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The Magic and Romance of Vinyl

A few months ago a friend called and asked if we could have an evening of listening to jazz on vinyl. Always game for a listening session, I gladly accepted and we had a wonderful evening. The experience of listening to jazz on long playing vinyl is unique. It is different from digital sound and […]

Sunil Sampat May 20, 2009
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A few months ago a friend called and asked if we could have an evening of listening to jazz on vinyl. Always game for a listening session, I gladly accepted and we had a wonderful evening. The experience of listening to jazz on long playing vinyl is unique. It is different from digital sound and is a closer reproduction of the sound of a live session. For all the scratches on the long playing record, rumble and other sounds inherent in the movement of the stylus in the shellac groove, I find that listening to jazz on vinyl is wonderful.  For one, there seems to be little or no aural fatigue involved even after long hours of listening. The frequency range of vinyl sound reproduction seems much kinder on ones ears. CDs and MP3s have very clear sound definition and repeatability, but after a couple of hours of their sound, one needs a little respite.

There is much more to vinyl jazz than the sound and experience. A great many albums released on LP have never appeared on CD. I have a vinyl album from 1950 which says, “Rock and Roll Festival” on the cover, with small print below which reads, “Also Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie & Sarah Vaughan live!” The jazz side is quite superb. I have never located this music anywhere else. There is also a fabulous LP, or long playing record of saxophonist Sonny Stitt in a live recording in a Chicago jazz club on an obscure label. I have never seen another copy of this wonderful concert on CD.

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In 1956, Ray Charles performed at the Newport Jazz Festival. There was considerable controversy at that time as to whether Ray Charles was a jazz musician. The recording company, Atlantic, which was to release Ray’s concert, hastily changed the title to “Do The Twist with Ray Charles” with diagrams showing how to dance the Twist on the jacket cover. The music was Ray’s Newport concert but the album was never re-released and never made it to compact disc.

Much of the romance of listening to jazz on vinyl comes from reading the elaborate liner notes on the album cover. These have many stories to tell and reading these notes takes one to the time when the music was recorded. One finds details of the recording session, interesting anecdotes about the musicians and unique insights into the music which are pertinent to the record. Some can be very amusing: There is a Miles Davis record on which he was invited to pen the liner notes about the album. In his own quirky way Miles wrote just two lines, “What’s there to write? It’s all on the record!”

I was very lucky when the compact disc first became a mass medium. Friends, acquaintances and others started discarding their cumbersome turntables and space-occupying long playing records. They were keen to sell them or just give them away. I was very happy to ‘relieve’ these friends of their burdens. Even friends like Louiz Banks and Pam Crain were happy to divest themselves of their vinyl collections. I am happy to provide these LPs a good home.

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The LP is now making a comeback. Music connoisseurs are now returning to the long playing record. The Japanese are now making upper ended turntables and vinyl pressings which have been received very well by audio buffs. The quality of reproduction is remarkable and comes closest to actual concert hall sound.

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