Thursday, November 7, 2013

Stars of Bethlehem: A Pictorial Discography of the 1000 Series


For me, Bethlehem Records is one of those inexplicable moments in jazz history. Its founder wasn't particularly interested in jazz, as for instance Norman Granz was, nevertheless he produced one of the most coherent bodies of work in jazz history. He gave his musicians and technicians enough freedom in recording which undoubtedly manifest itself on what we hear on records today.

Bethlehem is also the house of stylist vocalists and more than that the house of the bass. Some of the best early small combo sessions led by bassists were presented by the label, among which Oscar Pettiford, Milt Hinton, Charles Mingus and Red Mitchell stand out. This is of course way before experimental labels such as ECM and the sheer audacity of Bethlehem owner was largely missing among major labels of the period. No wonder, the label proved to be financially ruinous for its founder Gus Wildi.

The company originally started in 1953 as a pop music venue, but the failure in promoting its records forced Wildi to retreat to the less competitive field of jazz. They released 38 ten-inch LP records and then in 1955 changed over to 12-inch format. Bethlehem enjoyed presenting many great names in their catalogue, none of whom had long term contract with the label which in the process made it difficult for the financial survival of the label. In 1962, the company was sold to King Records who didn't properly taken care of the back catalogue and because of that, and some other sales, for years, the Bethlehem jazz albums remained scarce items.

What I've gathered here is the cover artworks of the 1000 series which was released on 10-inch LPs. The number ends in 40, but in reality only 38 records were released and number 38 and 39 were never issued.

© Katherine Holzman
What is so fascinating about these covers is their design, mostly the result of the relentless creativity of Burt Goldblatt [pic on the right] whose graphic concepts helped to revolutionize the jazz covers of the 50s.

About why Goldblatt was hired by the company, Mr Wildi told Tyler Alpern: "We recognized from our first 10 inch album release on, that the importance of the quality of the cover was underrated by the other companies. I believe then that Bethlehem was the first company to create covers with some artistic merit as opposed to use them akin to soap or soup advertisements. The covers were heavily laminated, wrapped around, and minimal type was used, giving off a feeling of quality and substance."

Burt Goldblatt, in his atelier, used photography, painting and drawing to achieve whatever effect he was looking for, effects and moods that were evoked by listening to the album itself and even being present at the recording session with his Hasselblad. His visual motives and themes were deserted streets, instruments in still life compositions, super large colour typeface, noirish images, low-angle shots, nature, solitude and animals with a special attention to owls. He also "eliminated long lists of song titles, one of the medium’s more obtrusive conventions," as he told the New York Time.

Goldblatt was constantly innovative and bound to try new methods of creating character for the record, as for Charlie Marioano Sextet (see blow) he X-rayed a saxophone and used it for the cover art.

This gallery, in order of release, is only composed of 1000 series (10'' LP). Some of them are UK editions, released by London Records, but the cover artwork is always the same as the original.


BCP 1001   Chris Connor Sings Lullabys Of Birdland

BCP 1002   Chris Connor Sings Lullabys For Lovers

BCP 1003   Oscar Pettiford Modern Quintet

BCP 1004   Bobby Scott - Great Scott

BCP 1005   Ruby Braff Swings [UK edition]

BCP 1006   Hank D'Amico - Holiday With Hank

BCP 1007   Charlie Shavers - Horn O' Plenty

BCP 1008   Aaron Sachs Sextet

BCP 1009   Bobby Scott - East Coast Jazz/1

BCP 1010   Vinnie Burke - East Coast Jazz/2

BCP 1011   Pete Brown - Peter The Great [UK edition]

BCP 1012   Joe Puma - East Coast Jazz/3 [UK edition]

BCP 1013   Eddie Shu Quartet

BCP 1014   Jonah Jones Sextet [UK edition]

BCP 1015   Terry Pollard

BCP 1016   Conte Candoli - Sincerely, Conte

BCP 1017   Stan Levey Plays The Composition Of Bill Holman, Bob Cooper And Jimmy Giuffre

BCP 1018   Herbie Mann - East Coast Jazz/4

BCP 1019   Oscar Pettiford - Basically Duke

BCP 1020   Milt Hinton - East Coast Jazz/5

BCP 1021   Charlie Shavers - The Most Intimate
BCP 1022   Charlie Mariano Sextet
BCP 1023   Carmen McRae

BCP 1024   Stu Williamson - Sapphire

BCP 1025   Herbie Harper

BCP 1026   Bob Hardaway - Lou's Blue

BCP 1027   Helen Carr

BCP 1028   Max Bennett Quintet

BCP 1029   The Composition Of Bobby Scott, Vol. 2

BCP 1030   The Songs Of Bobby Troup

BCP 1031   Australian Jazz Quartet

BCP 1032   Ruby Braff - Holiday In Braff

BCP 1033   Red Mitchell - Happy Minor

BCP 1034   Ruby Braff - Ball At Bethlehem

BCP 1035   Dick Wetmore

BCP 1036   Paula Castle - Lost Love

BCP 1039   Joe DeRise

BCP 1040   Russ Garcia - Wigville




4 comments:

  1. Great post. Those early Bethlehem's had classy sleeves.

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  2. Terrific article! Bethlehem made so many fine recordings that are still fun to hear today that I'm surprised no company has acquired the catalogue for purposes of creating serious reissues.

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  3. How many albums did they release ? Barry

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    1. I'm not aware of the exact figure, but I guess it would be something around 250. However you should note that for instance some of the material released in "Deluxe" 12 inch series are identical to what had been released on 10 inch, or there are some compilation albums produced and so on. In another word, like any other label, the number of released albums doesn't show the amount of recorded music as there is lots of repetition.

      For further research, take a look at this page:
      http://www.jazzdisco.org/bethlehem-records/

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