For Vinyl album crate diggers and junkies looking to get into the 1960’s jazz vibe, some of the best value albums are from the short lived “Verve Return Engagement” series.

I was reminded of this series yesterday when I restarted digitizing my vinyl collection. While there are lots of good Wes Montgomery compilations, still my favorite by far is his double album from this series in 1974. Long after Taylor had left CTI, sadly 6-years after Wes had passed onto the great jam session in the sky, Verve issued what I consider to be the best of the Wes Montgomery compilations, almost entirely from his work with Creed Taylor.

If you don’t know Wes Montgomery’s work, this double album can be found very inexpensively. Another from this series, worth owning, is the Bill Evans double album. However, the album in the series didn’t sell as hoped, read on to find out why.

In the mid-1970’s, at least in America, was awash with piracy, bootlegs and illegal tape duplicating. Who remembers the Make-A-Tape scandal? The machines were rented from GEM Electronics in NY. You could go into a record store and buy a a store duplicated commercial cassette or 8-track.[1]Cash Box magazine, May 5th, 1974 These were not the purview of the mafia and criminal gangs, but every day record store and were being franchised across the county by the Make-A-Tape corporation of Fraser Michigan.[2]Los Angeles Free Press, December 12th, 1973

Whole series of vinyl albums were bootlegged with recycled vinyl, cheap pressings, thin single sleeves, in place of often thick gatefold sleeves. I had an exchange with a seller last year who argued he had CTI first-pressing, that was in a single sleeve. Sadly, it definitely wasn’t it a first-pressing, it was probably a unauthorized, or bootleg copy.

Set against all that, 1974 was a tough time for jazz. Not only were clubs closing, but rock, pop and soul had taken the market. While CTI continued to make waves and dominate the charts, Blue Note would continue to scrape by financially; French label Vogue’s expansion beyond jazz had stalled and they’d been acquired by British label PYE, who would return them to their jazz roots; MGM film studio sold its record division to Polydor in 1972, and Polydor relegated Verve into a jazz re-issue label.

Jazz has long had a somewhat pompous, effete core of consumers. Taylors push to increase the reach of jazz into a much larger contemporary pop market was succeeding and pushing back catalog material to those new consumers was a big deal. The jazz purist believed that good jazz has a life of it’s own, it’s immune to obsolescence, and the market became saturated with jazz releases. CBS/Columbia re-issued almost the entire back catalog of Bessie Smith off the back of Janis Joplins interest. Prestige and Milestone, Riverside were all re-issuing with Prestige focused on it’s “twofer” series.

It was into that market that Verve launched the “Return Engagement” series.[3] The initial releases included Taylor’s successes with Montgomery, Getz, Evans and Tjader, as well as Charlie Parker and Oscar Peterson. Next for release were supposed to be Lester Young, Gene Krupa, Count Basie, Milton Jackson and surprisingly, George Benson, who was by now building a whole new head of steam with CTI. A follow-on series was planned for August. It’s not clear of those albums were released, just not as part of the series or what happened to them?

It’s likely that these tracks from top-tier, recording stars at Verve in the sixties, were either outtakes, for example the Gil Evans cuts, or were legitimately unreleased purely due to the volume of albums, the calendar for marketing and promotion etc. which was likely the case with Johnny Hodges and Getz/Evans.

Even Norman Granz would return to the industry, launching the Pablo label, named after Pablo Picasso who Granz had met in 1968[4]Norman Granz – The Man Who Used Jazz for Justice While Granz would record some new material, he reissued the complete Art Tatum catalog he had originally recorded in the 1950’s, in addition to a number of concerts and other sessions he’d previously recorded and claimed ownership of. The reissue wars had certainly begun.

For the Creed Taylor completists, it’s worth taking a look at the 1973 Verve series, “Previously Unreleased Recordings“.[5] I don’t have the backstory to when and where they were recorded, or why they were previously unreleased, but almost the entire series was produced by Creed Taylor, I assume in the early 1960’s.

Update: April 14th, 2021 3.22pm – Added the previously omitted note about Norman Granz return.
April 24th 1:35pm – Added speculative reason why recordings were unreleased.

3 Replies to “Verve and all that Jazz”

  1. Over the years I’ve continually searched for creditable evidence on whether “Gene Krupa – Return Engagement” VH3B-8847 was ever actually released or not. is it in fact your belief that it wasn’t?

    1. Joe, thanks for the question. I’ve never seen any evidence that the second batch of “Return Engagement” albums were ever pressed. My guess is just poor sales of the first set.

      It’s not clear that Krupa’s 1973 death would have had any impact on releasing the compilation, but it could if there was a battle over his legacy etc.

      I Have Cal Tjader, Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, Bill Evans and Wes Montgomery. I know for sure the Oscar Peterson was released, but have never seen anything of the follow-on albums, let alone the August set. I’ve personally been searching for the Milt Jackson ‘Verve Return Engagement”.

      I keep meaning to scan the remainder of my collection of some 200 issues of down beat magazine, I just grabbed 8x 1974 issues and quickly scanned them, thats where the two advertisements came from in the post, the April and May issues. No mention anywhere in new issue columns or reviews.

      1. Hi Mark! I would think it’s safe to say these were never released. However rare, and where Gene wasn’t the only one in question, I would believe that at least one would have turned up after all these years — in spite of these being included in most Verve discographies! Thanks for your thoughts. Best, JP

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