The 1950s and early '60s were the heyday of the indie jazz label, and it wasn't just Blue Note. For some years, Berkeley, Calif.-based Fantasy Inc.
The 1950s and early '60s were the heyday of the indie jazz label, and it wasn't just Blue Note. For some years, Berkeley, Calif.-based Fantasy Inc. has owned the backlists of Prestige, Riverside, Debut, Contemporary, Pablo, and its own Fantasy imprint. With six full-length, newly remastered CD samplers, Fantasy presents enticing conspectuses of these labels' vintage achievements. Bob Weinstock's Prestige label was where Miles Davis made some of his first mature statements. The gem-filled Prestige sampler features not only "Airegin" by Davis but also the classic "St. Thomas" by Sonny Rollins. As prescient as any of the great jazz independents, Orrin Keepnews' Riverside was a nurturing home to such jazz giants as Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans. Tracks by each are on the Riverside sampler, along with such charmers as a piano duet on "Cottontail" by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. The West Coast-oriented Contemporary label recorded such figures as Teddy Edwards and a young Ornette Coleman. One Contemporary track that newly wowed this writer is Benny Carter's "A Walkin' Thing," an easy-swinging treasure from the saxophonist's 1957 Jazz Giant LP. Founded in 1952 by Charles Mingus and Max Roach, Debut was the United Artists of jazz; although short-lived, the label waxed jams at Harlem club Minton's with Monk and Charlie Christian, as well as issued such famous sets as Jazz at Massey Hall starring Mingus, Roach, Bud Powell, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker. Also included in the sampler series is a survey of Pablo (OJC 3704), which was Verve founder Norman Granz's latter-day means to record not only such old associates as Ella Fitzgerald but also John Coltrane live in Europe. The sampler for Fantasy (OJC 3703) includes a heart-breaking duet by Evans and Tony Bennett on "Young and Foolish." The 2002 remastering by Joe Tarantino has rendered these marvels of independent record-making incredibly fresh, and there are fine contextual essays included in each anthology.—BB