Just what was the first Am-Par stereo album? Does one of the compilations hold that record?

Having established which Am-Par release compilation/sampler was the first record given away with a consumer magazine closed one door on Am-Par compilations, but opened another. In this post I look at the adoption of stereo in the USA, from the perspective of the Am-Par Record Corp. (Am-Par) and producer Creed Taylor, and legendary recording engineer, Rudy Van Gelder.

The focus will be Am-Par produced Electro-voice stereo sampler “Stereo Demonstration Record”.[1]Stereo Demonstration Record (1958, Vinyl) | Discogs and what role it played in the evolution of stereo.

The Electro-Voice Stereo Demonstration sampler record in full

The Story Of Stereo

The industry had been jostling for position for decades years to produce consumer grade stereo recordings. The 5-years between 1952 and 1957 were the pinnacle of that effort [2]Stereophonic sound – Wikipedia. Many prior attempts were made, most incompatible with existing vinyl pressings and thus record players, some even added an extra pickup arm, making two per turntable. As a new comer, Am-Par Record Corp. (a subsidiary of ABC Broadcasting Paramount Theaters Inc.) were on the bleeding edge of technology, and for a short while, it looked like Am-Par might be first to marketing with a new compatible vinyl record. It didn’t happen, the were beaten to the punch by a smaller company.

Billboard reported the impending arrival “binoural” sound in 1953[3]Commercial Binoural Sound Not Far Off – Google Books. Audio and Audio Engineering magazine in it’s January 1953 issue, the first Los Angeles Audio Fair, set for February 5-7th at the Alexandria Hotel in Los Angeles, would be full of stereo demonstration equipment[4]Audio Engineering, January 1953 P40. Up until that time the record labels had used numerous terms to try to differentiate their records, Hi-Fi, High-Fidelity, Full Spectrum Hi-Fi, As can be seen by the 1956 Down beat demo 45, Am-Par used “Full Color Fidelity”.

The Rise and Fall of Stereophonic Tapes

In 1955, AMPEX stereo tapes arrived commercially [5]Audio and Audio Engineering magazine, September 1955, this heralded in a new era of stereo recording, many of the major labels, including the jazz labels would start recording in stereo. AMPEX would enable stereo albums to be played back on home stereo systems fitted with stereo tape decks.

The hype behind the commercial announcement of home stereo would become a new battleground for audio supremacy. Tape though took up twice to three times the storage space of vinyl records, it was more difficult to handle and in typical cigarette smoke filled homes of the late 50’s, more prone to problems and more difficult to clean. For two years though, tape was the thing for audio aficionados.

Stereophonic tapes would grow as a market, by 1956 though the disc/record industry was staring to respond and initially with divergent and non-compatible technology it would take until December 1957 for an upstart record company to produce the first stereo disc.

Stereophonic tapes would grow as a market for the next 2-years, by 1956 though the disc/record industry was staring to respond and initially with divergent and non-compatible technology it would take until December 1957 for an upstart record company to produce the first stereo disc.

While stereo discs/records still had not appeared commercially, the comparison between tape and disc had started, along with the doomed future predictions, take for example this Editorial prediction from July 1956

Nobody expects stereo tape to replace standard disc recording. To worry about that would be absurd, both for the record dealer and the record buyer. Stereo is a specialized, tricky, expensive medium requiring special equipment and, more important, needing rather special listening conditions. The results, as I say, can be remarkable, but this doesn’t mean that we can’t get as much as ever out of the more convenient and much less demanding standard recordings (tape and disc), which can be set up and listened to any old way, background, foreground or sideground.

But stereo tape is here to stay and if you are a serious music listener you should keep it in mind as an adjunct to your regular record collection, if and when you can afford it. There’s plenty of time.

Audio and Audio Engineering magazine, July 1956, Page 39.[6]Audio and Audio Engineering magazine, July 1956

Legendary recording engineer, and Creed Taylor’s go-to man, Rudy Van Gelder made a rare trip from his original recording studio, in his parents living room, to the Manhattan Towers Hotel Ballroom. New York City. There, Van Gelder would record Art Blakey album “Orgy In Rhythm, Vol 1.” in March, 1957[7]Art Blakey – Orgy In Rhythm (Volume One) (1957, Vinyl) | Discogs for Blue Note.

“As we decided the first take would be used on all tunes to capture the feeling of immediacy, I had to do my planning in advance and make my recording techniques fit the music. I was caught up in the enthusiasm for the project from the start and took a good part in the discussions involved. The hall was selected for size and shape to fit the requirements. My main problem was in picking up the singing while the musicians remained at their drums. Luckily, these aren’t ordinary vocals so the result is one of added depth and spaciousness. It is based on my understanding of how drums should sound on records. Personally, I am most happy about it. It is also Blue Note’s first stereo tape.”[8]Audio and Audio Engineering, August 1957, Page-41

By February 1958, stereo tape was already on the defensive, and we all know how that worked out.

TAPE VS. DISC
There has been a lot of talk about how the stereo disc would destroy the market for stereo tapes. We look upon this as complete nonsense. One can make a good case for the LP monaural disc over the ordinary monaural tape. The former is cheaper, quality is excellent, it is easier to handle. placing on the machine and operating-and it takes up less storage space per minute of playing time.

But in spite of these advantages, there are many thousands of people who will go to the extra trouble of handling, who will pay more for tape, and who will provide the extra storage space (not to mention the extra cost of a good tape player over a record player, changer, or even professional turntable and arm). We don’t think there is any question but that tape quality is better -when played on a good tape machine-and that alone is still enough to attract those who are not satisfied with anything Iess than the best.

And since it has already been shown by sales figures that there are many who ‘want the best, we may reasonably assume that there will still be plenty who will continue to buy stereo tapes just as they have buying monaural (and stereo ) tapes to date. We do not see a large swing to tape, nor do we see a large swing away from ape. Tape is admittedly better in quality than discs under optimum conditions, and there are still many people who will never be satisfied with anything but the best.

Audio and Audio Engineering – February, 1958 – Page-0016

The Arrival of Stereo Records

Audio Fidelity Records[9]Audio Fidelity Records – Wikipedia released the first mass-produced stereophonic disc. Sidney Frey[10]Sidney Frey | Discography | Discogs, founder and president, had Westrex engineers, owners of one of the two rival stereo disk-cutting systems, cut a disk for release before any of the major record labels could do so.

On a trip to Las Vegas in 1956, Frey came across the Dukes of Dixieland playing a show with three piano’s[11]Jazzology: JazzBeat Jazz Magazine. Frey put the Dukes under contract and recorded them and with the help of Westrex, cut a stereo record even though there was equipment that could play it[12]High Fidelity Magazine – February 1958, P49. The “Compatible Stereophonic Demonstration Record[13]Compatible Stereophonic Demonstration Record (1957, Vinyl) | Discogs record included the Dukes of Dixieland on Side-1, and on Side-2 railroad and other sound effects from previously released Audio Fidelity tapes.

The disc was processed at the original Audio Matrix plant at 914 Westchester Ave. Bronx, NY. Audio Matrix were pioneering masters, mothers, stampers of vinyl discs. They started with 10-inch, 78RPM masters. The plant was closed in 1988[14]One to One (Studio Sound) magazine – August 1988, Page-8.

The promotional/demonstration disc, or “stereodisc” as Frey called it, was introduced on December 13, 1957 at the Times Auditorium, adjoining the WQXR studios in New York City. Only 500 copies of this initial demonstration record were pressed and three days later, Frey told Billboard Magazine [15]Billboard Magazine December 16th, 1957, Page-27 that he would send a free copy to anyone in the industry who wrote to him on company letterhead.

What Frey’s bold move, some called it “premature and somewhat ill-advised” [16]High Fidelity Magazine – February 1958, P49 did do, was bring an effective end the the competing and incompatible Decca vertical-lateral and Columbia SLP (Stereo LP) systems. In the June 1958 issue of Audiocraft magazine, R.D. Darrell wrote about the Columbia system in his Sound-fanciers Guide, it was updated prior to publication to include the following:

[Just before this issue was printed, we learned that Columbia had decided not to release its “compatible” stereo discs. It will issue a line of true 45/45 stereo records, as well as its present monophonic line. – ED.]

Audiocraft Magazine – June 1958, P36

Some doubted whether Frey’s move actually caused significant acceleration in the adoption of stereo. What it it did do was bring about was print and magazine articles. Business-magazine writers discussed at length the “David versus Goliaths”, small company with a new product, being followed industry giants. A number of industry executives claimed it had little or no impact on their schedule. Well they would say that, wouldn’t they[17]HiFi Stereo Review, February 1968 – P59?

Stereo audio pioneer Sidney Frey died just 10-years later, January 1968, from a heart attack. Frey was just 47-years old[18]https://www.newspapers.com/clip/88292831/obituary-for-sidney-frey-aged-47/[19]DownBeat Magazine, February 1968, Page-34.

Rudy Van Gelder

The emerging standard around the developed by the Western Electric company, Westrex[20]Western Electric – Wikipedia, called 45-45[21]That Crazy Little Thing Called “Azimuth” Part 1 | Analog Planet and their Westrex Model 3 cutting lathe was key to adoption and Rudy Van Gelder would be a key contributor.

In a column for Audio and Audio Engineering, a month later, Charles A. Robertson wrote:

In addition was the revelation of Rudy Van Golder of material mastered for Elektra, Savoy, Vox, and Boston by use of a newly designed stereo cutting head. Said to be a refinement of the 45/45 principle, it was engineered and constructed by Rein Narma of Fairchild at Van Golder’s motivation. Among its features is an improved and more direct linkage between stylus and coils, and test pressings show a high level of recovery from the tapes.

JAZZ and all that – Cahrles A. Robertson – Audio and Audio Engineering July 1958.

To record in stereo it was also necessary to design new control desk/console that could accommodate a larger number of microphones, Narma from Fairchild worked with Van Gelder to design a 14-channel input desk, each with it’s own equalizer. These would feed the A/B stereo channels. In addition to Van Gelder, Rein Narma would build another for the home studio of Les Paul and Mary Ford.

Eventually the consoles were rebuilt to a slightly smaller scale for smaller studios, with special controls for recording, copying and dubbing voice. A version of this would be used by Creed Taylor and Rudy Van Gelder as they spent countless hours working on the voices of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross for their GRAMMY nominated album “Sing A Song Of Basie”. Fairchild also produced modifications to Van Gelder’s Scully Cutting lathe and one other in this first phase of stereo production.

Step Up To Electro-Voice

Today we take stereo for granted, its just sound. In September of 1957, just before I was born, Walter Morris’s syndicated column “Record Shop Talk” deemed it different enough to actually explained what it was to John and Jayne Doe[22]https://www.newspapers.com/clip/80795926/stereo-sound-explanation/.

It wasn’t until the second half of 1958 that stereo cartridges became affordable, one of the earliest examples was the Electro-Voice. Electro-Voice announced and demonstrated a new stereo cartridge the 20-series, composed of two ceramic elements, and a single .7 mil diamond stylus/needle, and to be available at a price of $19.50.

One other model of cartridge was announced in the trade press, Audiogersh Corp. of 514 Broadway NY, distributors of the famous Miratwin cartridge, has come up with the XP Stereotwin 200 with a 1/2 mil diamond that lists at $59.50 it has little more than a passing resemblance to modern cartridges unlike the Electro-Voice which isn’t that different from todays cartridges.

The Stereotwin went through a number of iterations and price reductions. In 1962, the new Stereotwin STS 220 was announced. It featured a channel separation of better than +25db and was sold in a presentation case which includes the cartridge with diamond 0.7 mil stylus mounted(the same as the Electro-Voice), plus an extra diamond stylus, priced in 1962 for $34.50[23]Audio Magazine, January 1962, Page-60.

As far as I’m aware, that marked the end of the Stereotwin, many other manufacturers had stereo cartridges by then.

Perhaps the most widely published/read discussion of the new stereo sound could be found in an Associated Press article that was syndicated and published in newspapers across the country in June/July 1958, it was written by L. J. Kamp [24]https://www.newspapers.com/clip/88298573/l-j-kamp-of-the-associated-press-writes/ that both Audio Fidelity and Am-Par had six stereo discs available, and that the $19.50 Electro-Voice cartridge was compatible with existing toner-arms and reassuringly, was compatible with and can be used to play monophonic and stereophonic discs.

By November 1958, in a coordinated marketing push Electro-Voice would introduce a second demo-disk, which in itself was quite remarkable, “The ABC’s of High Fidelity[25]Electro-Voice – The ABC’s of High Fidelity (1958, Vinyl) – Discogs. Side-A is recorded in mono and provides an explanation and samples of mono and stereo. Both sides contain excerpts from Concertdisc and Omega recordings.

The demo records were available from Electro-Voice for $1 each. They were produced for Electro-Voice dealers to demonstrate Electro-Voice stereo equipment including speakers, cartridges etc.

I updated the discogs entry with the release date and my description above, and also linked in youtube entries for Side-A/B. This MP3 version provides a much better quality version of Side-B on the disc, courtesy of the amazing WFMU’s “Beware Of The Blog[26]The ABC’s of High Fidelity (MP3s) – WFMU’s Beware of the Blog

Side-B from Electro-Voice “The ABC’s of High Fidelity” Electro-Voice – E-V 552 (recording c/o WMFU)

Electro-Voice recording and playback equipment is still available today, it is most often found in studios and concert halls rather than the consumer products this post focuses on.

The Am-Par Stereo Backstory

Am-Par had been recording in binaural from 1954. They started recording on stereo tapes in 1956/1957 and many, but not all the Creed Taylor and Don Costa produced albums would later be released in stereo.

In November 1957, the Salinas Californian carried an article discussing a concert that was being recorded by Am-Par.

Interestingly, that concert recording was Dixieland jazz and the album would be released in 1958 as “Jazz From The San Francisco Waterfront“.[27]Jazz From The San Francisco Waterfront | Discogs While the album was released, it wasn’t the first stereo release by by a wide margin.

Not only wasn’t it the first record Am-Par stereo released, it had been trumped as the first stereo Dixieland album by Audio Fidelity.

In their “special merit” review of the Waterfront album, Billboard suggested trying the track “Muscrat Ramble” as a demo-track. The track is 6-minutes long on the album, the sample below is just 1:40.

The Waterfront album was not produced by Taylor. He had been busy in New York. In the same month that the Waterfront album came out, “Jazz Concerto Grosso“, Gerry Mulligan and Bob Bookmemyer’s album was released as ABC 225. Also released as ABC 226 was “The New Billy Taylor Trio“, the afore mentioned Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross “Sing A Song Of Basie” ABC 223 . Finally, The Oscar Pettiford Orchestra “Oscar Pettiford Orchestra In Hi-Fi” as ABC 227.

Later in 1958, Am-Par would introduce a new line, and all these albums, as well as others would get stereo release using “ABCS nnn” where nnn would be the same as the original “ABC nnn” mono release.

As recommended by Billboard Magazine – “Muskrat Ramble” from “Jazz From The San Francisco Waterfront” ABC 181 – sample only

1958 would be a big year with labels stocking their catalogs for the fall season and stereo releases.

The Electro-Voice cartridge and stereo recordings were going to be key to support the switch over to stereo, including the change over of equipment. One key way to influence the market in the leadup to the fall 1958 sales season were reviews. This is where the Am-Par Stereo Demonstration Record came in.

Am-Par in conjunction with Electro-Voice put together the sampler to both show off stereo and to boost it’s own sales and brand image. The compilation record was available from Electro-voice by mail for $1.50. It was also available for demonstration and through Electro-voice distributors and were also sent out to magazine/newspaper reviewers.

What is worth noting about the sampler is that it doesn’t contain any tracks from the then most popular selling artists on Am-Par, Danny and The Juniors, George Hamilton IV, Paul Anka or Johnny Nash. The only recognized performers are Eydie Gorme and Ferrante and Teicher. Note that none of the jazz artists produced by Creed are represented, only his specialty recordings[28]Specialty Recordings – Creed Taylor Produced (ctproduced.com) are included.

This is deliberate, I assume, while the introduction of the Electro-Voice stereo equipment and cartridge would make the equipment affordable, the whole marketing push was aimed at the then affluent, white, middle-age, middle-class American working family, teens, college students and young couples would come later.

Tracklist
A0 Bill Lipton– Introduction And Test Tones
A1 Eydie Gorme– I Wanna Be Loved By You – Eydie Gorme Vamps The Roaring 20’s ( ABCS-218)
A2 Cely Carrillo– The Pearls Of Mindanao – Hi-Fi In An Oriental Garden (ABCS-224)
A3 The Blazers – Glorious Beer – More College Drinking Songs (ABCS-219)
A4 The Blazers – Sweet Evaline – More College Drinking Songs (ABCS-219)
B1 Ferrante And Teicher– The Moon Was Yellow – Heavenly Sounds In Hi-Fi (ABCS-221)
B2 The Four Sergeants With Rose Marie Jun– The Marine Hymn – World War II Songs In Hi-Fi (ABCS-222)
B3 The Four Sergeants With Rose Marie Jun– Sound Off – World War II Songs In Hi-Fi (ABCS-222)
B4 Symphony Orchestra– The Beautiful Blue Danube – Strauss In Hi-Fi (ABCS-143)

In the advert below, the model is holding the “More College Drinking Songs” album cover, this can be seen clearly in similar adverts from the time. Show here though is an early “photoshop” effect, likely achieved through actual cut and paste!

Audio and High Fidelity Magazine, July 1958, P25.

It’s my opinion, having spent way more time on this than I expected, that the sampler was indeed the first stereo album Am-Par pressed. However, it was pressed from recordings made on stereo tapes, some of which were recorded up to 30-months earlier. Shortly after the release of the sampler, Am-Par introduced six albums as shown, and then followed it up by November with many re-issues in stereo using the ABCS- catalogue numbers..

Am-Par Record Corp. changed it’s name to ABC-Paramount Records, Inc. in 1962, in 1965 they dropped the Paramount name and became ABC Records in 1965, and ABC Records, Inc. in 1966.

And that is the arrival of stereo and the small, but important role Rudy Van Gelder and Creed Taylor played in it.

References

References
1 Stereo Demonstration Record (1958, Vinyl) | Discogs
2 Stereophonic sound – Wikipedia
3 Commercial Binoural Sound Not Far Off – Google Books
4 Audio Engineering, January 1953 P40
5 Audio and Audio Engineering magazine, September 1955
6 Audio and Audio Engineering magazine, July 1956
7 Art Blakey – Orgy In Rhythm (Volume One) (1957, Vinyl) | Discogs
8 Audio and Audio Engineering, August 1957, Page-41
9 Audio Fidelity Records – Wikipedia
10 Sidney Frey | Discography | Discogs
11 Jazzology: JazzBeat Jazz Magazine
12, 16 High Fidelity Magazine – February 1958, P49
13 Compatible Stereophonic Demonstration Record (1957, Vinyl) | Discogs
14 One to One (Studio Sound) magazine – August 1988, Page-8
15 Billboard Magazine December 16th, 1957, Page-27
17 HiFi Stereo Review, February 1968 – P59
18 https://www.newspapers.com/clip/88292831/obituary-for-sidney-frey-aged-47/
19 DownBeat Magazine, February 1968, Page-34
20 Western Electric – Wikipedia
21 That Crazy Little Thing Called “Azimuth” Part 1 | Analog Planet
22 https://www.newspapers.com/clip/80795926/stereo-sound-explanation/
23 Audio Magazine, January 1962, Page-60
24 https://www.newspapers.com/clip/88298573/l-j-kamp-of-the-associated-press-writes/
25 Electro-Voice – The ABC’s of High Fidelity (1958, Vinyl) – Discogs
26 The ABC’s of High Fidelity (MP3s) – WFMU’s Beware of the Blog
27 Jazz From The San Francisco Waterfront | Discogs
28 Specialty Recordings – Creed Taylor Produced (ctproduced.com)

Updates:

4th November, 11:52am – fixed up references and links.

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