Revinylization #5: Craft Recordings & Charlie Parker's Savoy LPs

I was well over 50 when I first heard an original copy of Charlie Parker's "Ko-Ko." It was a happy accident. I received a call from the family of a well-to-do neighbor who had recently passed away, asking if I'd be interested in having his record collection. Three minutes later, I was parked near the servants' entrance of their centuries-old brick mansion—how quickly we forget our proletariat resentment when there's vinyl to be had—loading a few cartons of LPs and 78s into my car: The collection was small but high in quality, reflective of very good taste that cut across multiple genres. And there, in one of those cartons, was a copy of the 10" LP New Sounds in Modern Music, Volume 2 (Savoy MG 9001).

Except it wasn't: When I got home and removed the good-condition disc from its fair-condition jacket, I found that it was in fact New Sounds in Modern Music, Volume 1 (Savoy MG 9000). The one with "Ko-Ko" as the Side Two opener.

As I recall, this happened not long after I got hold of an EMT OFD 25 mono pickup head, the stylus of which is sized for early LPs. By the time I acquired the Savoy LP, I had owned the EMT long enough to appreciate its almost comically superior (footnote 1) way of reproducing the touch and impact so often found in early-1950s LPs. But nothing could have prepared me for what I heard from that Charlie Parker record: Low in the mix though it was, Curley Russell's string bass was taut and forceful; every note attack from Parker's alto sax and Miles Davis's trumpet (footnote 2) had the feel of the real thing; and Max Roach's drums exploded from the speakers—no other word for it.

In fact, upon my first listen to the original 1950 LP, I experienced recorded music in a way that's happened only a handful of times in my life. I was so knocked out by one side of a record that, for weeks, I couldn't bring myself to flip it over and listen to the other side. Whether I feared being disappointed (what on Earth could possibly match what I had just heard?) or was simply being superstitious (what if I break the spell?), I have no idea, but my paralysis had far more to do with the music-making than the punchy mono sound: The sheer audacity of Parker's and Davis's rapid-fire playing, some lines performed in unison, was startling—like hearing a silence broken by a small group of people speaking in code, loudly and joyously.

420reviny.bac

Parker's "Ko-Ko," in which a semi-improvised introduction hurtles into an up-tempo progression based on the jazz standard "Cherokee"—and which boasts one of the strangest endings in all of jazz—is arguably the first bebop recording ever released. The session took place in November of 1945 at WOR studios in New York and was issued on a Savoy 78rpm single, backed with a version of "How High the Moon" by another bebop artist, Don Byas. Its first LP release was in 1950, on Savoy's New Sounds in Modern Music, Volume 1, the first of four 10" LPs, the last of which came out in 1953. Now, in celebration of the centennial of Parker's birth, Craft Recordings has reissued all four volumes in a boxed set called Charlie Parker: The Savoy 10-inch LP Collection (CR00010). It isn't enough to say "Ko-Ko" isn't the only gem among the set's 28 selections: Every minute of music herein is electric. Standouts include "Constellation," "Ah-Leu-Cha" (which Thelonious Monk and others have covered), "Chasin' the Bird," and a live performance of the Parker composition "Confirmation," recorded in 1947 at Carnegie Hall.

The sound of Craft's remastered LPs is a mixed bag. Surfaces on my review copy were exceptionally clean and tic-free, with lead-in grooves so quiet that the music never failed to surprise me at least a little. But the EQ was somewhat different from the original; in particular, the lowest frequencies had been bumped up. Most bothersome was the fact that note attacks, especially audible in the drums and the double-bass, were smoothed over. Compared to the very live-sounding original disc, the sound overall was just a tiny bit plasticky. (I reached out to the label's publicist in an effort to determine what source materials—original tapes? files made from the best available LPs? something else?—were used for the new LP masters, but by press time I had not heard back. The liner notes credit Grammy-winning engineer Paul Blakemore with "audio restoration and mastering.") To my ear, the LP masters were cut from digital, but I've been known to be wrong.

That being said, I would rather have a set of less-than-ideal 10" Charlie Parker LPs than no 10" Charlie Parker LPs, and the packaging and very good liner notes sweeten the deal—that, and a retail price of $89.99 for the set, including a Savoy T-shirt (which I haven't seen, so I've no idea if it's 100% cotton or a polyester blend [do please imagine a semi-ironic smiley emoji in this space]).

If you don't have these records, you need them, so order a set now before the supplies dry up.


Footnote 1: As in: to everything.

Footnote 2: There is no consensus among critics as to who played trumpet on this track. The liner notes for this reissue credit Dizzy Gillespie, who was hired for the session as a pianist. I tend to think it was Davis.

COMMENTS
s10sondek's picture

Damn, we miss you, Art!

If the original recording sessions were indeed held in 1945, then I would imagine they were recorded direct-to-disc. I believe the first commercially-available magnetic tape recording machine was the Ampex 200, which didn't ship until mid-1948. Perhaps there were earlier prototypes out there used occasionally for testing and de-bugging, but my best guess is that the first-generation medium for these dates is 78rpm disc. (That itself could be a clue as to why the sound is so uniquely present and explosive on Art's LP copy).

Can anyone chime in here regarding the typical re-mastering and cutting workflow used when the primary source material is a 78 or 33 1/3 rpm disc? Are there any good examples or stories of such materials being reissued using a minimalist, all-analog process (meaning one that doesn't impose an intermediate tape generation prior to cutting the lacquer)?

In any case, this reissue set looks like a great introduction to the genius of Charlie Parker and his "backing band" of Miles, Diz, Roach, et al. Thanks for publishing this heads-up within the precious last few words we will ever hear from Mr. Dudley, may you Rest in Peace!

empirelvr's picture

I've worked with a number of discs that originated from WOR. The first generation medium would have been a 12" to 16" lacquer disc, recorded more than probably at 33 1/3RPM.

The problem here is how deep did the research into these reissues go. Did they go as far as just finding the master tape made for the 10" LP issue and be done with it; or did they go the extra mile to find any original lacquers the LP was originally compiled from that still exist?

A well recorded lacquer, played a minimum amount of times in the past, well taken care of, and transferred using modern equipment can sound spectacular.

In either case, the capture medium was most likely digital, hopefully 96kHz/24 bit or higher.

A good example of the type of reissue you hypothesize about is the recent Classic Records issue of the complete Muddy Waters Plantation recordings. From the surviving lacquers to 96/24 digital files with no futzing in between. It's a shame though that most of the lacquers were either quite worn or second generation, along with being field recordings made under less than ideal situations so the sound isn't as revelatory as you would hope.

s10sondek's picture

Thank you so much for your comment. It really helps to shed some light on the workings of the mastering and reissue process.

Perhaps one point you can educate me (or us) on: you imply that first-generation direct-to-disc lacquers often survive long after the session date/s and can be used decades later as the primary source for reissues.

However, my understanding of the disc-manufacturing workflow is that lacquers (whether cut directly during the session, or subsequently in a mastering suite from a tape) are short-lived inputs into an electroplating process wherein silver and nickel are plated onto the modulated-groove surfaces, creating a "father" raised-ridge relief of the laquer's etchings. My impression was that this electroplating step destroyed the original lacquer and that it was forever lost.

But in the pre-tape era, this process would have had the alarming consequence of irreversibly destroying the sole set of first-generation media. So in that era, was there a different record manufacturing process used that protected or saved the session lacquers from the otherwise destructive plating sequence? It would make sense to preserve the first-generation media, of course, but so much of my knowledge is focused on the tape/LP era as to be stunned that the original session lacquers from 1945 would still be extant. From your comment, it sounds like not only are they sometimes extant, but that they can oftentimes be tracked down with a bit of sleuthing. How fascinating!

Jazzmaster Jake's picture

The “pre-tape era” 33.3RPM session discs became common place for recording sessions by 1938. WOR extensively used this process about 1929. The use of session discs was very similar to tape (obviously direct editing of the session being the biggest difference) and allowed for instant playback auditioning without having to wait for a test pressing when cutting to wax. A 16” disc running at 33.3RPM could hold approximately 15 mins of music since they used a large width groove (before the advent of 1mil microgroove). Session discs, unlike modern ‘Direct-To-Disc’ recordings, could not be sent direct to plating. Besides being cut at a different speed, they also contained false starts and outtakes. To make stampers, the selected track would be dubed onto another lacquer running at 78RPM, which would be sent to plating. For all modern (Micro-groove LP) issues of sessions from these discs, the disc was dubbed to either digital or analog tape, which would also would have been done for the original early 1950’s 10” LPs on Savoy.
Cheers,
Jake

TNtransplant's picture

Thanks for the info Jake! Presumably the session discs from the Koko recording date had been preserved as there is an aborted first take extant which is stopped when the arrangement veers into the familiar "Cherokee" melody (which would have required publishing compensation).

Curious as to whether it was fairly commonplace to have these original session discs saved, and how durable are/were they?

I was under the impression that most of the LP reissues of 78 era recordings were sourced from issued discs or test pressings that have found their way into the hands of private collectors.

BTW - unfortunately no longer have any versions of the Parker Savoy sessions on vinyl, but did compare several of Koko on CD with a 44.1/16 download of this new Craft 10" reissue. To my ears this reissue sounds pretty good -- seems like higher frequencies are a bit more open albeit with perhaps a bit more surface noise than my other digital versions which included CD's: Savoy Jazz/Arista copyrighted 1976 [which would have been date for LP compilation but this claims "Mastering for CD (from original acetates) Jack Towers assisted by Phil Schaap") so probably late 80's(?), Denon "20 bit" from mid-90's (?) that has obvious tape wow & flutter, Denon "24 bit" from 2000 and a JSP boxset from 2003 (probably the most "listenable").

But of course this is all relative and raises an obvious question: how finicky can you be when dealing with old jazz, blues, folk, etc. recordings which, aside from historical value, can still be musically thrilling (Louis Armstrong's Hot 5 and 7!) but clearly the sound quality is more dependent on the condition of original source material and mastering process than end recording format. Even essential Duke Ellington from the 30's/40's -- whose recordings tended to be much better than those of his peers from the era and included an early stereo from 1932(!) -- is nowhere near the early 50's LP's in terms of SQ.

BillBrown's picture

My understanding is that Dizzy was the piano player on the session, but that he played trumpet on "Koko." I believe it as it sounds like him and I don't think Miles (though I love his work) had the chops at the time (or maybe ever). It is technically a very difficult part.

Big Star 72's picture

Wonderful. RIP.

wgb113's picture

If so and it was written with the end in sight, he must have wondered where his own record collection would end up.

Man I miss him already.

John Atkinson's picture
The last 2 pieces Art wrote before he was struck down are Listening and Revinylization in the June 2020 issue of Stereophile. Both will be posted to the Stereophile website in the next few weeks after the print edition has reached subscribers.

We all miss you, Art.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Jack L's picture

Hi

I'd not miss reading them, for sure.

"To my ears, the LP master was cut from digital, but I've been known
to be wrong." quoted Art.

To my ears, even I were blindfolded, I can tell digital from analogue
rightaway.

FYI, I've collected some 35 LPs of digital masters, e.g. EMI, EMI Angel, London, DGG, RCA, Archiv, CBS, CBC & Hungarton (Hungary).
Sad to say, I am yet to be impressed by any of these 1980s digital masters. They were not there yet vs conventional analogue masters cut decades earlier. in term of being OPEN, engaging & enjoyable.

Just to mention 2 LPs of conventional analogue masters cut in 1960-1970s which sounds even better than many many LPs of analogue masters
of my 1,000+ vinyl collection.

Incidentally, both are opera arias master-singers from Italy of the same era, both born in Modena, north of Italy: Soprano: Mirella Freni & tenor: Luciano Pavarotti.

Both LPs were recorded in 1968-1971 era & their performance recorded there was so OPEN (which, IMO, no digital masters can match yet), so engaging & so enjoyable. I'd take these 2 LPs (namely: "Mirella Freni" (Angel) & Luciano Pavarotti "Primo Tenore" (London ffrr) as my music reference. Excellent vocal performance masterpiece & superb sonic quality.

Listening is believing

Jack L

NeilS's picture

https://www.qobuz.com/us-en/album/the-savoy-10-inch-lp-collection-charlie-parker/m70e3tp90ux0a

Jack L's picture

Hi

Please stick to analoge only as this topic is vinyl only.
Thanks.

Like many audio fans, I also stream music performances of my favourite
artists to update myself the current music world. I would not mention here - vinyl only & only.

Jack L

TNtransplant's picture

I referenced CD's in my new post. But with all due respect, this is not Analog Planet. And while I might generally agree with your sentiments regarding Analog vs. Digital, bringing operatic performances (and performer birthplaces?) from the late 60's seems even further afield.

I kind of thought the original post was about the experience of hearing Charlie Parker as he takes flight... via a wonderful remembrance from Art who will be much missed.

NeilS's picture

I don't feel the least apologetic. I am grateful to Art Dudley (R.I.P.) for alerting me to this set of recordings - and to Craft Recordings for also making the collection available as a download as well as a limited release on vinyl.

Jack L's picture

....... recorded music in a way that's happened only a handful of times in my life." quoted Art Dudley.

If you care to read between the lines, he said he was so pleasantly surprised to hear the original 1950 mono LP sounded so so good, sonically blowing away the newly remastered LPs now being available for same artist.

Hence my response to his finding- totally agreed with him that so many decades' old recordings still sound so much better than new recordings, digital-mastered or whatever.

Yes, you can down the same remastered recording, but you would not get back the same musically sound of the good old days.

Jack L

rl1856's picture

"....... recorded music in a way that's happened only a handful of times in my life." quoted Art Dudley."

This statement is also a comment on the visceral quality of a vintage mono LP reproduced using correct equipment. I have experienced this many times- I use a true mono cartridge and I am astounded at how big, explosive and dynamic a well recorded mono LP can sound. I use a Ortofon CG25DI MKII, which is very close to the EMT cartridge used by AD. A current reissue, cut and played using modern equipment, just does not sound the same.

Paul S.'s picture

I sent Art Dudley an email about this column. As I rarely look at the Stereophile website, I was unaware of Art's passing and the email was sent two days after he passed away.
I'll reprint part of the email here, as it would seem to be relevant.

No offense intended, but it's clearly not Miles playing trumpet on "Ko Ko". Listen to the trumpet on the rest of the date (which is Miles) and it sounds nothing like the trumpet on "Ko Ko". It's clearly Dizzy playing trumpet on that tune.

If you don't trust my ears, read what an eyewitness,Teddy Reig, who was the A&R man for Savoy at the session (and on all of Bird's Savoy sessions) had to say in the LP booklet for Charlie Parker: The Complete Studio Sessions:

"So Dizzy plays trumpet on the opening and then goes to the piano and we put in the drum solo so Dizzy would have a chance to get back for the ending."

Here's a more detailed version of the record session:

https://www.npr.org/2000/08/27/1081208/-i-ko-ko-i

If you still think it's Miles, listen to the trumpet on the other tunes for the session and listen to some small group Dizzy from this period. You may rethink things.

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