Most jazz fans over the age of 50 should remember the Original Jazz Classics series that re-issued the great recordings from labels such as Prestige, Galaxy, Milestone, Riverside, Debut, Contemporary, Jazzland, and Pablo back in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
The series started with re-issuing the albums on vinyl however, at the end of the eighties when the CD became the main carrier of music quickly switched to releasing on CD. For many at the time who had decided to ditch the old fashioned vinyl format and switch to CD, Original Jazz Classics played a massive role in the process. I suspect that now, most of those people are now most likely kicking themselves for ditching their vinyl collections, but there you go, hindsight is always 20/20.
The Original Jazz Classics series, when launched in 1982, fell under Fantasy Records who at the time controlled those seminal catalogues. However Fantasy also had its own place in jazz history, beginning in 1949 with its very first signing, Dave Brubeck. The Bay Area label was also home to the likes of Cal Tjader, Gerry Mulligan, and Vince Guaraldi.
As I mentioned in my opening, In the ’80s and ’90s, OJC became the go-to imprint for jazz reissues on vinyl, CD and cassette. Its extensive catalog not only boasted some of the most important albums ever recorded, but also long-out-of-print favorites – all of which featured original cover art and liner notes, as well as superior audio. Original OJC vinyl pressings are still praised and much sought after by jazz fans and audiophiles alike, who have gone to great lengths to document and share how to find the best-sounding pressings.
So here’s the great news, Craft Recordings, the home to one of the largest and most essential collections of master recordings and compositions in the world, has announced that the ‘Original Jazz Classics” series will relaunch with two of its foundational releases: the seminal Workin’ With the Miles Davis Quintet on May 12, followed by Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane on May 26. Both albums have been cut from the original master tapes (AAA) by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio. Each LP is pressed on 180-gram vinyl at RTI and housed in a replica of its original tip-on jacket. Additionally, Workin’ and Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane will be reissued digitally in 192/24 HD audio.
Both titles are available for pre-order today here.
Culled from Miles Davis’ storied Prestige sessions with Rudy Van Gelder, 1960’s Workin’ With the Miles Davis Quintet captures the trumpet player and his First Great Quintet at their peak. Assembled in 1955, the all-star line-up showcased the talents of Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), and Philly Joe Jones (drums). Replacing Sonny Rollins on the tenor sax was a relatively unknown musician, named John Coltrane. For the two-year period that they were together, the quintet became the defining hard bop group, while their standing engagement at New York’s Café Bohemia was the hottest show in town. Between November 1955 and October 1956, the group recreated the magic of their live shows with three marathon sessions, which resulted in five exceptional albums for Prestige: Miles: The New Miles Davis Quintet (1956), Cookin’ (1957), Relaxin’ (1958), Workin’ (1960), and Steamin’ (1961).
From poignant balladry to uptempo numbers, Workin’ offers a range of moods and material, including standards (Richard Rodgers’ “It Never Entered My Mind,” Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way”), originals (Davis’ “Four” and Coltrane’s “Trane’s Blues” among them), and a trio number – Ahmad Jamal’s “Ahmad’s Blues.” Throughout, there’s a palpable sense of immediacy, as the deft interplay between the musicians takes center stage: from the excitement of a young John Coltrane to the informed, melodic swing of Red Garland; the tremendous snap and pop of the rhythm section; and Miles’ intense swing.
To add additional context to the importance of these Prestige sessions, the esteemed music historian Bob Blumenthal writes, “Davis understood the potential of the new, longer 12-inch album format, and used it to create definitive performances. . . . The key was contrast, which began with the juxtaposition of Davis’ concision, Coltrane’s complexity, and Garland’s sparkle; extended to the textural variety the rhythm section provided each soloist; and was capped by the distinctive range of the band’s repertoire.”
The second release in the series, Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane, pairs two of history’s most influential jazz artists. While they were at different stages in their careers when this 1957 session was recorded, they both possessed the same rebellious spirit – particularly when it came to pushing their craft to its limits. By the mid-’50s, Thelonious Monk was an established player in the New York scene, whose complex melodies and eccentric persona were often divisive. But the pianist was thriving – having signed with Riverside Records and secured a six-month residency at The Five Spot Café. John Coltrane, meanwhile, was about to release his debut as a leader, after years of being a supporting player with greats like Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. But the chance to play alongside Monk at the Five Spot was too good of an opportunity to pass up. What transpired that summer was historic. Luckily, some of that magic was caught on tape.
Long considered to be one of the greatest collaborations of all time, Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane is one of the few recordings that includes both jazz icons. Captured in July 1957, not long after the residency began, the session is comprised of Monk classics, including “Trinkle Tinkle,” “Monk’s Mood,” and “Epistrophy” (written with Kenny Clarke) – all performed in a variety of settings, including trios, septets, and quartets. Adding additional star power are such talented players as Art Blakey (drums), Wilbur Ware (bass), Gigi Gryce (alto sax), and Coleman Hawkins (tenor sax).
Speaking to the importance of Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane, AllMusic praises, “This will always be an essential item standing proudly among unearthed live sessions from Monk and Coltrane, demarcating a pivotal point during the most significant year in all types of music, from a technical and creative standpoint, but especially the jazz of the immediate future.” After the Five Spot residency ended, Coltrane and Monk went their separate ways – each reaching new creative heights and international acclaim in the process. But Coltrane never forgot those influential months with the pianist. As he later reflected, “working with Monk brought me close to a musical architect of the highest order. I learned from him in every way.”
President of Craft Recordings, Sig Sigworth says about the OJC series, “Given Craft’s shared passion for meticulous curation and quality, it was a natural step to relaunch Original Jazz Classics. Its popularity and iconic status have endured decades and many audio formats, but its mission remains the same. We are excited for longtime fans of the series to rediscover these historic titles as well as introduce them to an entire new generation of jazz fans.”
Upcoming reissues in the series include titles from Bill Evans, John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck, Mal Waldron and Yusef Lateef, with further details to be announced soon via craftrecordings.com.
Last modified: March 21, 2023