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Bob Weinstock, 77; Produced Landmark 1950s Jazz Albums

January 20, 2006|From the Washington Post

Bob Weinstock, who released some of the seminal jazz recordings of the 1950s on his independent Prestige label, died Saturday of complications from diabetes at a hospice in Boca Raton, Fla. He was 77.

Smitten by jazz at an early age in New York City, Weinstock parlayed a family loan into a privately owned record company by the time he was 20. He recorded many of the most important musicians of the modern jazz era, including Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Stan Getz and the Modern Jazz Quartet.

Weinstock often sent his musicians into recording sessions without rehearsals and encouraged them to write their own tunes and to record in long, jam-style takes. The results were often inspired.

Under his guidance, the Modern Jazz Quartet recorded its best-known tune, "Django"; saxophonists Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons engaged in a famous back-and-forth musical tussle in "Blues Up and Down"; Rollins wrote and recorded "St. Thomas" and "Pent-Up House"; saxophonist Lee Konitz recorded "Subconscious-Lee"; and Monk recorded several of his compositions for the first time.

Weinstock produced more than 1,000 recordings in 23 years at Prestige before selling the company in 1972. After retiring to Florida, he made a brief return to record producing with a small record label in the 1990s.

In January 1949, Weinstock directed his first recording session (with Konitz and pianist Lennie Tristano) for a label he called New Jazz before changing the name to Prestige. When his label was at its peak in the 1950s, he organized an average of 75 recording sessions a year.

He recruited Monk and Davis when their contracts with other companies expired. He signed Rollins and Coltrane to Prestige, for whom they recorded the monumental saxophone duet "Tenor Madness" in 1956.

Few of the recordings made money at first, but in 1952, Prestige scored a jazz hit with King Pleasure's vocal version of "Moody's Mood for Love." With the sales of that record, Weinstock was able to keep his company afloat.

In 1953, saxophonist Charlie Parker appeared on one of Rollins' Prestige albums under the name "Charlie Chan" because of contractual issues.

When larger record labels raided his roster, Weinstock made sure he received every contractual obligation from his players. Before he allowed Davis to sign with Columbia Records in 1956, Weinstock sent the trumpeter to the studio for two days, eventually releasing four albums from the recording sessions. They are considered some of Davis' finest efforts from the 1950s.

In 1972, Weinstock sold Prestige to Fantasy Records and retired to Florida at the age of 43.

He came out of retirement in the mid-1990s to produce more than a dozen albums by jazz musicians in south Florida for the Contemporary label, a Fantasy imprint. Although they were made in much of the same spirit as the Prestige records of the 1950s, they failed to sell well, and Weinstock returned to his investments.

His marriage to Joan Weinstock ended in divorce.

Survivors include a companion, Roberta Ross of Deerfield Beach, Fla.; three sons; and three grandchildren.

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