Guest Column: Reviewing The Blue Note Guide

Mike Falcon has promised a review of the new Fred Cohen book, and here it is:
Blue Note Records A Guide to Indentifying Original Pressings
A Review By Mike Falcon
For as long as I have been collecting Blue Notes there has been a large chorus asking for a complete guide to navigate the complexities of what constitutes a first pressing.  And now they have it.  Frederick Cohen has given us “Blue Note Records, A Guide to Identifying Original Pressings” an authoritative manual on the Blue Note discography.  This includes the EPs, 10” LPs, and all of the pre-Liberty LPs in both Mono and Stereo.
I first went to the Jazz Record Center in 2002.  I had never seen a record store like it.  Everywhere I looked was something interesting and new to me.  I spent a long while thumbing through records looking at the photos and memorabilia on the wall, and thinking that if I ever win the Lotto I’ll be back here first.  I’ve never won the lotto but I’ve been back a few times, always with less money than I would have liked.  I had spoken to Fred a few times and was always impressed by how informative he was.  I would think, “This guy should write a book”.  Well he has.
“Blue Note Records, A Guide to Identifying Original Pressings” is a nicely bound 6 ½” x 9 ½” inch black book with the Blue Train label with red arrows pointing to the various identifying features on the cover.  It’s written more like a compendium or research paper and is not in the narrative form.  It starts with an introduction, preface, and acknowledgements, before getting to the list of illustrations and glossary.  The glossary and illustrations are necessary to understand what you are reading when sorting through the pressing guide.  The illustrations show what is meant by all of the famous Blue Note esotery.  This includes examples of the famous

Plastylite “P”, all the Rudy Van Gelder stamps (including pictures of Van Gelder’s actual stamping tools), all of the label addresses, laminated and non-laminated covers, frame covers (commonly referred to as Kakubuchi), and other identifying marks.
The meat of the text is the pressing guide, which goes through the catalog series by series and identifies what should constitute an original pressing.  An example would be something like this:

4059                        W63i, dg-s2, P, RVGs, br / NYC, lam

This indicates that the BLP 4059 original record has the West 63rd Street address with INC after Blue Note Records, a deep-groove on Side 2 only, the Plastylite P and RVG stamped in the dead wax, and a beaded rim; the cover has the 43 West 61st St. address on the back and is laminated.  All other characteristics of 4059 (in this instance just “PS”, i.e. printed spine) apply to its group, the 4000 mono series.”  It takes a few tries but is pretty intuitive after a few references.  The pressing guide is broken up by the different series and then by stereo or mono.  Once the abbreviations are understood, it takes a just a minute to reference a particular pressing.  Anything exotic about a particular record is denoted by an asterisk and explained at the bottom of the page.
There are quite a few details in here that will aid all but the most experienced collector in their searches.  There is more. There is a section on the mono vs. stereo question with Rudy Van Gelder, pictures of all the inner sleeves, a discussion about the history of Blue Note during the transitional periods, a chronology of release dates, a list of known stereo sessions, and a very interesting section on some of the most rare pressings (not 1538, 1568, or 1588, but rarer!).  Then Fred gives the closing word, which addresses some of the individual pressing details that are left to be explored further by the collectors.
This book may leave remaining questions about details but will be invaluable to almost all collectors to help organize their information and create more sophisticated collectors.  Much money can be spent chasing down pressings that are thought to be first, only later to find out that they are not and worth a fraction of what was paid.  This makes it invaluable to me.

Blue Note Records A Guide to Indentifying Original Pressings is available for $45 plus shipping and handling at the Jazz Record Center website.


  • There’s one difference, Dottor. Pre-owned shoes rarely increase in value. Just look on Shoebay.(I made that up. There isn’t one) Your records are a solid investment, as well as bringing you pleasure.

    I tell my wife, when I go, take the records to a dealer. With the money you get, you can buy all the shoes in the world.

    I should say I don’t think I have ever won this argument. I have too many records, and that’s a fact, apparently.

  • With more knowledge comes more controversy. Fred’s book seems to contradict Allan Songer’s point that any deep groove after 4059 is a second. Fred lists every permutation of deep groove after 4059 as original. Was the new equipment ALWAYS used for the first run as Allan stated? Can anyone shed any light on this?

  • That’s an interesting point.
    I was always wondering, why the heck a DG should be a second pressing, because I somehow doubt, that they decided to use these old dies, when having others.
    But my collection is so little, how can I tell.
    Please, shed light!

  • transition periods are the most difficult to keep clear:I’m still waiting for the book but I’m sure that not everything will be brought to light.

  • For the benefit of Blue Note collectors and/or readers of the pressing guide, I would like to bring to their attention to the recent eBay sale of Kenny Drew “Undercurrent” on Blue Note 4059.
    The vinyl was in virtually new condition; the jacket showed minor wear (you can find the complete description as eBay #300517372359). What made this copy interesting is the lack of the deep groove on Side 2 and the “Review Copy” stamp on both the Side 2 label and the back slick. This is the first time I have seen a label-stamped review copy of Undercurrent and it raises the issue once again as to the definition of an “original” pressing: is it a record, regardless of any other consideration, that includes all the details – such as a deep groove – that collectors look for, or is it the first issue of that record? It is my impression that the presence of the “Review Copy” stamp on the label is a very strong indication that the “original” Undercurrent pressing had no deep groove.
    Blue Note frequently stamped “Review Copy or “Audition Copy” on the jacket only, making it possible to substitute another copy of the same record. But the presence of the “Review Copy” stamp on the label would suggest that it was the first pressing – sent to magazines and writers prior to its official release. The only exception to this might be in an instance where a record did not sell well and a second group of review copies was distributed. The fact that Kenny Drew never recorded another session as a leader for Blue Note as well as the general scarcity of “original” pressings of Undercurrent leads me to believe that the record’s poor reception in stores might possibly have encouraged Blue Note to try a second distribution of review copies. But that is speculation.
    Historically, the presence of a “Review Copy” stamp on the label or cover has usually depressed the value of a Blue Note in the eyes of collectors. What is interesting in this latest sale is that the final bid of $1202.77 for a “Review Copy” was the second highest price ($1311) that Popsike shows for the June 2010 sale of a standard “original” pressing.
    My point is that once the deep groove no longer appears consistently on both sides of Blue Note pressings, deciding what is and is not an “original” is difficult, if not impossible.

  • To Mike: In response to your earlier post (regarding Blue Note for which the labels do not match: *Side 1 has the “47 West 63rd NEW YORK 23? label while *Side 2 has the “47 WEST 63rd NYC” label) when you had left me this comment:-(Mike Says:
    January 7th, 2011 at 12:55 am):
    -1575, like 1577 should have the NY23 on one side only. I don’t believe(but would love to be disproven) that it has ever been seen with NY23 on both. Also, no Inc or R should be found and the W63 address should be on the back. Katy B are you selling?”-

    Katy says(to Mike):
    I’m now trying to respond, YES, If you still have interest in city lights *copy, please let me know & I’ll discuss this further with you Mike, the copy does not have the details that you described in your above post, I’ll list the specific details again if you’d like me to. Wait to hear from u Mike, Thank U. – Katy

    Katy B are you selling

  • No thanks Katy but I appreciate the offer.

  • Okay, u’r Welcome. :)

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