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Prestige label founderby Todd S. Jenkins
Copyright © 2006 Todd S. Jenkins
Bob Weinstock, who founded the important Prestige record label in 1949, died from diabetic complications in Boca Raton, Florida on January 14, 2006. He was 77 years old.
Raised in Manhattan, Weinstock showed the entrepreneurial spirit at an early age. As a teenager he was already selling records by mail via ads in Record Changer Magazine. At the time he was mostly into Dixieland and swing, as a fan only; he never learned to play or read music. Soon the rising tide of bebop caught his ear thanks to the Royal Roost’s concert series. Before the age of twenty he had rented space in the Jazz Record Center on 47th Street and was becoming one of bebop’s biggest boosters.
Weinstock’s first label was New Jazz, inaugurated in 1949 with some recordings he made of Lennie Tristano’s quintet. After a while he noticed that sessions led by saxophonists were making up the bulk of his retail sales, and he envisioned a second label that focused primarily on sax-fronted ensembles. By 1950 Prestige was in operation, and Weinstock traveled the nation by bus (he was terrified of flying) to build a wide network of distribution and airplay for Prestige. He entered the business at precisely the right moment, when the new LP record was gaining a firm hold on the music market. The savvy Weinstock made sure that LPs became Prestige’s primary focus.
Within a few years, many of jazz’ top stars and most promising voices had been signed to Prestige -- Sonny Stitt, Stan Getz, Coleman Hawkins, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Sonny Rollins, and most importantly Miles Davis, who churned out a steady series of discs for the label including Cookin’ With the Miles Davis Quintet, Relaxin’, Workin’ and Steamin’. Much of that material was recorded in a two-day marathon, a condition of Weinstock letting Davis out of his contract. The Modern Jazz Quartet issued two of their finest albums, Django and Concorde, on Prestige, and vocalists Annie Ross and King Pleasure had their biggest hits with “Twisted” and “Moody’s Mood for Love”, respectively. Such occasional smashes boosted Prestige’s fortunes during its down-times.
Weinstock was unpredictable and often maddening as a producer, allowing little if any rehearsal time for the musicians before the tapes started rolling. As a result, some of his albums weren’t of the highest quality. Later releases on Prestige’s subsidiary labels – Tru-Sound, Moodsville, Bluesville, Swingville and Par – tended to be of even lesser merit. But his tenacity in issuing new material, and his keen ear for musical excellence, kept Prestige at the top of the pack for several years. In the late 50s, Weinstock began shopping production duties out to other people, some of whom eventually pulled Prestige in the direction of soul-jazz. The cadre of soulful Prestige artists in that period – Charles Earland, Richard “Groove” Holmes and Willis “Gator” Jackson – might not have been exactly to Weinstock’s liking, but they continued to sell albums and keep Prestige afloat after its heyday had passed.
In 1972 Weinstock sold Prestige and its sister labels to Fantasy Records and retired to Florida, where he remained until his death. He is survived by his companion, Roberta Ross; sons James of North Lauderdale, FL, Bruce of Minneapolis, and Philip of Tamarack, FL; and three grandchildren.
Todd S. Jenkins
Todd S. Jenkins is a member of the JJA, author of Free Jazz and Free Improvisation: An Encyclopedia (Greenwood Press, 2004) and I Know What I Know: The Music of Charles Mingus (Praeger, 2006), and a contributor to Down Beat, All About Jazz, American Songwriter and Route 66 Magazine.