Various Artists - The Prestige Legacy, Volume 1: The High Priests - Prestige PRCD 24251

Prestige Records - the name pretty much says it all. From its founding by visionary producer Bob Weinstock in 1949 (when it originally was known as "New Jazz") through its twenty-two-year history as an independent jazz label, Prestige took pride in presenting the most creative and influential artists in jazz. If you need proof, just consider the artists represented on this disc. This is not merely the top rank of Prestige's artist roster during the 1950s. This is the elite of jazz for that decade (and beyond): Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane.

These seminal players truly were the High Priests of Jazz, each with a unique vision and unmistakable personality - Miles the introvert, Sonny the extrovert, Monk the eccentric, Trane the seeker. No one could duplicate their accomplishments and innovations, few ever equaled them. This is not to take anything away from the many other brilliant and important musicians who graced the label's catalog over the years. But these were the artists who put the prestige in Prestige. Their work formed, and remains, the foundation of the label's undiminished reputation among jazz lovers the world over.

A by-product of Miles Davis' "Birth of the Cool" innovations, Down, from early 1951, reveals the trumpeter's thoughtful take on the blues, boppish, yet subdued. Trombonist Bennie Green displays the friendly, open sound that was his signature, and Sonny Rollins, just 20 years old, plays with a rightful self-confidence, having previously recorded alongside masters like Bud Powell and J.J. Johnson.

That confidence is most apparent later that year on Rollins' own blues, Mambo Bounce, a reflection of the Afro-Cuban dance craze that swept the country (at least the hipper parts of the country) during the first half of the decade. For blowing, the rhythm shifts into a solid 4/4, as Sonny plays with the same muscularity that still marks his work a half-century later.

Thelonious Sphere Monk - his music, typified by this pair of 1952 trio performances, was as uncommon as his name. Little Rootie Tootie contains one of Monk's most heralded solos, filled with surprising twists and turns, driven by a logic all its own. Bemsha Swing, co-written a few years earlier with drummer Denzil Best, is a virtual duet for the pianist and drummer Max Roach, who, like Art Blakey on the previous track and Sonny Rollins on a subsequent one, had a genuine rapport with Monk and a unique understanding of his challenging music.

Compulsion belongs to a star-crossed 1953 Miles Davis session. It's an often-told tale how Charlie Parker (alias "Charlie Chan," for contractual reasons) showed up with an unfamiliar saxophone - and a tenor at that - chugged a fifth of vodka, nodded off, and finally awoke to create some stunning music. He had to - young Sonny Rollins is also present and he certainly holds his own in the presence of the master, as do Miles, of course, and the state-of-the-art hard bop rhythm section headed by the wonderful pianist, Walter Bishop, Jr.

Miles' gentle, lyrical stroll through When Lights Are Low, Benny Carter's once heard, never forgotten tune, is a true gem. Pianist John Lewis, an underrated improvisor, adds an appropriately economical half-chorus before Miles returns to put the finishing touches on this delightful cameo.

Monk's Let's Call This is a characteristically abstract line, rendered even more idiosyncratic by the eerie unison combination of his percussive piano, Sonny's tenor, and the French horn of Julius Watkins, a jazz pioneer if there ever was one. By the way, this might be a good time to note just how many of these classic dates were guided by the firm hand of everyone's bassist of choice, Percy Heath.

Colored by Miles' soothing cup mute timbre and Kenny Clarke's subtle brushwork, Solar seems like a misnomer for what is an essentially cool performance. Alto saxophonist David Schildkraut combines some of the best features of Lee Kontiz and Art Pepper, but today ranks near the top of jazz's "what ever happened to ...?" list. On the other hand, pianist Horace Silver, who contributes a brief, neatly constructed solo, is still a vital and visible force within this music.

A Monk original (sort of), Hackensack is a much recycled line over reharmonized "Lady Be Good" changes, hard bop la Thelonious. Monk's improvisation is built largely on thematic variations, and the bridge of his second chorus is particularly striking. Even more so is Monk's solo take on Just a Gigolo, a master class in the art of ornamentation and embellishment, melancholy and touching, pained yet sweet, and a window on the psyche of this singular genius.

The Way You Look Tonight is an overlooked Sonny Rollins masterpiece. Sonny jettisons Jerome Kern's familiar melody in favor of an often played counterline, and he is fully committed to it, using it as a springboard for thematic improvisation. From start to end he is at his bravura best, that deep, brawny tenor tone brimming with life. After Monk's animated half-chorus (a rare sideman appearance), Sonny leaps back in with a bold, exhilarating line, and he sustains that heady pace right to the close. If your pulse isn't racing when this track is over, consult your doctor immediately.

The tender side of Sonny is represented by Valse Hot, a lilting, almost old-fashioned valse that might have done Richard Strauss - or at least Richard Rodgers - proud. This March 1956 session marked the final studio recording of the Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet, here, because of contractual conflicts, under Rollins' nominal leadership. Roach, the most musical of drummers, forms his solo from notes and lines, rather than just sounds. Brownie's sweet, graceful statement underscores the tragedy of just three months later, when a rain-slickened Pennsylvania highway robbed the world of both his brilliance and the quintet's talented young pianist, Richie Powell.

In the latter half of the 1950s, John Coltrane gained renown as a star sideman with two of the music's most high-profile groups - the Miles Davis Quintet and the Thelonious Monk Quartet. It was only natural, then, that he record under his own name, and that he do so for Prestige. Sunday, a jam session favorite, pairs Trane with Paul Quinichette, who really earns his nickname, "Vice Pres," copping Lester Young's tone and licks almost verbatim. Trane, a tireless student of music, all music, ever searching for the untried and the unheard, dissects and reassembles the familiar changes in ways all his own, leaving the veteran tenor man in the dust.

The haunting melody of While My Lady Sleeps might have been written for just Trane, so suited it is to his searing sound and introspective way with a ballad. The original, Bass Blues, is exactly what the title says it is. Among his numerous gifts, Trane possessed a firm grounding on the blues, as his strong solo bears out. Pianist Red Garland eases into his trademark block chords, then bassist Paul Chambers takes the spotlight with his fleet arco (bowed) specialty.

In the late '50s and early '60s the trio of Garland, Chambers - both of them, like Coltrane, Miles Davis' sidemen - and drummer Arthur Taylor served as Prestige's de facto house rhythm section, backing so many of the label's horn players on countless albums. Here they are again behind Trane on the breezy standard, You Say You Care. This is John Coltrane in 1958, on the brink of his breakthrough, pre-Giant Steps, pre-A Love Supreme. But this so-called "early Trane" stands on his own merits, filling his solo with a seemingly inexhaustible flow of ideas - a portrait of this soon-to-be influential artist as a most gifted young man.

Even for a label with as rich a history as Prestige, these sixteen tracks by these four artists belong in a class unto themselves, the crown jewels of the catalog's riches. Most of all, they show that the history of this record label during the 1950s is, in fact, the history of jazz during the 1950s. And that is "the Prestige legacy."

Count Basie
Chairman of the Board

Jane Bunnett
Cuban Odyssey

Alf Clausen Jazz Orchestra
Swing Can Really Hang You Up the Most

Carl Fontana
The Fifties

Coleman Hawkins
The Best of Coleman Hawkins

Philly Joe Jones Dameronia
Look, Stop and Listen
Featuring Johnny Griffin

Wes Montgomery

Claudio Roditi
Free Wheelin': The Music of Lee Morgan

Horace Silver
Paris Blues

Gary Smulyan
High Noon: The Jazz Soul of Frankie Laine

Various Artists
The Prestige Legacy, Volume 1: The High Priests

Steve Weist
Out of the New

Complete CD Liner Notes Credits
ArtistCD TitleLabel
Eric AlexanderFull RangeCriss Cross Jazz
Helio AlvesPortrait In Black and WhiteReservoir Music
Anush ApoyanA Dedication to Horace SilverBlack & Blue
Robert Bachner & Helmar HillEin feiner ZugATS
Thomas Barber's Janus BlocSnow RoadD Clef
Carl Bartlett, Jr.Hopeful
Count BasieChairman of the BoardRoulette Jazz
Roni Ben-HurSignatureReservoir Music
Walter BlandingThe Olive TreeCriss Cross Jazz
Don BradenAfter DarkCriss Cross Jazz
Jane BunnettCuban OdysseyEMI Music Canada
Sharel CassityRelentlessJazz Legacy Productions
Al ClausenSwing Can Really Hang You Up the MostSunny NoDak
Steve DavisVibe Up!Criss Cross Jazz
Dena DeRoseIntroducing Dena DeRoseSharp Nine
Dena DeRoseUnitedHigh Note
Orrin EvansGrown Folk BiznessCriss Cross Jazz
John Fedchock New York Big BandNo NonsenseReservoir Music
John Fedchock New York Big BandUp & RunningReservoir Music
Carl FontanaThe FiftiesUptown
Sayuri GotoFlashbackFever Pitch
Sayuri GotoPrayerFever Pitch
Jimmy GreeneIntroducing Jimmy GreeneCriss Cross Jazz
Coleman HawkinsThe Best of Coleman Hawkins [Prestige Profiles: Coleman Hawkins]Prestige
David HazeltineA World for HerCriss Cross Jazz
Conrad HerwigHeart of DarknessCriss Cross Jazz
Jane JarvisSagmo's SongFaith
Jane Jarvis & Benny PowellTwo of a KindFaith
Ingrid JensenHere on EarthEnja
Philly Joe Jones DameroniaLook, Stop and Listen Featuring Johnny GriffinUptown
David KikoskiAlmost TwilightCriss Cross Jazz
Yuko KimoraA Beautiful Friendship
Yuko KimoraNexus
Yuko KimuraBridges
Ryan KisorThe DreamCriss Cross Jazz
Marilyn LernerBirds Are ReturningJazz Focus
Achilles LiarmakopolousTrombone Atrivedo Opening Day
Gene LudwigThe Groove ORGANizationBlues Leaf
Joe MagnarelliMr. MagsCriss Cross Jazz
Virgina MayhewNini GreenChiaroscuro
Virginia MayhewNo WallsFoxhaven
Virginia MayhewPhantomsRenma
Virginia MayhewSandan ShuffleRenma
Virginia MayhewA Simple Thank YouRenma
Virginia Mayhew Mary Lou Williams: The Next 100 YearsRenma
Adriana MikiSashimikiApria
Wes MontgomeryDangerousMilestone
Dave PanichiBlues for McCoySpirit Song
Roberta PiketSoloThirteenth Note
Roberta PiketOne for MarianThirteenth Note
Roberta PiketWest Coast TrioThirteenth Note
Valery PonomarevBeyond the ObviousReservoir Music
Valery PonomarevThe MessengerReservoir Music
Valery PonomarevOur Father Who Art BlakeyZoho
Benny PowellCoast 2 CoastFaith
Benny PowellThe Gift of LoveFaith
Melvin RhyneKojoCriss Cross Jazz
Claudio RoditiDouble StandardsReservoir Music
Claudio RoditiFree Wheelin'Reservoir Music
Adonis RoseThe UnityCriss Cross Jazz
Jim RotundiReverenceCriss Cross Jazz
Harvie S & Sheryl BaileyPlucky StrumWhaling City Sound
Horace SilverParis BluesPablo
Gary SmulyanHigh Noon: The Jazz Soul of Frankie LaineReservoir Music
Doug TalleyNight and DaySerpentine
Uptown FiveUptown SwingHarlem
Various Artists: Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins & John ColtraneThe Prestige Legacy, Volume 1: The High PriestsPrestige
Ceder Walton, Ron Carter & Billy Higgins: Sweet Basil TrioSt. ThomasEvidence Music
Walt WeiskopfAnytownCriss Cross Jazz
Steve WeistOut of the NewArabesque
Deborah WeiszBreaking Up, Breaking OutVah Wa
Rich WilleyGone with the PiggiesConsolidated Artists Productions

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