Debut Records – Part One [Part Two immediately follows.]
The history of a small record label is always unique – virtually every small independent record label has its own history reflecting the interests and finances of its owner. And many collectors find more pleasure in searching out these records as they learn the story of a particular small label.
The Debut label is one which collectors have pursued since the Fifties. As a jazz label it was unusual because it was owned by two jazz artists, the drummer Max Roach and the bassist and composer Charles Mingus. Because it was a tiny label its records were not widely distributed, but many of them earned rave reviews in the jazz press of the day, giving them an added value.
Debut released only 26 albums, the majority of them 10-inch LPs. Debut issued seventeen 10-inch LPs. There were in addition nine 12-inch LPs. The 10-inch LPs were released in 1953, 1954 and 1955. In 1956 six 12-inch LPs were released. In 1957 two more 12-inch LPs were released, and in 1958 only one was released. After that the label and its assets were sold to Fantasy Records, which reissued the more popular albums and, in the Eighties, reissued many of the 10-inch LPs as 12-inch LPs but with their original packaging replicated.
The first Debut album was Strings and Keys (DLP-1), a duet between bassist Mingus and pianist Spaulding Givens, recorded in Los Angeles in 1951 by Richard Bock for the Discovery label, but not released until 1953 by Debut. Copies of this 10-inch LP are currently valued at between $250 and $400, depending on their condition. In the early Eighties the album was reissued as a 12-inch LP in an edition limited to 1,000 numbered copies by an anonymous collector, as were at least two other 10-inch Debut albums. This edition used very stiff, thick cardboard covers, on which the original package is faithfully replicated. Unlike the Fantasy reissues, which this edition resembled, these anonymous reissues carried no address other than that used on the original releases, and even faithfully reproduced the original labels. However, each has a pasted-on sticker which says, "This is number ____ of an edition limited to 1000 albums." The blank is filled in by hand, not by a number stamp. There is also a silver sticker which says, "Distributed by NorthCountry Distributors, Cadence Building, Redwood, NY 13679 USA 315-287-2852". By now these limited re-editions will themselves be rare.
Debut DLPs 2, 3, and 4 were all drawn from a May, 1953 concert at Toronto’s Massey Hall and were called Jazz at Massey Hall, volumes 1, 2, and 3. Volumes 1 and 3 presented "The Quintet" – the final recordings of Bop giants Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie together, with Bud Powell on piano, Mingus on bass and Roach on drums. This was an epochal event, captured poorly on tape due to the insistence of the venue that everything be recorded through Massey Hall’s substandard PA system. Volume 2 was the Bud Powell Trio (with Mingus and Roach). Mingus was so disturbed by how poorly his bass had recorded that he overdubbed his parts later in a studio. Due to contractual reasons, Parker’s name could not be used on these records; he is referred to as "Charlie Chan," a transparent pseudonym. Like DLP-1, copies of these 10-inch LPs are valued between $250 and $400 depending on their condition. DLP-3, subtitled …The Amazing Bud Powell, Volume Two – Trio, was reissued by Fantasy in the early Eighties as a 12-inch LP in its Original Jazz Classics series, with four added tracks which Fantasy credits to a different trio headed by Powell. However, it is strongly rumored that the pianist on those tracks was really Billy Taylor.
DLP-5 was Jazz Workshop vol. 1 – Trombone Rapport. Four trombonists were featured: J.J. Johnson, Kai Winding, Benny Green and Willie Dennis. Recorded live at the Putnam Central Club in Brooklyn in September, 1953, and released later that year, this album documents the first meeting of what would become a well-known trombone duo, Jay & Kai. In addition to this album, there was vol. 2, DLP-14, released in 1955. Each is worth between $100 and $200, depending on condition.
DLP-6 was Explorations by Teo Macero. This 1954 release was Macero’s first recording, and it is quite experimental, one track consisting only of his overdubbed tenor saxes. Macero went on to become a major producer for Columbia Records in the Sixties and Seventies and is perhaps better known for that role now. Explorations, while released by Debut, remained the sole property of Macero, and while never re-released as a Debut or facsimile Debut album, was reissued on other LPs (in conjunction with later Macero recordings) and five of its six tracks are currently in print on a Stash CD. Depending on its condition, this 10-inch LP is worth between $100 and $200.
Introducing Paul Bley (DLP-7) released in 1954, was this Canadian pianist’s first album, backed by Mingus on bass and Art Blakey on drums, giving it an added historical importance. Perhaps for that reason the album is valued between $125 and $250, depending on condition. Like DLP-3, this album was reissued as a 12" LP (with one additional track) by Fantasy in its Original Jazz Classics series in the early Eighties. (The additional track for this album originally appeared on Autobiography in Jazz, the Debut sampler.)
The New Oscar Pettiford Sextet (DLP-8) also released in 1954, featured this native American bassist on cello, with Mingus sitting in on bass. The original 10-inch LP is valued at between $125 and $250, depending on condition. The same album, with the addition of two tracks recorded in Sweden, was released in 1964 as My Little Cello by Fantasy in its "Debut Series" (6010) and is worth around $30 in near mint condition. (The "enhanced" – fake – stereo version is worth only half as much.) In the early Eighties Fantasy again reissued it as an Original Jazz Classic, this time using the original title and 10-inch Debut packaging, but with the two tracks which were added to My Little Cello, making it in fact a musical duplicate of that album.
Trumpeter Kenny Dorham, who would later go on to fame with the Jazz Messengers, made his first album as a leader for Debut, Kenny Dorham Quintet (DLP-9). This 1954 release is currently valued at $150 to $300 depending on condition. It was reissued as a 12-inch LP in the Eighties by Fantasy as an Original Jazz Classic, with two added tracks, both alternate takes of tracks on the 10-inch LP.
John LaPorta played clarinet and sax and was, with Teo Macero, a performer in early Charles Mingus Jazz Workshops. He also made a series of interesting solo albums, mostly for Debut and Fantasy. The first, released in 1954, was The John LaPorta Quintet (DLP-10). Although valued at only $100 to $200, depending on condition, this is one of the rarer Debut releases, since it has never, as far as I can tell, been reissued in any form.
Another never-reissued album was flautist Sam Most’s Sam Most Sextet (DLP-11). Speculatively produced by Arnold Rosen for RCA Victor when Most had just turned 23, the tapes caught Mingus’s ear and ended up on Debut instead. (Most went on to record several albums for Bethlehem in the Fifties.) The album is valued at $125 to $250, depending on condition.
The Fabulous Thad Jones (DLP-12) was Detroit trumpeter Thad Jones’ first album as a leader, recorded shortly before he joined Count Basie’s band, in August, 1954. Mingus raved about Jones, which apparently put some people off at the time, but the record speaks for itself – and backs up Mingus’s judgment. It’s valued at $125 to $250 depending on condition.
Label co-owner Max Roach played drums on a number of Debut albums but released only one of his own, Max Roach Quartet (DLP-13), featuring the tenor sax of Hank Mobley. It was recorded relatively early in Debut’s history, in April 1953, but was not released until late 1954 (according to one source) or early 1955 (according to Fantasy). Depending on condition, it is valued at $150 to $300. In the Eighties, Fantasy reissued it as an Original Jazz Classic 12-inch LP and added four new (never before released) tracks by a septet which added trumpet, trombone and alto sax to the quartet and were, Fantasy says, "recorded at the same April 10, 1953 session."
DLP-14 was volume 2 of Jazz Workshop – Trombone Rapport, mentioned earlier as the companion (from the same live date) to DLP-5.
DLP-15 was presented as Jazz Workshop volume three – Ada Moore. The other names on the front cover were those of Tal Farlow, a guitarist who had played with Mingus in the Red Norvo Trio, John LaPorta and Oscar Pettiford. Moore was a singer. She was accompanied by the arrangements of Mingus and Alonzo Levister. Depending on condition this edition is valued at $125 to $250. Like DLP-1, this album was reissued anonymously in the early Eighties as a 12-inch LP in an edition of 1,000. There were no added tracks.
Hazel Scott was once the wife of congressman Adam Clayton Powell and she had recorded a number of 10-inch albums in the early Fifties for major labels like Columbia, Decca and Capitol (all typically valued at $30 to $75) before she made the 10-inch Relaxed Piano Moods for Debut (DLP-16). She headed a trio with label owners Mingus and Roach on bass and drums. And that album is valued, depending on condition, between $125 and $250. It was also reissued anonymously in the early Eighties as a 12-inch LP in a hand-numbered edition of 1,000, with no added tracks.
The final Debut 10-inch album was Jazz Collaborations Vol. 1 (DLP-17) in 1955. This album was credited to Thad Jones and Charles Mingus, and features a quintet similar to the earlier The Fabulous Thad Jones with compositions and arrangements by Mingus. Like that album, it is valued, depending on condition, at $125 to $250. Neither 10-inch Thad Jones album has been reissued in a 12-inch replica edition, but both were issued on one 12-inch album in 1958 – as Debut’s last release.
In late 1955 Debut switched to the 12-inch LP. And the first release was a "sampler" laden with fourteen extraordinary tracks (mostly singles and unreleased pieces) recorded between April, 1952 ("Extrasensory Perception" by Lee Konitz with the Charles Mingus Quintet) and September, 1954 ("Portrait" by Thad Jones with Strings) – both Mingus compositions. The sampler was Autobiography in Jazz (DEB-198) and it originally carried a $1.98 price ("Fed. Tax Included") printed on its back cover. These days it’s valued at $60 to $150, depending on condition. In the mid-Eighties Fantasy reissued it (minus the printed price) as an Original Jazz Classic.
The first regular release in the 12-inch album format was an important album, Miles Davis’s Blue Moods (DEB-120). Unfortunately, this – one of the best mid-Fifties albums Miles made – was originally recorded in July 1955 for release as a 10-inch album, and is very short, with only four tracks. For some reason the folks at Debut felt a bit uneasy about this and in an effort to reassure listeners told us "This recording was cut at 160 lines per inch (instead of the usual 210 to 260 lines per inch) making the grooves wider and deeper and allowing for more area between the grooves…." The album is valued, depending on condition, between $125 and $250. In the early and mid-Sixties Fantasy twice released this album in their Debut series in both mono (6001) and fake stereo (86001), the first time on red (mono) or blue (fake stereo) vinyl ($12 to $50) and later on black vinyl ($6 to $30). In the Eighties it was reissued in its original package as an Original Jazz Classic.
The next album was John Dennis’s New Piano Expressions (DEB-121), with Dennis leading a trio with Mingus and Roach, recorded in September, 1955. Mingus and Roach supplied the bass and drums for a number of the Debut sessions, especially the piano trios. It was undoubtedly handy and probably cheaper to use them, but in fact they were then among the best musicians on their instruments in the world, and newcomers like Dennis undoubtedly benefited from their presence. Dennis never made any other albums as a leader, which may account for the relatively low value of $40 to $100, depending on condition, placed on this album.
In April and June 1955 John LaPorta recorded a quartet and a trio for sessions released in 1956 as Three Moods (DEB-122). From all I can tell, this is an entirely different album from his 10-inch DLP-10. LaPorta was an underrated saxophonist (primarily alto) with a style of his own and a head for interesting compositions. An important part of the experimental jazz scene with Mingus in the early Fifties, he made several albums, including three for Fantasy. This Debut album is valued at $60 to $150, depending on condition.
DEB-123 was Charles Mingus’s first for Debut since the duo DLP-1. Mingus at the Bohemia was recorded live at the Café Bohemia in Greenwich Village in December 1955. It’s well-recorded and a strong addition to Mingus’s own recordings of this era, offering early versions of pieces which would later gain fame on other albums. It is valued, depending on condition, between $100 and $200. It was reissued by Fantasy in 1962 as Chazz! (6002), in mono and fake-stereo editions and is valued between $10 (fake stereo on blue vinyl) and $50 (mono on red vinyl), if in near-mint condition.
(Curiously, a companion volume, recorded at the same time and titled The Charlie Mingus Quintet + Max Roach, was assigned the catalog number of DEB-139, but never released by Debut – in the United States. It may have been released by a Danish Debut label, which released several additional albums recorded but not at the time released by Debut, and may have picked up that catalog number there. Eventually the album was released by Fantasy in 1963 as 6009. Its value to collectors is minor – no more than $30 for a mono copy in near-mint condition.) [But musically it is the equal of the Debut album.]
The "Quintet" performances from Jazz at Massey Hall (DLP-2 and DLP-4) were reissued as a 12-inch LP under the same name in 1956 as DEP-124. It is valued at $150 to $300, depending on condition, and undoubtedly much of that value comes from the historic concert it captured. Both that album and The Bud Powell Trio album ostensibly recorded at Massey Hall were reissued in 1962 by Fantasy; the Powell album contains the same tracks, in the same order, including the four extras, which were later reissued on the 12-inch Original Jazz Classic edition. Values do not exceed $50 for a mono, red vinyl copy in near-mint condition.
DEB-125 was an unusual, obscure, and never reissued in any form album called Manhattan Monodrama, by Alonzo Levister. The title track (all of the album’s second side) was composed as a ballet score and it along with the four pieces on side one are performed by a miniature orchestra of six musicians, with Levister on piano. He draws upon alto sax and clarinet, trumpet, cello, vibes and percussion, plus tympany – but no drums. And he used a conductor for the August 1956 session. The album was released in 1957, and is valued at $60 to $150, depending on condition. [This is the Debut album I’d most like to see reissued on CD; my copy of the LP is nearly unplayable.]
Also in 1957 music from the session which produced the two Jazz Workshop – Trombone Rapport 10-inch albums was released as one 12-inch album, Four Trombones (DEB-126). It is valued at only $40 to $100, depending on condition. Some authorities claim that this album is a reissue of the two 10-inch albums, but it contains only four tracks, which makes that scenario unlikely. Compounding the confusion is the fact that in 1963 Fantasy released an album of the same name (6005), with the same personnel, drawn from the same sessions, with four entirely different tracks – some of which appeared on the 10-inch Volume One and some on Volume Two. Despite what some jazz guides say, this album is wholly different from the Debut album of the same name. Taken together these two 12-inch albums’ eight tracks probably fully cover the original session. The Fantasy albums are valued at only $50 for the mono (red vinyl) version in near-mint condition, and less for the fake-stereo and black vinyl versions.
The final album Debut released, in 1958, was Thad Jones (DEB-127). One price guide states that this album is a reissue of Jones’ first Debut 10-inch album, The Fabulous Thad Jones, with the addition of two tracks. I disagree. It is in fact a reissue of both DLP-12 and DLP-17 – collecting the material from both 10-inch LPs. In 1962 Fantasy issued its own The Fabulous Thad Jones (6004), supposedly a "reissue of DLP-17 and part of DLP-12," and very likely exactly the same as DEB-127. The 12-inch Debut album is valued at $100 to $200, depending on condition; the Fantasy album tops out at $50 for the mono (red vinyl) edition in near-mint condition.
More albums had been planned. Trombonist Jimmy Knepper was scheduled to release New Faces as DEB-129, but his June 1957 session resulted only in an EP issued by the Danish Debut, a fan-run label which had hooked up with Mingus without his realizing that it was as much a shoe-string operation as the American label was, if not more. There was also a totally unreleased session from September 1957 by the Shafi Hadi Sextet. Both Knepper and Hadi were then members of the current Mingus band, but what I’ve heard from these sessions does not warrant their release.
It’s hard to find used Debut albums in good condition – which helps account for their relatively high value. Most of Debut’s albums were pressed on flat vinyl disks [without "Gruveguard" raised edges] which were particularly vulnerable to worn or otherwise damaged phonograph styli. I once watched one turn gray as I played it for the first time on my cruddy Webcor in the mid-Fifties. For that reason, it’s hard to find copies in good condition after they’ve been played. And the vast majority of these albums were well worth playing.
Those who value the music more than the delivery system will find that some of the more obscure Debut material – and all of the Mingus recordings – have been reissued on CD by Fantasy, most of it in its Original Jazz Classics series. Fantasy has issued a boxed set of all of Charles Mingus’s Debut recordings (with the sole exception of the Macero Explorations LP) on twelve discs (12DCD-4402-2). In addition, Fantasy has issued The Debut Records Story (4DCD-4420-2), a four-disc set which at least offers a track or two from the other Debut albums. Too many of those albums are too obscure to warrant reissue on CD – but the Ada Moore DLP-15 Jazz Workshop volume three album is on CD [as are Kenny Dorham Quintet, Introducing Paul Bley, and Hazel Scott’s Relaxed Piano Moods] and perhaps we may hope some day for the LaPorta and Levister albums at least.