbia took Davis in 1955 and Monk in 1962, Verve took Evans in 1963 and Montgomery in 1964. This was not necessarily detrimental, since Columbia recorded many of Davis’s finest albums, as well as some of Charles Mingus’s best work, and Verve found a proper setting for Jimmy Smith after his less notable sessions for Blue Note.

During the 1950s, with the advent of the long-playing disc, musicians finally began regularly to record extended performances. The decade also saw the rise of West Coast jazz, documented by labels of high quality such as Richard Bock’s Pacific Jazz, Lester Koenig’s Contemporary, and Atlantic (particularly the sectors of the catalogue supervised by Nesuhi Ertegun). In New York, Vanguard established its series Jazz Showcase under the direction of John Hammond, which presented Count Basie, Buck Clayton, Vic Dickenson, and other leading swing musicians. In the mid-decade Atlantic turned its attention to jazz, recording diverse styles and mounting sessions by Wilbur De Paris and his New New Orleans Jazz, the Modern Jazz Sextet, and Mingus; at the turn of the decade it recorded John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, and in 1962, as part of a series called Jazz at Preservation Hall, it recorded the first technically well-made album of a New Orleans brass band, the Eureka.

In 1960 the company Impulse! was formed, whose label became one of the most important of the decade, above all for Coltrane’s modal-jazz and free-jazz recordings. Ironically Coltrane’s extended improvisations on individual titles, in a number of instances covering one or both sides of a long-playing disc, caused a curious reversal in critics’ attitudes: those who disliked Coltrane now lamented the demise of the three-minute performance, which obliged a soloist to be concise.

7. The effects of technological change.

  • Barry Kernfeld

From the late 1940s, when magnetic tape became the principal recording medium, the possibility existed of editing (cutting and splicing) recordings; the development of multitrack recording a decade later allowed the isolation and separate manipulation of individual components and voices of a recording. These advances exaggerated the distinction between performance and recording, and meant that, in theory at least, recordings could no longer be regarded as the documentation of a spontaneous act of creation. However, the facility for “improving” on a recorded performance by editing was, on the whole, used less in jazz than, for instance, in classical music, and musicians and listeners alike continued to value the indefinable effect of the element of risk that had hitherto characterized all recordings.

At first editing was used simply to remove blatant mistakes and to retrieve fine passages from otherwise flawed performances. Thus, for example, Keepnews explains that Monk’s composition Brilliant Corners was so difficult that even such formidable players as Sonny Rollins and Oscar Pettiford were unable to make their way through a completely satisfactory take at a session on 23 December 1956; the issued track is therefore a composite, in which the final statement of the theme is part of a different take from the remainder of the performance. Similar work was done on recordings by Mingus; he was notorious for producing brand-new material at a recording session, and as a result he was obliged to rely on studio editing to eliminate mistakes.

It was only after rock musicians led the way in the mid-1960s that jazz musicians turned to editing as a means of exploring new sounds. The first important examples were the fruits of the collaboration between Miles Davis and his producer at Columbia, Teo Macero. In their work from 1968 into the 1980s the recording session itself was only the first part of making a recording: tapes of hours of improvisation provided the raw material from which they created the structure and content of an issued track. In effect Davis’s producer became as important a member of his group as any individual sideman.

The technical innovations of the 1970s had, on the whole, little impact on jazz. Cassette tapes became generally available, but during this era they never replaced the LP for jazz listeners. There are several possible reasons for this: even with sophisticated recorders, equipped with music sensor devices, it proved difficult to locate individual tracks on tape; few listeners possessed the expensive equipment needed to produce a cassette tape sound that rivaled a good (not even a great) phonograph; and the extensive liner notes and handsome photographs and artwork that became an essential part of the presentation of a jazz recording could not be successfully reduced to the tiny size of a cassette-tape box. Direct-to-disc recording had small importance for jazz. Retakes were expensive and editing impossible. The discs themselves were also costly and most companies trying the process risked it only on lightweight forms of jazz. The high fidelity proved to be insufficient compensation for these shortcomings, and no label attempted more than a few direct-to-disc recordings.

8. Non-American companies and labels, and reissues.

  • Barry Kernfeld

Between the end of World War II and the late 1950s there emerged in Europe and elsewhere a number of new companies, recording bop and the revived traditional styles played by touring Americans and by new, important non-American players. These enterprises included Esquire and Tempo in England, Barclay, Blue Star, and Vogue in France, Cupol, Metronome, Sonet, and Storyville in Scandinavia, Supraphon in Czechoslovakia, Muza in Poland, and Swaggie in Australia.

From the late 1960s numerous European companies came to prominence, several in the recording of new styles of jazz – a significant development in consideration of the earlier role of the European companies as followers of the American lead. Among the most important were Black and Blue (1968–) in France; MPS (1968–83), ECM and FMP (both 1969–), Enja (1971–), and Moers Music (1974–) in Germany; Incus (1970–), Ogun (1973–), and Leo (ii) (1980–) in England; Steeplechase (1972–) in Denmark; Hat Hut (1974–) in Switzerland; Black Saint (1975–), its subsidiary Soul Note (1979–), Red (1976–), and Splasc(h) (1982–) in Italy; Timeless (1975–) and Criss Cross Jazz (1981–) in the Netherlands; and Leo (i) (c1978–) in Finland. Black Saint, FMP, Hat Hut, and Incus, as well as portions of the catalogues of ECM, Enja, the Leos, Moers Music, and Ogun, were devoted to free jazz, in contrast to the more conservative repertory of swing and bop offered by the principal new labels established in the same period in the USA, among them Master Jazz Recordings (1967–), Chiaroscuro (1970–), Muse (ii) (1972–), Concord (1973–), Pablo (1977–), and Palo Alto (1981–), and Canada, including Sackville (1968–).

Concurrently reissues flourished. Among noteworthy anthologies were a Time–Life series of boxed sets, each one consisting of three albums devoted to leading early jazz and swing soloists, a monumental and stylistically comprehensive series of 100 albums issued by the Franklin Mint in Philadelphia, and scholarly collections put together by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. Fantasy issued double (and in a few cases triple) albums drawn from the catalogues of Prestige and Riverside, RCA revived the Bluebird catalogue on a series of double albums, Mosaic (ii) offered luxurious boxed sets of recordings including reissued and previously unissued material, and first Arista then (from around 1985) Muse (ii) reissued the Savoy catalogue. An important development was the revival in 1985 of the Blue Note label, both for reissues and new recordings.

By the 1980s several Japanese labels had introduced the concept of facsimile reproductions of acclaimed albums. This idea was taken up by French Verve, then, more importantly, by Fantasy, which in 1983 set up the Original Jazz Classics label, offering facsimiles of hundreds of albums from the catalogues of Contemporary, Debut, Fantasy, Jazz Workshop, Prestige, and Riverside. An even larger collection of this kind was concurrently developed by the Spanish company Fresh Sound, which has drawn material from RCA Victor, Pacific Jazz, Bethlehem, Roulette, Columbia, and other labels, both American and European.

Digital remastering techniques (see §I, 4, above) had a profound, and also controversial, effect on reissues. A notable engineer in this field was the Australian Robert Parker, whose work was broadcast and issued on tape, disc, and compact disc as the result of a collaborative venture by the Australian Broadcasting Company and the BBC. While Parker’s techniques of filtering and clarifying acoustical recordings produced some remarkable results, at the time of their first appearance (in the mid-1980s) a critical storm arose about their faithfulness to the original performances in comparison with the best monaural analogue transfers of the 1960s; Parker’s addition of echo effects and attempts to simulate stereophonic sound were particularly censured. But this proved to be just a minor outcry when set against the concerns raised in later years, when digital remastering began to be applied across the board to jazz reissues.

9. The CD era.

  • Barry Kernfeld

Following a long period of stability in recording technology (as regards both the prevailing techniques of analogue recording and the normal distribution of music on stereo microgroove records and stereo cassettes), the 1980s witnessed an upheaval, as first digital studio recording techniques and then digital discs quickly came to prominence. By the mid-1980s the industry had wholeheartedly embraced the compact disc, which in time replaced the 12-inch long-playing album for all new recordings and reissues. This development proceeded more swiftly in genres other than jazz, many of whose fans maintained a strong connection to the LP as a physical document (with its cover art and liner notes). And, as would be expected for many such technological developments, the changeover occurred more speedily in America and Japan than elsewhere, but by the early 1990s it was in place worldwide. Even the highly popular and ongoing series of facsimile reissues were transferred to CD, with cover art and liner notes miniaturized, and sometimes with a few “bonus tracks” added, the additional available playing time of a compact disc allowing for the inclusion of rejected takes or previously unissued titles from a session. In jazz circles, the only movement of even moderate significance against the tidal wave of compact discs occurred late in 1993, when Mosaic introduced its nostalgic “Q-LP,” utilizing a heavy, high-quality vinyl reminiscent of albums of the early 1950s; however, this offering attracted only a small number of audiophiles, and by 1999 few Mosaic sets were available on LP.

(i) A three-tiered system.

With the arrival of CDs the industry began to operate on three different tiers; these might be characterized as the industrial giant, the jazz company, and the home operator. At the grandest level (in which context jazz sales represent a small percentage of the whole), many major corporations were absorbed and merged into other, ever-larger conglomerates controlling much of the worldwide market. Of particular relevance to jazz, RCA was absorbed into the German company BMG (Bertelsmann AG); the Japanese corporation Sony acquired the CBS Records Group (including Columbia and all of the historical labels which had come into its fold); the WEA group (the “A” in WEA being Atlantic) became a subsidiary of Time Warner; and – this is complicated – Seagram’s Universal Music Group came into being through its acquisition of Polygram (whose predecessor Polydor had purchased Verve and Mercury), which it merged with Universal (which had acquired MCA, which in turn had earlier acquired GRP, Impulse!, and the American label Decca).

The second tier, that of the jazz company, remained reasonably stable. The vast majority of labels initiated in the 1970s and early 1980s (see §II, 8, above) remained active, as did the revived Blue Note label, which once again became a leader in the field. To be sure there were many changes, but none of these developments were startling within the context of the always volatile recording industry: Fantasy acquired another major catalogue in the Pablo label; Jazzology reactivated the American Music catalogue, producing CD reissues of considerable significance to fans of the New Orleans revival; Savoy transferred from Muse to the Japanese company Nippon Columbia and its label Denon; 32 Jazz bought Muse; with the death of its dynamic owner Carl Jefferson, Concord appeared to yield its leading role in mainstream and swing to the new labels Arbors (in the USA) and Nagel-Heyer (Germany); other emerging companies, such as DIW (Japan and America), ITM and L+R (both Germany), and Arabesque, CIMP, Knitting Factory Works, and Music & Arts (all USA) provided important forums for new jazz recordings; and so forth.

The most far-reaching development in the area of reissues occurred outside of the USA, where the otherwise international limitation of copyright protection to 50 years meant that, by the end of the 20th century, the entire output from the era of 78 r.p.m. records was available for reissue by anyone. The most successful and ambitious program of this sort, numbering many hundreds of issues, was produced by the French label Classics, whose series of compact discs cut across distinctions among original labels (and their current owners) to offer reissues of master takes of titles organized chronologically by artist. The similar program of reissues of blues and gospel material by the Austrian label Document has included a great deal of related jazz, in particular the first serious attempt at making available the legacy of the many female singers of the 1920s who operated on the boundaries between jazz, blues, and popular music. Both of these programs are dependent on what collectors are able to supply and on the condition in which they supply it, with the result that sound quality, while generally acceptable, is rarely the best that can be achieved and occasionally the finished product is of documentary interest only.

By contrast, the British recording engineer John R. T. Davies has continued to make available full-frequency dubbings of jazz from the vintage and swing eras in sound quality unlikely to be improved on (unless those who may still have access to surviving masters should begin to acknowledge a responsibility to the jazz past which extends beyond the most famous musicians). Davies’s unsurpassed work appears principally on such smaller labels, often owned by enthusiasts, as Frog, Gannet, Hep, and JSP (all UK), Collector’s Classics (Denmark), Retrospect (Netherlands), and Jazz Oracle (Canada).

The new third tier of jazz recording has consisted of small independent operators, often the musicians themselves. While homemade recordings had been produced since the 1940s, and were commonplace with the advent of cassette tapes in the 1960s, the inferior recording equipment available outside of an expensive studio made for a clear and obvious distinction between the amateur and the professional. This situation changed in the 1990s, when reasonably priced digital recording equipment became widely available. Many people established their own studios and labels and independent recording flourished. Some sense of the extent of these activities may be gleaned from the computerized labels report held at the Institute of Jazz Studies: as of 1999 (that is to say, in little more than a decade after digital recording became firmly entrenched) the institute’s collection included roughly 1900 labels on compact disc, perhaps 1700 of which emanate from small, and sometimes one-off, enterprises.

(ii) Ongoing and new concerns.

As always, preservation of original recordings was a concern during the era of the compact disc, not just for jazz, but industry-wide. The CD itself was originally promoted, in 1982, as a vehicle for holding music in a “permanent” form (ironic, in light of attempts to replace it with DVD audio and Super Audio CD only 17 years after it first appeared) and, as had often been the case within the industry, archival material was neglected. Several periodical articles in the early to mid-1990s documented the deterioration and disorganization of original recorded documents.

Another concern was for the quality of sound in some jazz reissues. A number of CD reissues were carelessly produced, for various reasons, including unfamiliarity with digital equipment, but most often simply because the reissuer failed to obtain a good master of the original recording; GRP actually acknowledged this problem, and in the mid-1990s its series of reissues from the Impulse! catalogue were freshly manufactured. However, to compensate there was a flood of high-quality reissues produced by Classics, Blue Note, Fantasy, Fresh Sound, Mosaic, and others. Indeed, at no time before had so much historical recorded jazz been made available for the general public in a satisfying form.

Hand in hand with the flood of reissues on compact disc came an even more overwhelming tide of new recordings: the market became saturated. Furthermore, these new albums were longer than ever before, because the compact disc was capable of holding many more minutes of music than the LP. Unfortunately, artistic creativity could rarely keep pace with technical capacity; few jazz musicians possess the resources to create more than an hour of engaging music with each and every issue. If in earlier eras jazz fans lamented the gaps of coverage of an important player’s career, now, with few exceptions, the problem was overexposure.

An even greater concern resided in the general relationship of digital sound to jazz. Trying out a new idea, making a mistake, and perhaps playing further with that mistake to make it work, has been standard procedure for players in many styles. Whereas there were improvisers such as Bobby Hackett, who had such a fully formed conception of melody that he seemingly played perfectly time after time, few jazz musicians have ever operated at that level. Instead, throughout the music’s history, its exponents practiced a shift in balance between professionalism and audacious creativity, in moving between the studio and “live” performance; with the knowledge that a recording is being made, caution, conciseness, and formality come to the fore. But the essential characteristics of digital recording tipped this balance over the edge: by comparison with that of 78 r.p.m. and microgroove discs, the sound of a compact disc is so clean that the disruptive potential of a mistake is greatly exaggerated. The consequent need to avoid making any mistakes had a stultifying effect on countless jazz musicians, whose excessively restrained work on CD routinely stands in marked contrast to their ambitious playing in clubs and concerts.

The following record companies and labels have entries in this dictionary:

A (i), A (ii), Accurate, Ace of Hearts, ACT, Actuelle, Affinity, A.F.O., AFRS, Ajax, Alacra, Aladdin, Alpha Phonics, Alto (ii), Altsax, Ambassador, Ambiances Magnétiques, American Clavé, American Music, American Record Corporation, Antilles, Ap-Gu-Ga, Apollo, Arabesque, Arbors, Arc, ARC–BRC, Arco, Argo, Arista, Arkadia, Artists House, Arto, Asian Improv, Atco, Atlantic, Audiophile, Audioquest, Auricle, Aurora, Autograph, Ava, Avant

Bakton, Banner, Barclay, Bardo, Bassic Sound, Bee Hive, Bet-Car, Bethlehem, Big Noise, Biograph, Birth, Black and Blue, Black & White, Black Hawk, Black Jazz, Black Lion, Black Patti, Black Saint, Black Swan, Blu-disc, Bluebird, Blue Note (ii), Blue Star, BMG, Bosco, Bridgeport Die & Machine Company, Broadway, Brownstone, Brunswick, Buddy, Buzz, Bvhaast, BYG

Cadence Jazz, Cadet, Cadillac (ii), Cameo, Candid, Capitol, Capri, Cardinal, Catalyst, Cathexis, CBS, Chabada, Challenge, Champion, Charlie Parker Records, Chesky, Chiaroscuro, Choice, CIMP, Circle (i), Circle (iii), Classic Jazz, Classics, Claxon, Claxtonola, Clef, Climax, CMP, Cobblestone, Collectors Items, Columbia, Commodore, Concord, Conqueror, Consolidated Artists, Contact, Contemporary, Continental, Creative World, Creole, Crescent, Criss Cross Jazz, Crown, CTI, Cupol

DAAGNIM, Daffodil, Dauntless, Davis & Schwegler, Dawn, Day Eight Music, Debut (i), Debut (ii), Decca, Dee Gee, Delmark, Delta, De Luxe, Denon, Depth of Field, Derby (ii), Deutsche Grammophon, Dial, Dire, Discovery, Diva, DIW, Doctor Jazz, Domino, Double-Time (ii), Dragon, Dreamstreet, Dreyfus Jazz, Dune


West, East Wind (i), East Wind (ii), ECM, Edison, Edison-Bell, EGO, Ekaya, Electrola, Elektra Musician, Emanem, EmArcy, Emerson, EMI, Emily, Empire, Enja, Epic, ESP-disk, Esquire, Everybody’s, Evidence (i), Evidence (ii), Exclusive

Famous, Famous Door (ii), Fantasy, Fat Cat’s Jazz, Felsted, Flying Dutchman, Flyright, FMP, Foolish Music, Fountain, Freedom, Fresh Sound

Galaxy, Gazell (i), Gazell (ii), General, Gennett, Geobo, GHB, Gilt-edge, GM, GNP, Good Time Jazz, Gramavision, Gramophone Company, Grey Gull, Groove, GRP, Guardsman, Guild

Halcyon, Handy Record Company, Harlequin, Harmograph, Harmony (ii), Hat Hut, Hep, Herwin (i), Herwin (ii), Hifijazz, HighNote, His Master’s Voice, Hit of the Week, Hollywood, Hopscotch, Horizon, Hot Record Society

IAJRC (i), Ibeji, Imperial, Improvisation Series, Improvising Artists, Impulse!, In + Out, Incus, India Navigation, Inner City, Intakt, Interplay, Interstate Music, Intro (ii)

Japo, Jaro, JAZA, Jazz (ii), Jazz Alliance, Jazz City, Jazz Document, Jazzette, Jazz Focus, Jazz4ever, Jazz Haus Musik, Jazzland, Jazzline (i), Jazzline (ii), Jazzology, Jazzpoint, Jazz Record, Jazz Society (i), Jazz Society (ii), Jazztime, Jazztone, Jazz West, Jazz West Coast, Jazz Workshop, J Curve, Jen Bay, Jewel, JKMN, Judson, Justin Time

Ken Music, Kenneth, Keynote, Keytone, King, King Jazz, Klacto, Knitting Factory Works, Koch Jazz, Konnex, Krazy Kat, Kudu

Label Bleu, Lake Shore Jazz of Chicago, Landmark, Lang–Worth, Legacy, Legend, Leo (i), Leo (ii), Liberty Music Shop, Limelight, Limetree, Lincoln, Lindström, Lipstick, London, Love

Mad-Kat, Magpie, Mainstream, MAMA Foundation, Manhattan, Manor, Mapleshade, Marathon, Marsh Laboratories, Master (ii), Master Jazz Recordings, Maya, MCA, Meantime, Medallion, Melotone, Mercury, Meritt (i), Meritt (ii), Messidor, Metalanguage, Metrojazz, Metronome, Milestone, Minor Music, Modern, Moers Music, Mole, MONO, Mons, Montgomery Ward, Mood, Moodsville, Mosaic (i), Mosaic (ii), MPS, Muse (i), Muse (ii), Music & Arts, Musicmasters, Musicraft

Nabel, Nagel-Heyer, National (i), National (ii), National (iii), Nato, Naxos Jazz, Nessa, New Artists, New Jazz, New Note, New World, New York Recording Laboratories, Nilva, Nimbus, Nine Winds, Nippon Columbia, Nocturne, Nonesuch, Nordskog, Norgran, Novus, NYC

Odeon, Odin, Ogun, OKeh, Okka Disk, Onyx (ii), Original Jazz Classics, Oriole (i), Oriole (ii), Otic, Outline, Owl, Ozone

Pablo, Pacific Jazz, Palmetto, Palo Alto, Panachord, Pannon Jazz, Parachute, Paradox, Paramount, Parlophone, Pathé, Peacock’s Progressive Jazz, Perfect, Philo, Phoenix Jazz, Phontastic, Plaza Music Company, PM, Postcards, Po Torch, Power Bros., Prestige, Progressive, Projazz, Puretone, Puritan

QED, QRS, Quark

Raecox; RAM, Ramboy, Rampart, Random Acoustics, RAU, RCA Victor, Red, Red Baron, Re-entry, Regal (i), Regal (ii), Regal (iii), Regal–Zonophone, Regina, Regis, Reprise, Reservoir, Resonant Music, Retrieval, Revelation, Rex, Rhino, Rialto, Ring, Ristic, Riti, Riverside, Romeo, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz House, Rosetta, Roulette, Royal Roost (ii), Rykodisc

Saba, Sackville, Sahara, Satellites, Saturn, Savant, Savoy (i), Savoy (ii), Scala, Scepter, Score, Screwgun, SESAC, Session (ii), Session Disc, Sessoms, 77, Sharp Nine, Shih Shih Wu Ai, Signal, Signature, Silkheart, Silvertone, Sittin’ in With, Solid State, Solo Art, Sonet, Songlines, Sonora, Sony, Soul Note, Southport, Spotlite (ii), Starr, Stateside, Steam, Steeplechase, Stomp Off, Storyville (ii), Storyville (iii), Strata-East, Stretch, Sun (i), Sun (ii), Sunnyside, Sunrise, Sunset (i), Sunset (ii), Sunshine, Super Disc, Superior, Supertone (i), Supertone (ii), Supreme, Swaggie, Swing (ii), Swingville, Symphonola

TCB, Teddy Wilson School for Pianists, Telarc, Tempo (ii), Theresa, Three Blind Mice, Time (ii), Timeless, Timely Tiptoe, Transition, Triangle, Tribe, Trip, Tunes, Tutu

UHCA, Unit, United, United Artists, United Phonographs Corporation, Unity, Universal Music Group

Vanguard, Variety (i), Variety (ii), Varsity, Vault, V-disc, Vee Jay, Verve, Via, Victo, Victor, Vinyl, Vocalion, Vogue, V.S.O.P. (ii), V.S.O.P. (iii)

Warner Brothers, Warwick, Waterland, Watt, Wave, Wax (ii), WenHa, World Pacific, World Wide, World Wide Jazz

Xanadu, XtraWatt



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