By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Bob Weinstock, 77, who released some of the seminal jazz recordings of the 1950s on his independent Prestige label, died Jan. 14 of complications of diabetes at a hospice in Boca Raton, Fla.
Smitten by jazz at an early age, Mr. Weinstock had 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.
Mr. Weinstock often sent his musicians into recording sessions without rehearsal 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 made several first-time recordings of his compositions.
Mr. Weinstock produced more than 1,000 recordings in 23 years at the helm of Prestige before he sold 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 a 1995 interview with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Mr. Weinstock recalled that when he was 8, he and his father bought a stack of jazz records for 9 cents apiece.
"We carried home armfuls of records," he said, "and a new world of music opened for me."
He bought rare records at junk shops, and by the time he was 15, he was running a mail-order business from his home. He later opened a record store, the Jazz Record Corner, when he was 18. Among the musicians who began to frequent his store was drummer Kenny Clarke, who had helped launch the bebop movement in the 1940s.
"He introduced me to musicians like Thelonious Monk," Mr. Weinstock said, "and told me that if I started a record company he would get all the jazz greats to record for me."
In January 1949, Mr. Weinstock directed his first recording session (with Konitz and pianist Lennie Tristano) for a label he first 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 had expired. He signed Rollins and Coltrane to Prestige, for which they recorded the monumental saxophone duet "Tenor Madness" in 1956.
In 1953, saxophonist Charlie Parker appeared on one of Rollins's Prestige albums under the name "Charlie Chan" because of contractual issues.
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, Mr. Weinstock was able to keep his company afloat.
When larger record labels raided his roster, Mr. Weinstock made sure he received every last contractually obligated musical morsel from his players. Before he allowed Davis to sign with Columbia Records in 1956, Mr. Weinstock sent the trumpeter to the studio for two solid days, eventually releasing four albums from the marathon recording sessions. They are considered some of Davis's finest efforts from the '50s.
In 1972, Mr. Weinstock sold Prestige to Fantasy Records and retired to Florida at 43. He invested in the stock market and commodities, based on formulas of his own devising.
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 Mr. Weinstock returned to his investments.
His marriage Joan Weinstock ended in divorce.
Survivors include a companion, Roberta Ross of Deerfield Beach, Fla.; three sons; and three grandchildren.