Parnassus Blog

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Passing Note

Parnassus regularly tolls off listings of the great musicians we have recently lost, simply because I think it will be of interest to our customers. Thus we note the death of the magnificent soprano Birgit Nilsson, who transformed our ideas of singing and assured Wagnerians that Kirsten Flagstad hadn't turned out to be the last great Wagner soprano. We are also deeply saddened to hear of the illness of Marilyn Horne, as fine a person as she is a performer, and pray for her recovery.

One recent loss that may have escaped the attention of Parnassus customers was that of Bob Weinstock, founder of the Prestige label. Few people realize that Weinstock was the inventor of the jazz LP as we came to know it. His label, founded in 1951, was not the first one to issue jazz music on LPs. But Weinstock was the first to realize that the LP made possible a completely different type of recording. Starting with a Zoot Sims session in 1951, Weinstock encouraged musicians to play beyond the usual 3 or 4 minute limitation of the 78, and issued the first studio-recorded extended jazz improvisations.

Most other labels were slow to catch on. As late as 1953 and ‘54, most jazz LPs were collections of singles. It seems--I've been researching this recently--that Charlie Parker, who recorded up to 1954, never made a real LP as a leader. All those Parker LPs were collections of tracks recorded as singles. The one exception occurred when Parker played as a sideman on a Miles Davis session (now collected on a CD called "Collector's Items")--for Prestige!

I also want to alert customers to the existence of a fascinating CD collection issued by the Archeophone label, which specializes in reissues of acoustical recordings. "Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry 1891-1922" is a two-disc collection issued to accompany a book of the same title by Tim Brooks, which I have just started working my way through.

While most of the music on this set is not classical, some of it is. Aside from the wonderful recordings of early gospel groups, this collection includes a 1918 recording by Roland Hayes ("Vesti la giubba" from I Pagliacci!), recorded and published at the singer's own expense. It also has five of the ten known sides issued by Broome Special Phonograph label, a short-lived black-owned company that apparently issued only classical music performances by black artists. I never thought I'd have the chance to hear R. Nathaniel Dett play his own music, but he does here, very beautifully. Two of the other performers issued by Broome are well remembered: the singer, composer and arranger Harry Burleigh, and the violinist-composer Clarence Cameron White.

With its excellent program booklet and expert transfers, this wonderful set is worth owning even if you aren't as interested as I was in hearing the voices of Booker T. Washington and Jack Johnson and a 1917 recording by Eubie Blake. This set is available through regular retailers (including our favorite special order service, Rhinebeck Records, or from the label itself (

Monday, January 23, 2006


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