The Jazz Scene – Most important Album You’ve Never Heard

September 30, 2014

In April 1949, Mercury Records announced that it was soon to release a $25 jazz album made up of six 12-inch 78-rpm records, together with thirty-two 12 x 12 in. photos of top jazz stars taken by Life photographer Gjon Milli. They confirmed that material for this project had been in preparation for the last three years by Norman Granz. Granz having started the Jazz at the Philharmonic concert series in 1944 had become a record producer and was heading up Mercury’s jazz division as well as issuing records under his own label Clef, through Mercury.

This is without question one of the most important albums to be issued in the 78-rpm album era, and it arguably created a template for much that followed in the recording industry, from LP box sets to the deluxe editions of today with books, CDs and all kinds of other attractive ephemeral assets that appeal to the collector. Granz and Mercury planned to limit the output to just 5,000 numbered limited editions.
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Soon, in those days, was nine months away. The release of The Jazz Scene, as this package was called, was in the week before Christmas 1949 and just as today the first question the music press was asking was, ‘Is it worth it?’ Billboard emphatically declared ‘Mercury unveils “Jazz Scene” – $25, But It’s Worth It’. The reason that it took so long to appear is that its production was being underwritten in ‘pre-sales’. The appeal of the photos and the unbreakable discs, along with Granz’s own notes and biographies of the artists really did make this a working template.

‘The entire production is out of the top drawer in taste and conception. It leans towards the modern, both in the Milli-conceived photography and the Granz-supervised Wax.’ – Billboard

‘I was just beginning and I didn’t have a lot of money, I wanted to do something that reflected what was going on in jazz at the time.’ – Norman Granz

Not everyone agreed that this was such a good idea; Neil Hefti’s publisher claimed his copyright had been infringed over the use of his tunes “Repetition” and “Rhumbacito”. Granz claimed that he had paid Hefti a flat fee to conduct the pieces and 2 cents royalties a side in recognition of him being the composer of the pieces and that Hefti had not mentioned he had pre-assigned the rights to his publisher, Castle Music. For a while the courts and the press were kept busy with claim and counter claim.

In 1954, following the parting of the ways of Clef and Mercury, The Jazz Scene was issued as a $10 double LP with a $5 subscription for a photo pack

The Duke Ellington Sides – “Sono” and “Frustration” – arranged by Duke Ellington featuring Harry Carney (baritone saxophone), Billy Strayhorn (piano), Fred Guy (guitar), Oscar Pettiford (bass) Sonny Greer (drums) – Recorded 1949
The Neal Hefti Sides – “Repetition” and “Rhumbacito” – arranged and conducted by Neal Hefti featuring Bill Harris (trombone), Charlie Parker (alto saxophone on “Repetition”), Flip Phillips (tenor saxophone), Manny Albam (baritone saxophone), Shelly Manne (drums) – Recorded “Repetition” December 1947, and “Rhumbacito” autumn 1948
The Lester Young Side – “I Want To Be Happy” – Lester Young (tenor saxophone), Nat King Cole (piano), Buddy Rich (drums) – Recorded March–April 1946
The Coleman Hawkins Side – “Picasso” – Coleman Hawkins (tenor saxophone) – Recorded 1948
The Ralph Burns Side – “Introspection” – arranged by Ralph Burns featuring Sonny Berman (trumpet), Bill Harris, Lucky Thompson (tenor saxophone) and a large orchestra – Recorded October 1946
The George Handy Side – “The Bloos” – arranged by George Handy featuring Sonny Berman (trumpet), Bill Harris, Lucky Thompson (tenor saxophone) and a full orchestra – Recorded November 1947
The Charlie Parker Side – “The Bird” – Charlie Parker (alto saxophone), Hank Jones (piano) Ray Brown (bass), Shelly Manne (drums) – Recorded 10 February, 1949
The Willie Smith Side – “Sophisticated Lady” – Willie Smith (alto saxophone), Dodo Marmarosa (piano), Barney Kessel (guitar), Red Callender (bass), Jo Jones (drums) – Recorded November 1947
The Machito Side – “Tanga” – arranged and conducted by Machito with his orchestra, including Flip Phillips (tenor saxophone) – Recorded January 1949
The Bud Powell Side – “Cherokee” – Bud Powell (piano), Ray Brown (Bass) Max Roach (drums) – Recorded February 1949

‘Coleman Hawkins took so seriously what he was doing that we originally did “Round Midnight”, but he didn’t like it and came back three or four months later and did an adlib piece we called “Picasso”.’– Norman Granz

For The Jazz Scene Granz had wanted to record Charlie Parker and Art Tatum, but Tatum never showed and so they rang around New York and got Hank Jones, Ray Brown and Shelly Manne to come down to Carnegie Hall, which Granz had hired for the recording because he liked the acoustics.

We’ve put together as best we can the sides from the package as it is long since out of print. Sadly we could not find Rhumbacito on Spotify. Every side is worth lestening to, but the Hawk’s side, ‘Picasso’ is outstanding, as is Bird and ‘The Bird’. It’s hard not to be beguiled by Pres, and Willie Smith; equally the Ellington sides with Harry Carney on top form are fabulous.

This is classic jazz played by some of the greatest musicians that was marketed in a unique and innovative way, years ahead of its time.

Armstrong Eldridge
Basie

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34 comments

  1. Arthur Robinson
    Reply

    Great information from this site, love to see all the Jazz greats that i grew up listening to. Keep up the great work.

  2. Garth Rennie
    Reply

    Thank you for the excellent research. I was fortunate to be given a collection of records recently including this release. Sincerely, Garth

  3. Jack Van Scyoc
    Reply

    you have truly put together an outstanding lineup of Jazz Greats, some I personally that I have had the pleasure of being their in person, and others I would only hear on 78 or 33

  4. George Stearns
    Reply

    I was given one of these exceptional albums b y my then girl friend .She is now my wife of 60+ years. Album is in great condition and I would consider selling it as well as my other 78 and 33 RPM records.We are in the Saint Louis Missouri area.

          1. George Stearns

            I have 383 ten inch 78 RPM “s plus JAZZ SCENE ALBUM #3860 plus twelve inch singles Sing Sing Sing and Dorsey ConcertoAlso 157 LP’s including several Readers Digest Collector Albums.Estimate total of 5300 songfs with 1925 duplicates -same song by differentor same artists.Also have 528 C.D.’s covering 7000 songs(54 are copies) .Lots of duplicates here too!
            Also have Magnavox three speed cabinet player that worked fine the last time I played it15 years ago.Are you local?
            GS

  5. Oddosan
    Reply

    I’m very familiar with these recordings and they are monumental to be sure. However, to entitle this “The Most important anything” is omitting a fundamental truth. Just as you can’t discuss physics without including Einstein, you can’t discuss Jazz without first including Mr. Armstrong. Without a copy of Westend Blues, this collection is hardly the most important anything. His innovations both as a horn player and vocalist changed everything for century’s to come.

  6. Noirhead
    Reply

    An expanded version of this set which included some alternate takes and bonus tracks was reissued on CD by Verve in 1994. It’s long out of print as well, but copies can still be found occasionally, although they tend to be expensive.

  7. Russ Gershon
    Reply

    it was reissued on CD about ten years ago in a beautiful package that was a miniature simulation of the original hardcover book package

  8. Jim Duckworth
    Reply

    This set, while it boasts many, many other virtues, offers two opportunities to hear the great trumpeter Sonny Berman in settings other than Woody Herman’s First Herd. Additionally, I believe that the Willie Smith ingredients of this set were his first as a leader.

  9. James
    Reply

    i’m a U S Marine Viet Nam 1967-68 with injury’s, I thought that was in the jungle no cells or computers America hated use coming home was worse . I’m still waiting for my service dog . The 9-11 hero’s with the cell phones first. I learning drums for the real ptsd . I know after this you want a thousand dollar’s . Because I’m a Viet Nam Marine people The Viet Nam vet’s are doing very bad still , I still love jazz

  10. James
    Reply

    love jazz and my brother’s and sister’s nurse’s from Viet Nam we are Hero’s also . Not just ball player’s plus .

  11. Don Olson
    Reply

    I just located my copy of ‘the jazz scene’ with the ‘produced by…’ block on the left hand side of the cover and ‘clef records’ on the right. Is this a later edition or a re-issue? Thanks

  12. Doug McGilton
    Reply

    I’ve got albums by Lester Young, but with bass player, Norman (Willie) Willmans, piano Bill Pots, drummer Jim Luck. Live in Washington, D.C. In the 50s. 7 all total.

  13. BJ
    Reply

    I was given a copy of this by my grandfather. It is in excellent condition and was wondering more about it. Is there any record of price, or how many remain? I am hard pressed to find much about it online.

  14. craig shulman
    Reply

    My parents were given a copy from my great uncle who had his own record store in L.A. Fortunately I have that copy #4179 and bought two of the CD packages when they were issued. I’ve seen copies in worse condition on ebay for $400 to $500. One was listed for $1,250. The other interesting thing was the art prints by David Stone Martin. I remember my parents had them framed and hung on the living room wall. Still have one of those left.

  15. toby castille
    Reply

    im looking for a collector to speak to about selling my six record set of signed norman grancz the jazz scene copy 1006 mint condition!

  16. Kate Bartolomei
    Reply

    I inherited copy #174 from my husband, a huge jazz fan. To my uneducated eye it looks to be in almost mint condition. I am interested in selling it if anyone is interested or can give me advice.

  17. Chris Rawson
    Reply

    Is there not some confusion in the personnel of Sophisticated Lady? The artist is shown as Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith, who is a pianist, rather than Willie Smith, the alto sax player. .

  18. jazzfan
    Reply

    Thanks for this great post!

    am listening to this on Phil Schaap’s show Bird Flight on wkcr fm (weekdays 820am wkcr.org) in nyc. He explained that the.musicians’ union was threatening a strike to start in january of 1948 and recording studios were booked 24/7 by companies trying to beat the deadline. Granz could not book a proper studio and so chose Carnegie out of necessity.

    He also explained that the album was three years in the making because Granz had not finished recording by tge time the strike actually happened. He had to wait for it to end in order to record Flip Philips and I think Bud Powell.

  19. geoffrey wheeler
    Reply

    I have the original jazz scene (lower case) album (purchased for $35.00), the American Recording Society (ARS) 12-inch LP, the two 10-inch LP boxed set (purchased new), and the CD book set (purchased new). When I purchased the original 78 album, only one record looked like it might have been played–Repetition.

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