Bob Weinstock, producer, founder, and owner of Prestige Records, one of the great indie jazz labels of the ’50s and ’60s, died January 14 in Boca Raton, Florida, at the age of 77.
Prestige’s roster — heavy on young lions jam sessions, bop, hard bop, and soul jazz — reads like jazz hall of fame, and Weinstock also worked with a number of blues and folk greats via his Folklore and Bluesville sublabels – among his charges were Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Coleman Hawkins, Thelonious Monk, Red Garland, Dexter Gordon, Etta Jones, Ron Carter, Pat Martino, Phil Woods, Roosevelt Sykes, King Curtis, George Benson, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Gil Evans, Mose Allison, Eric Dolphy, Booker Little, Annie Ross, Jaki Byard, Charles McPherson, Andy Bey, Curtis Fuller, Art Farmer, Tom Rush, Stan Getz, Benny Golson, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Jimmy Witherspoon, Harold Mabern, Shirley Scott, Rev. Gary Davis, Eddie Jefferson, the Holy Modal Rounders, Jack McDuff, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Tadd Dameron, Booker Ervin, Illinois Jacquet, Yusef Lateef, Oliver Nelson, Houston Person, Jerome Richardson, Lonnie Johnson, Jackie McLean.
The extraordinary 4-CD set The Prestige Records Story is among my most treasured possessions.
Weinstock was already a committed jazz fan by the age of 10, ran a jazz records mail-order business from his house by 15, and had his own record store, the Jazz Record Corner, in NYC by the time he was 18. He was a ripe old 20 when he founded Prestige Records in 1949. The label was sold to Fantasy, Inc. in 1972, and acquired by the Concord Music Group in 2004. Weinstock retired to Florida, still in his early-40s, but came out of retirement in the ’90s to produce several jazz albums for Fantasy-subsidiary Contemporary Records.
Prestige’s first recording session — of approximately 1,000 — was held on January 11, 1949, when Weinstock cut four sides featuring Lee Konitz and Lennie Tristano that were issued on 78s on New Jazz, the original name of the company. He had an early hit with King Pleasure and “Moody’s Mood for Love,” and solid sellers with records by Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt, but arguably the label’s most important affiliation was with Miles Davis, who came on board in 1951.
In a 1989 interview with James Rozzi, Weinstock recalled how he came to sign the enigmatic giant. “Miles had vanished after he did those Capitol sides with the nonet ; nobody knew where he was. Somebody had said that he may be at home in East St. Louis, so while I was in Chicago on business, I tracked him down. His father was a dentist, so I knew that his number would be in the phone book. I called information, got the number, called, and Miles answered … I said that I was interested in doing a series of recordings, and that I wanted to sign him to a contract. He said alright, just get him to New York and we’d talk about it then.”
Weinstock also mentioned three of the bigger fish who got away. Harry Belafonte offered him some early calypso sides that the producer turned down only to see Belafonte become “the hottest vocalist in America”; Jimmy Smith went on to success at Blue Note after Weinstock told him “Man, I can’t put that out. That’s not what I’m doing” (“After that I signed the next best six or eight jazz organists I could find”); and — what he calls his biggest blunder, and you don’t get much bigger — Bob Dylan, whom Weinstock met around the time he was starting up the Folklore label.
“I asked [this one dealer at the Folklore Center on Bleecker Street] if Dylan had ever recorded (which he hadn’t), and was told not to bother recording him, just listen to Woody Guthrie instead.”
Weinstock, who died of complications from diabetes, is survived by his companion, Roberta Ross; three sons; and three grandchildren.