Teasing the Korean

Sales and Distribution of Jazz LPs, circa 1948-1964

105 posts in this topic

I read someplace - maybe here - about the time when Mercury approached Quincy Jones to head up their jazz arm.  Q asked, "What is your idea of a jazz record?," to which the exec allegedly replied, "Anything that sells under 5,000 copies."

This got me thinking about jazz LP sales and distribution between, roughly, the dawn of the LP era and 1964.  That latter date may be more symbolic than anything, as it represents the Beatles' arrival in America.  Still, the date signals the start of a general cultural shift in music, as evidenced by Liberty absorbing Blue Note in 1966, and Fantasy absorbing several other jazz labels in the early 70s.  At any rate, 1964 doesn't have to be a hard stop for the purposes of this discussion.

But I am curious about sales and distribution of jazz LPs during this postwar period.  How many units, for example, would Riverside have to move in order for a particular LP to be considered a good seller for them, as opposed to a good-selling jazz LP for Columbia?  We can assume that Columbia had better distribution.

Anecdotally, many of us would say that we found more vintage Riverside LPs in the northeast and more vintage Fantasy LPs on the west coast.  What was distribution like back then?  Did jazz labels focus on major cities within a particular radius, assuming that there was more culture in the big cities?  

Would a jazz fan in Iowa have been able to find Blue Note or Prestige LPs in a record store?  I assume they would have found Cadet and Argo LPs.

Just looking for general information and round numbers.  If this has been discussed elsewhere, feel free to provide a link.

Edited by Teasing the Korean

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Great topic.  My understanding is that Tina Brooks' 'True Blue' sold under 1,000 copies, and that was the reason Blue Note did not release the other albums he recorded at the time.

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I can't speak to any of this personally, since these were mostly before my birth--not to mention long before my interest in jazz.

It's sad to think that some artists would sell 1,000 or 2,000. But some artists had just tons of records on Prestige and Riverside, like Coltrane, Cannonball, and Wes.

I would like to see a sales comparison of The New Miles Davis Quintet (Prestige, 1956) vs. E.S.P. (Columbia,1965).

 

Now I just looked at the thread on Monk's first two Riverside records.  I am curious to know how well his last records for the label were selling; obviously it was impressive enough to be lured by Columbia.  

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17 minutes ago, Milestones said:

I would like to see a sales comparison of The New Miles Davis Quintet (Prestige, 1956) vs. E.S.P. (Columbia,1965).

I read someplace that after Miles went to Columbia, those Prestige albums got a huge boost in sales.  Columbia was essentially marketing Prestige's product.

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If, as has been widely stated, BN's break even during this period was in the low thousands, say somewhere around 2.500, then some thing that sold double that would be a hit and something that got to 5 figures would be a major hit.  It would be fascinating if better records survived, but sadly they don't.  i wonder how well you had to sell before BN thought you were worth a full color cover?  Funny thing is, I think the three color covers are generally better; necessity being the mother that it is.  The other thing I've heard is that the vast bulk of the jazz independents' sales came from a relative handful of specialty stores in major cities - few dozen stores in around a dozen cities, or not much more than that.

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In the mid-'60s, Billboard referred to various distributors as "jobbers" or "one-stops."  I never understood the differences, but surely Chuck would know all about it.

In 1966 I wanted to buy Groove Holmes on Prestige, but the owner of my neighborhood record store (in New Orleans) told me that he couldn't order it because his supplier didn't carry Prestige.  And this was when Misty was a hit on the local radio!

He also once mentioned to me that there was a distributor in Washington, DC, that was so big the market had one fewer middle men.  Sure enough, in 1968 I moved to Washington, and all the records were maybe 20% less expensive than in New Orleans.

Also, and this may not be relevant, when I was in high school in the mid-'60s, a 45 cost 99 cents.  A friend who was my age who grew up in Pittsburgh told me that then they were only 49 cents there.

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I do recall buying a lot of Prestige "twofers" and Milestone "twofers" in my early days of jazz--early to mid-80s.  I stocked up pretty well on Miles, Wes, Bill Evans, MJQ, Sonny, and others.  They were pretty cool and tended to have fine, detailed album notes.  You could find some of these in most record stores in the Cleveland area, and a few stores downtown and in the eastern suburbs had plenty of them.

Impulse and Blue Note (to a lesser extent) were into the twofer as well.

It shows that jazz does have a long life, even if the sales are not huge.  This was music from 2-3 decades earlier being repackaged and sold to a small but loyal fan base. 

 

 

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I have a friend who has a son that is a rock & roll "star". He says how do these people make a living??

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Some made a living by joining the Tonight Show Band or doing extensive session work. Otherwise, it's usually a b----!  

 

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2 hours ago, GA Russell said:

And this was when Misty was a hit on the local radio!

Whose version? 

7 hours ago, Teasing the Korean said:

I read someplace that after Miles went to Columbia, those Prestige albums got a huge boost in sales.  Columbia was essentially marketing Prestige's product.

Prestige held off releasing most of them until the Columbia promotion machine kicked in-- the last of  of them didn't appear till 5 years after it was recorded. 

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43 minutes ago, medjuck said:

Whose version?  

Joe, in the fall of 1966 Prestige released a truncated version of Groove Holmes' Misty (from his album Soul Message) as a 45.  It was often played on the New Orleans Top 40 stations, though I have no idea how many copies were sold if record stores could not get them.

By the way, I did find a copy of Soul Message at a downtown store on Canal Street, and bought it there.

 

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Groove Holmes' 45 of 'Misty' was a big hit. It got to #11 on the R&B chart and #44 on the pop chart. The album 'Soul message' got to #3 on the R&B album chart and #89 on the pop album chart.

Prestige had 23 albums on either the R&B or pop charts, or both.

Gene Ammons - Bad Bossa Nova 1962

Jack McDuff - Screamin'  1963

Jack McDuff - Live 1963

Groove Holmes - Soul message 1966

Groove Holmes - Livin' soul 1966

Groove Holmes - Misty (this contained the 45 version or 'Misty') 1966

Willis Jackson & Jack McDuff - Together again 1966

Don Patterson - Holiday soul 1967

Houston Person - Goodness 1970

Gene Ammons - The boss is back 1970

Charles Earland - Black talk 1970

Charles Earland - Black drops 1970

Gene Ammons - Black cat 1971

Rusty Bryant - Soul liberation 1971

Charles Earland - Livin' black 1971

Boogaloo Joe Jones - Right on brother 1971

Gene Ammons - My way 1972

Funk Inc - Funk Inc 1972

Johnny Hammond Smith - What's going on 1972

Funk Inc - Superfunk 1973

Funk Inc - Priced to sell 1975

Patrice Rushen - Before the dawn 1976

Patrice Rushen - Shout it out 1977

Not an outstandingly big haul. Over the same period (to 1977) Blue Note had fifty-seven hit albums. But if we look at the period before BN was sold to Liberty, late in 1966, only ten. Prestige had seven hits in that period and remained an independent firm until 1971.

Anyway, if we're thinking in terms of normal sales, we certainly have to exclude all of those Prestige albums and also:

Midnight Special; Back at the Chicken Shack; Rockin' the boat; The natural soul; Prayer Meeting; Sidewinder; A new perspective; Song for my father;  Cape Verdean blues, and Search for the new land. Signing up to the Liberty sale was very good for BN's hit performance. Just as it had been for Pacific Jazz/World Pacific. Neither of Richard Bock's labels had a hit album until after they were part of Liberty. Bud Shank's 'Michelle' and Buddy Rich's swinging new band album were their first hits.

Argo/Cadet did a better than either BN or Prestige in this period. Ahmad Jamal's 'But not for me: Live at the Pershing  made #3 on the pop charts in 1958 and stayed on the chart for over two years - really a mega-hit - and by the end of 1966, there'd been fourteen hit albums, eight of them by Ramsey Lewis, two by Kenny Burrell; one by Ray Bryant; and three by Ahmad.

But don't we have to exclude those ARTISTS' other albums, too? Doesn't having had a hit mean that subsequent releases will sell more than the general run of albums? 

What I think we have to look at are people like Sonny Stitt. Sonny, from the early sixties on, didn't have a manager or a recording contract. He'd fix his own gigs, all over the USA and, when he'd turn up in Chicago, New York or (rarely) in LA, he'd get on the phone to the record company bosses he knew and fix up recording sessions. And Sonny only had one hit album - 'What's new' for Roulette in 1967. But he made so many albums! For Chess, Roost, Atlantic, Prestige, PJ, Roulette, even one for Colpix. Because their bosses all knew they'd all sell profitably.

I can't find where I read it, but somewhere Michael Cuscuna said that normal sales for a BN album would have been about seven thousand copies... in the first year. As we know, sales didn't stop after that, and that was true for most jazz labels. I remember it being said (by an EMI rep) in the early sixties that Decca could sell ten to twelve thousand copies of an Atlantic MJQ album IN BRITAIN!!! He didn't specify the timeframe, but I dare say it would have been a few years. Atlantic got a good deal with London on their R&B singles, albums and, no doubt, their jazz material. I doubt whether PJ got a good deal from Vogue, then Philips, or Prestige from Esquire, then EMI, I don't remember any of the Chess jazz albums being made available on either London or Pye International until they came out on Pye's budget labels. Riverside was distributed by Interdisc - a Swiss firm. I vaguely recollect that Blue Note had some kind of arrangement with some European firm in the forties/early fifties, but by the time we're talking about, all BN albums and singles in Britain were imports from the US. That would have been good for the business, but the quantities were probably small because the price in the UK was about double that of the product from the other jazz labels. But you could get damn near everything here - even Baby Face Willette and Fred Jackson's 'Hootin' in Tooting'. So BN's sales figures would have included exports. Equivalent figures from the other labels would only have included exports of albums that hadn't been released abroad.

In 1967, BN mono albums cost $4.98; stereo was $5.98. I don't have a Schwann earlier than '67, but my recollection is that, until a year or so before that, the other jazz labels were priced at a dollar less. Riverside still had the old price listed in '67. So that extra dollar would probably have paid for the two days of rehearsals that Prestige (and other labels no doubt) didn't pay for. What was MU scale for rehearsals in those days. Would $2,500 have covered it for a quintet, plus the supervisor - Ike Quebec or Duke Pearson?

Related to this is BN's distribution. I've got a strong impression that BN did their own distribution direct to retailers. Francis Woolf said in an interview on BBC that, for their non-hit business, they knew all their customers and they were all good payers. If I'm right about that, BN would have got more money out of each sale than the competition and still have been able to sell to retailers at a very competitive price. I'd guess retailers paid half the normal price for a BN album, more than that for other labels.

Blue Note also had a couple of fiddles going. Like ALL other labels of the day, it had its own publishing companies - Blue Horizon Music and Groove Music. It was normal practice for companies to insist that the composers sign up to their publishing companies (even Duke Ellington had done that). Eventually musicians, led by Donald Byrd, who went to law school, got wise. Are these royalties three cents per track, divided between lyricist, composer and publisher? My guess is half that royalty goes to the publisher. And if it's a tune with no lyrics, three quarters.

Some also got wise to the fact that, unlike all other companies, BN didn't pay royalties; their contracts specified a single cash payment for the recording. When Jimmy Smith, Donald Byrd and Lou Donaldson went looking for the money they'd earned from their hits, Francis Woolf said in the interview I heard, Alfred would say words to the effect of - fuck off, you don't get no royalties; you were paid cash. Don't forget, to a junky, more money now (which they did get from rehearsal fees) was a LOT more important than maybe money later, IF you sell big numbers. So Smith, Byrd and Donaldson fucked off to Verve and Argo. Not paying royalties, and therefore no advances on royalties, meant easy exits for the musicians.

So, putting all these numbers together, we can get an approximate income from new album sales (forgetting about juke box singles which were a fairly good business for them), assuming a couple of dozen releases a year, which seems about the right order of magnitude, though I haven't checked. That'd give about  $280,000 in a year.

PLUS income from the sales of all their previous albums, which would decline, though slowly.

MINUS, the costs of running their office - no one knows how many staff they had, but Lion and Woolf were known as poor delegators, so not many.- and storing their masters, paying their accountants and lawyers and buying toilet paper and so on.

And particularly, paying for the huge wastage rate as they only seemed to issue about half the albums they made. So all those guys had to be paid for as  many albums as had been issued. 

I'd be surprised if they'd taken home more than a couple of hundred of K a year each. Probably good money in those days, but they wouldn't have been filthy rich.

Phew!

MG

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3 minutes ago, The Magnificent Goldberg said:

 Neither of Richard Bock's labels had a hit album until after they were part of Liberty.

I'm thinking that both Les McCaan & The Jazz Crusaders were doing well enough prior to the Liberty takeover.  Not Mega-Hits, but solid sellers.

Of course, they did better afterwards, but the were doing ok before.

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Just now, JSngry said:

I'm thinking that both Les McCaan & The Jazz Crusaders were doing well enough prior to the Liberty takeover.  Not Mega-Hits, but solid sellers.

Of course, they did better afterwards, but the were doing ok before.

Yeah, like many others aiming their music at the black market, they could sell in the R&B stores as well as in the jazz stores. I'm thinking that Gerald Wilson was doing well in those stores, too, and Groove's PJ albums. And people like Ray Bryant on Sue, Cannonball on Riverside. Probably Nat, as well, 'Work song' didn't get to be a standard with no one buying it but hardcore jazz fanz.

And Mango Santamania, who ALSO had the Latin-American market on his side. As did Cal Tjader. He COULDN'T have made all those albums for Fantasy if they'd been selling the best part of fuck all.

MG

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As a Transition LP collector I am interested in information about distribution of this Boston area label.

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6 hours ago, The Magnificent Goldberg said:

 Neither of Richard Bock's labels had a hit album until after they were part of Liberty. Bud Shank's 'Michelle' and Buddy Rich's swinging new band album were their first hits.

 

This was a really helpful post.  One quibble: weren't any of the Mulligan or Shankar releases big sellers? 

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7 hours ago, The Magnificent Goldberg said:

Groove Holmes' 45 of 'Misty' was a big hit. It got to #11 on the R&B chart and #44 on the pop chart. The album 'Soul message' got to #3 on the R&B album chart and #89 on the pop album chart.

Prestige had 23 albums on either the R&B or pop charts, or both.

Gene Ammons - Bad Bossa Nova 1962

Jack McDuff - Screamin'  1963

Jack McDuff - Live 1963

Groove Holmes - Soul message 1966

Groove Holmes - Livin' soul 1966

Groove Holmes - Misty (this contained the 45 version or 'Misty') 1966

Willis Jackson & Jack McDuff - Together again 1966

Don Patterson - Holiday soul 1967

Houston Person - Goodness 1970

Gene Ammons - The boss is back 1970

Charles Earland - Black talk 1970

Charles Earland - Black drops 1970

Gene Ammons - Black cat 1971

Rusty Bryant - Soul liberation 1971

Charles Earland - Livin' black 1971

Boogaloo Joe Jones - Right on brother 1971

Gene Ammons - My way 1972

Funk Inc - Funk Inc 1972

Johnny Hammond Smith - What's going on 1972

Funk Inc - Superfunk 1973

Funk Inc - Priced to sell 1975

Patrice Rushen - Before the dawn 1976

Patrice Rushen - Shout it out 1977

Not an outstandingly big haul. Over the same period (to 1977) Blue Note had fifty-seven hit albums. But if we look at the period before BN was sold to Liberty, late in 1966, only ten. Prestige had seven hits in that period and remained an independent firm until 1971.

Anyway, if we're thinking in terms of normal sales, we certainly have to exclude all of those Prestige albums and also:

Midnight Special; Back at the Chicken Shack; Rockin' the boat; The natural soul; Prayer Meeting; Sidewinder; A new perspective; Song for my father;  Cape Verdean blues, and Search for the new land. Signing up to the Liberty sale was very good for BN's hit performance. Just as it had been for Pacific Jazz/World Pacific. Neither of Richard Bock's labels had a hit album until after they were part of Liberty. Bud Shank's 'Michelle' and Buddy Rich's swinging new band album were their first hits.

Argo/Cadet did a better than either BN or Prestige in this period. Ahmad Jamal's 'But not for me: Live at the Pershing  made #3 on the pop charts in 1958 and stayed on the chart for over two years - really a mega-hit - and by the end of 1966, there'd been fourteen hit albums, eight of them by Ramsey Lewis, two by Kenny Burrell; one by Ray Bryant; and three by Ahmad.

But don't we have to exclude those ARTISTS' other albums, too? Doesn't having had a hit mean that subsequent releases will sell more than the general run of albums? 

What I think we have to look at are people like Sonny Stitt. Sonny, from the early sixties on, didn't have a manager or a recording contract. He'd fix his own gigs, all over the USA and, when he'd turn up in Chicago, New York or (rarely) in LA, he'd get on the phone to the record company bosses he knew and fix up recording sessions. And Sonny only had one hit album - 'What's new' for Roulette in 1967. But he made so many albums! For Chess, Roost, Atlantic, Prestige, PJ, Roulette, even one for Colpix. Because their bosses all knew they'd all sell profitably.

I can't find where I read it, but somewhere Michael Cuscuna said that normal sales for a BN album would have been about seven thousand copies... in the first year. As we know, sales didn't stop after that, and that was true for most jazz labels. I remember it being said (by an EMI rep) in the early sixties that Decca could sell ten to twelve thousand copies of an Atlantic MJQ album IN BRITAIN!!! He didn't specify the timeframe, but I dare say it would have been a few years. Atlantic got a good deal with London on their R&B singles, albums and, no doubt, their jazz material. I doubt whether PJ got a good deal from Vogue, then Philips, or Prestige from Esquire, then EMI, I don't remember any of the Chess jazz albums being made available on either London or Pye International until they came out on Pye's budget labels. Riverside was distributed by Interdisc - a Swiss firm. I vaguely recollect that Blue Note had some kind of arrangement with some European firm in the forties/early fifties, but by the time we're talking about, all BN albums and singles in Britain were imports from the US. That would have been good for the business, but the quantities were probably small because the price in the UK was about double that of the product from the other jazz labels. But you could get damn near everything here - even Baby Face Willette and Fred Jackson's 'Hootin' in Tooting'. So BN's sales figures would have included exports. Equivalent figures from the other labels would only have included exports of albums that hadn't been released abroad.

In 1967, BN mono albums cost $4.98; stereo was $5.98. I don't have a Schwann earlier than '67, but my recollection is that, until a year or so before that, the other jazz labels were priced at a dollar less. Riverside still had the old price listed in '67. So that extra dollar would probably have paid for the two days of rehearsals that Prestige (and other labels no doubt) didn't pay for. What was MU scale for rehearsals in those days. Would $2,500 have covered it for a quintet, plus the supervisor - Ike Quebec or Duke Pearson?

Related to this is BN's distribution. I've got a strong impression that BN did their own distribution direct to retailers. Francis Woolf said in an interview on BBC that, for their non-hit business, they knew all their customers and they were all good payers. If I'm right about that, BN would have got more money out of each sale than the competition and still have been able to sell to retailers at a very competitive price. I'd guess retailers paid half the normal price for a BN album, more than that for other labels.

Blue Note also had a couple of fiddles going. Like ALL other labels of the day, it had its own publishing companies - Blue Horizon Music and Groove Music. It was normal practice for companies to insist that the composers sign up to their publishing companies (even Duke Ellington had done that). Eventually musicians, led by Donald Byrd, who went to law school, got wise. Are these royalties three cents per track, divided between lyricist, composer and publisher? My guess is half that royalty goes to the publisher. And if it's a tune with no lyrics, three quarters.

Some also got wise to the fact that, unlike all other companies, BN didn't pay royalties; their contracts specified a single cash payment for the recording. When Jimmy Smith, Donald Byrd and Lou Donaldson went looking for the money they'd earned from their hits, Francis Woolf said in the interview I heard, Alfred would say words to the effect of - fuck off, you don't get no royalties; you were paid cash. Don't forget, to a junky, more money now (which they did get from rehearsal fees) was a LOT more important than maybe money later, IF you sell big numbers. So Smith, Byrd and Donaldson fucked off to Verve and Argo. Not paying royalties, and therefore no advances on royalties, meant easy exits for the musicians.

So, putting all these numbers together, we can get an approximate income from new album sales (forgetting about juke box singles which were a fairly good business for them), assuming a couple of dozen releases a year, which seems about the right order of magnitude, though I haven't checked. That'd give about  $280,000 in a year.

PLUS income from the sales of all their previous albums, which would decline, though slowly.

MINUS, the costs of running their office - no one knows how many staff they had, but Lion and Woolf were known as poor delegators, so not many.- and storing their masters, paying their accountants and lawyers and buying toilet paper and so on.

And particularly, paying for the huge wastage rate as they only seemed to issue about half the albums they made. So all those guys had to be paid for as  many albums as had been issued. 

I'd be surprised if they'd taken home more than a couple of hundred of K a year each. Probably good money in those days, but they wouldn't have been filthy rich.

Phew!

MG

You realize that $100,000 in 1965 is almost $870,000 in today's dollars?

https://www.in2013dollars.com/us/inflation/1965?amount=100000

Also your statement about no royalties at all ... how does that gibe with the fact that we learned that Tom@BlueNote needed help in the early 2000s finding Jutta Hipp to settle her accounts, which amounted to the proverbial "pretty penny" at the time? Did BN change contracts on the fly when the reissue boom started?

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13 minutes ago, Dan Gould said:

You realize that $100,000 in 1965 is almost $870,000 in today's dollars?

https://www.in2013dollars.com/us/inflation/1965?amount=100000

Also your statement about no royalties at all ... how does that gibe with the fact that we learned that Tom@BlueNote needed help in the early 2000s finding Jutta Hipp to settle her accounts, which amounted to the proverbial "pretty penny" at the time? Did BN change contracts on the fly when the reissue boom started?

BN was sold to Liberty because, when Horace Silver and Lee Morgan threatened to jump ship, they capitulated and agreed to a deal they couldn't really afford.

MG 

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7 minutes ago, The Magnificent Goldberg said:

BN was sold to Liberty because, when Horace Silver and Lee Morgan threatened to jump ship, they capitulated and agreed to a deal they couldn't really afford.

MG 

OK but that doesn't explain Jutta Hipp who recorded in the mid-1950s for the label getting royalties in 2003 or the unlikelihood (IMHO) that Alfred and Francis were making the equivalent of $850,000 a year in 1965.

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I think the point was that Lee and Horace wanted royalties from BEFORE the new deal. Alf and Frank couldn't just say, "OK we'll give you royalties in the future, lads." That wouldn't have gone down well at all. So everyone suddenly became entitled to back pay.

I don't know about Jutta Hipp. Wasn't she away from it all for donkey's years or something?

MG

 

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2 hours ago, medjuck said:

One quibble: weren't any of the Mulligan or Shankar releases big sellers? 

Yep. They kept repackaging/selling the Mulligan stuff, and hell, World Pacific used Shankar to launch an entire "Indian Music" catalog (much of it leased from EMI, IIRC). It was fad/cult/whatever audience, but there were a LOT of Ravi Shankar records on World Pacific before Monterrey.

I think Richard Bock did ok, to be honest. The Liberty buyout helped him along, but he was doing ok to begin with, that would be my guess.

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This is a very interesting thread.

Alfred Lion and Frank Wolff can't have been making the large amount of money suggested, because I heard an interview with Alfred's wife, Ruth, in which she said that Blue Note was never more than six months away from bankruptcy.

Also, it is well known that Alfred and Horace Silver were very close friends, so it is unlikely that there were arguments about money.

Getting back to the original topic, I was collecting LPs in the 1960s in a large city, and I never had any trouble obtaining the albums I wanted (and that includes Blue Note, none of whose albums were issued by other companies). After I got my first Prestige LP, which had their mailing address in New Jersey, I was able to order albums direct from them. They had a very efficient mail-order business and a large number of their albums remained available for many years, certainly through the end of the 1960s. I still remember the name Marcia Weinstock on the correspondence.

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Prestige was easy to get where I lived as well, and this was assisted by their putting new cover arts and creating a new "historical series" or what have you every few years. Stuff always looked fresh even when it wasn't.

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I read (I think in the booklet of the Bud Shank Mosaic) that the first Pacific Jazz album to earn royalties (if that's the right term) was Bud Shank's soundtrack to a surfing movie called Barefoot Adventure.  This was about 1960.

Bock called Shank, and said, "I owe you some money.  I've never done this before, so I'll give you a choice.  I will give you the cash, or I will spend the cash and buy for you wholesale a new stereo component system."

Shank took the stereo.

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Great responses so far, thanks all!  I will review in greater detail.  

4 hours ago, Shrdlu said:

 I still remember the name Marcia Weinstock on the correspondence.

The proprietor's wife!

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