GALLERIES … click to enlarge records in galleries
‘S Cool Boy: Stan Getz Quartet. Esquire 78 rpm shellac 10″ disc. # 10-198 1951
It has the recording date and full personnel listed in the label. Of course. Esquire was serious stuff.
It is no exaggeration to say that without Esquire there would be virtually no recorded history of British modern jazz from the late 1940s through to the mid 1950s … Discographically Esquire was a boon to collectors. From the very earliest days they printed the recording dates and personnel on the labels or later the sleeves of the records.The Henry BeBop website
Esquire is one of the British independents which weathered the passage of the years, staying in print, never charting but carving out a market. It was founded on 13th December 1947 by Carlo Krahmer and Peter Newbrook, with the express purpose of issuing British jazz recordings. Krahmer was a jazz drummer, active from 1938-1949. Newbrook was a noted cinematographer and producer, as well as a jazz collector.
Esquire started as a record club, initially available by mail order only. The name was probably taken from the American series of concertsThe Esquire Jazz Concerts, which started in 1944 and were released on American Forces transcription discs. In jazz circles, Esquire was a cool name.
This 1948 catalogue boasts that they will now be issuing standard shellac discs. There was a competing pre-vinyl ‘plastic’ format, and as a mail order club, they seem to have started out using a less brittle and breakable format than shellac, possibly Durium which dates back to the 1920s.
Note those 1948 swingeing post-war luxury taxes on records … 2/3d (11.5p) on 5/- (25p), 1/9d on 4/- (8.5p on 20p).
The shellac 78s
The first releases were Krahmer’s own band, Carlos Krahmer & The Chicagoans recorded at Birmingham Town Hall in November 1947. The first studio session was on New Year’s Day 1948, in a basement room at their homely address, 76 Bedford Court Mansions, Bedford Avenue, London WC1. It sounds like a flat, and the phone number (MUSeum 1810) was printed on every sleeve. HMV didn’t print their phone number on the sleeve. The early releases were not exactly unusual choices:
Original Dixieland One Step: Carlo Krahmer & The Chicagoans
Esquire shellac 78 Recorded 21 November 1947, Birmingham Town Hall, #10-001
The first ever release
When The Saints Go Marching In: Carlo Krahmer & The Chicagoans
Esquire shellac 78, recorded 11 January 1947, #10-005
Prices were fair … 4/- plus 1/9d purchase tax for a 78, the same as the major labels. In contrast, the comparable Jazz Collector label in 1949 were selling 10” 78s at 8/-.
Krahmer would happily issue material by friends, or musicians he liked, cheerfully admitting “They don’t sell of course.” The 1948 supplement illustrated comes from a specialist record shop, so they must have had some distribution.
Esquire recorded Ronnie Scott and the Club Eleven musicians in 1948, and early Johnny Dankworth in the 1950s. The 10″ shellac series of discs ran to 514 titles before it finished in 1958.
Early on, seeking greater length, a dozen or so 12″ shellac 78s were issued.
Esquire used a standard format sleeve with overprinting, the cheap way of doing it. The design had a large flap to close the disc at the rear. This is 1953, and base designs were also used by Decca and HMV.
From 1954 on, they followed other labels with individual sleeve designs, but stuck with 10″ mono.
A selection of 1954 to 1956 LPs,
The Melody Maker All-Stars
Esquire’s prestige in the jazz community can be seen on the Melody Maker All Stars series. This started out in 1952 as 10″ 33 rpm LPs. Each year, a famous musician led the band comprised of the poll winners, starting with Johnny Dankworth.
Melody Maker All Stars 1952: 10″ 33 rpm LP
In 1954, Johnny Dankworth won again, and the release was a 10″ 78 rpm single this time. They managed to squeeze every name on there.
In 1955 they switched to EP format. It was a recording by the artists voted top in Melody Maker’s 1955 poll, fronted by ‘musician of the year’ Eric Delaney and including fellow poll-winners Johnny Dankworth and Bert Weedon in the band.
Esquire was the first British label to get interested in Caribbean music (later shifted to Starlite sub label). Trinidadian calypso singer Lord Beginner was a discovery … and if you discover any playable Lord Beginner 78s prices start at around £40. Thesee are topical calypsos, starting with 1951 Festival of Britain.
Esquire also released Lord Beginner’s England Regains The Ashes on 78 and Randolph Turpin’s Victory.
They started releasing ‘proper’ 12″ LPs in 1954. Again, cover dsign is a major appeal.
EP releases started in 1953. After the first couple they followed Decca in using base sleeve designs with overprinting and a simple colour change:
EP releases EP12 to EP 16
By 1955 the 45 rpm Extended Play format was their main production. Often the EPs had one track a side, but they were twice as long as pop singles.
Esquire also distributed the American Prestige label (including Charlie Parker) and the Chicago blues label Delmark, and some Swedish jazz.
Esquire issued a Poll Winners record (a 10” 33 rpm LP) annually from 1952.
Few of these Esquire jazz releases reach the Rare Record Guide cut-off value of £8 for EPs. They sometimes appear at silly prices, but at such prices they’d stay in a shop a very long time. Most can be acquired very cheaply outside genres like skiffle and interesting sleeves and unusual old material make them worth looking at. I bought the ones here and others at Reading record Fair. There was a box labelled “EPs with interesting sleeves, £2 each..”
Jon Grooscock wrote an article on the UK jazz label, Esquire, comparing it with Prestige in the USA. Esquire licensed Prestige classics, and collectors will often pay more for the Esquire pressing of jazz classics. Because of the weakness of British currency and high LP prices, Esquire is renowned mostly for its EPS (and 45 rpm helps).
US record companies recycled vinyl (it’s estimated that the average US pressing of the 50s and 60s was 30% recycled). Often the recycling involved only a cursory attempt to remove the paper label rather than “dinking” out the middle, which resulted in a milky look to the run in and run off grooves; and annoying surface noise. Couple this with federal legislation that forbade 100% PVC products on health grounds, and regardless of pressing quality, a US version was likely to be inferior to a European one, which always used pure, un-recycled vinyl. Also US pressings with variations in quality.Jon Grooscock, The ESQ Factor, Record Collector 473, December 2011
Prestige was different from other labels:
Instead of sending over master tapes, Prestige sent over the metal stampers. There were rarely more than two runs of any issue over here so this was cheaper and more practical … they went off to the best pressing plant in the UK, Decca, and on precious virgin vinyl a miracle was created … these are master pressings, up to 220 grams.Jon Grooscock, The ESQ Factor, Record Collector 473, December 2011
They ventured into skiffle early with the Station Skiffle Group (in appalling recording quality too).
The jazz heritage showed in that continued meticulous exact dating of sessions, rather than releases. Most of its 45 rpm output was on EPs. The triangular centre is more common than the circular one (so pressed by Decca). The circular centres usually indicate an Oriole pressing. In common with other independents, Oriole was often used for pressings.
Milt Jackson Modern Jazz Quartet EP74
Django / Milano: Modern Jazz Quartet 1955 EP 106
The access to American labels gave them the Modern Jazz Quartet and Stan Getz. They championed British jazz, of the Ronnie Scott, Humphrey Lyttelton school.
Jazz Played By Jazz Bands
There was a long series of Jazz Played By Jazz Bands.
Jazz Played by Jazz Bands Vol. 24: Cy Plays Lil by Cy Laurie Band 1954 recordings, EP 140 standard sleeve
Jazz Played by Jazz Bands Vol. 25: Humphrey Lyttelton Band 1948 reissued EP141
The design style, seen in La Ronde and the King Pleasure EPs, is distinctively minimalist.
King Pleasure Plays For Loving Swingers depicts two men and a woman. It’s 1955, before “swinging” adopted the seedy / car keys on a plate meaning rather than dancing, or maybe it was just ahead of its time.
In the 1950s, the jazz musicians thought of blues as a kind of sub-branch, as did folk musicians. They did an LP Sam Gary Sings Spirituals in 1956, and took three EPs from it.
Mose Allison recorded for Prestige, thus Esquire got to release his 1957 masterpiece, Back Country Suite LP.
Then in 1959, Local Color contained Parchman Farm and Lost Mind.
The most interesting (to me) record here was Parchman Farm by the Mose Allison Trio. The lettering on the sleeve is a late 60s cliché,, a Letraset font, but this came out in 1959, and includes the two Mose Allison classics, Parchman Farm and Lost Mind from Local Color. Mose Allison’s influence was highly under-rated as a rare white bluesman in the 50s. His Stateside LP Mose Allison Sings in 1964 recycled material originally issued on Esquire EPs, and many R&B bands learned Parchman Farm, Young Man Blues and Baby Please Don’t Go from the Mose Allison versions.
One Room Country Shack: Mose Allison Trio Recorded 1957, Released 1959 EP224
Extracted from the LP Young Man Mose.
Circa 1964 you’d be hard put to find a British R&B band not doing Parchman Farm on stage. The Who performed Young Man Blues memorably in 1970 on Live At Leeds. Van Morrison, who also hit initial success with Them on a very different version of Baby Please Don’t Go, did a Mose Allison tribute album Tell Me Something in 1996, and chose to put it out with a Verve label. Rightly so, as Esquire back in 1959 would have thought of this EP as jazz, not R&B.
Creek Bank in 1960 had The Seventh Son and If You Live.
Ramblin’ With Mose: Mose Allison 1963 Esquire LP
They kept on reissuing 1940s jazz. There’s more of that about than later material.
The EP price (13/7 1/2 including tax in 1955, but only 13/- in 1959) is printed on the rear sleeves.
Into the 1960s, their roster on LP was a Who’s Who … Miles Davis, Sonny Stitt, John Coltrane, Roland Kirk, MJQ, Eric Dolphy, Don Ellis, King Curtis:
Esquire survived until the mid 70s, and many of its jazz albums were reissued on CD in the mid-eighties. The rights ended up with the Jasmine label.
Starlite was a subsidiary label.