Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: While in Connecticut in the mid-'90s, I clipped and saved a column you wrote about what at the time seemed to be some very early stereo recordings.

One example cited is “Charlie Parker — The Legendary Rockland Palace Concert, Vol. 1” (Jazz Classics JZCL-6010). From a September of 1952 concert, you confirmed some of the music is true stereo.

In more recent years, we have seen many CDs with “astonishing newly discovered stereo” from as far back as the 1930s.

I have not purchased any of these as I am not completely sold on the authenticity of the stereo, even though I am not a hard core audiophile.

Also, any idea what the first honest-to-goodness stereo album might be?
—Philip Marlow, Madison, Wisc.

DEAR PHILIP: But are you an audiophil? (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

Nearly all “newly discovered stereo” music is the result of various remastering techniques, the best of which involve using the original multi-track elements to fabricate all-new selections.

As for the stereo itself, the channel separation varies depending on the number of pick-ups (microphones) originally used, especially with the vocals.

Most desirable is with lead vocals in the center of the audio field and background singers and orchestration balanced across the “stage,” as one would hear if positioned in the middle of a concert hall.

Many audiophiles praise the results of the latest remastering techniques, favoring the recently recast versions of those venerable classics.

Generally disliked by stereo lovers is the extreme separation often found on early and mid-'60s albums, where one channel is devoted to vocals, with little or no music, and the other for the instruments, with little or no vocals. EMI used this approach on some early Beatles LPs. True stereo it is, but a bit too true.

None of this remastering should be confused with the fake stereo so common in the 1960s, in which monaural masters are refiltered, rephased, rehashed, reverberated, and usually ruined.

The respectable labels identified their phony stereo releases as being “electronically reprocessed,” “electronically enhanced,” or with a similar disclaimer.

Depending on who you ask, or whose research you read, the first true stereo LP is either Columbia's Original Broadway Cast Recording of “West Side Story,” or an Audio Fidelity double LP combining the “Dukes of Dixieland” and “Railroad Sound Effects.” “West Side Story” opened on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre, September 26, 1957.

Knowing the show was a smash, they wasted no time getting over to Columbia's 30th Street Studio where the recording session took place September 29th.

Columbia rush-released the Original Broadway Cast LP. The company shows this to be an October '57 issue, and commercially available in three formats: a boxed set of five extended play 45 rpm singles (A-5230); monaural long-play (OL-5230); and their first stereo album (OS-2001).

“West Side Story” lyricist, Stephen Sondheim also confirms these 1957 releases, yet no one can say with certainty whether the stereo edition came out exactly at the same time as the mono, or a short time later — such as in November.

We also know Audio Fidelity, an independent New York label, issued their “Dukes of Dixieland (You Have to Hear It to Believe It!)” (AFSD-5823) & “Railroad Sound Effects: Sounds of a Vanishing Era” LP (AFSD-5843), a demonstration of stereo aimed at the recording industry, in November 1957.

Not sold in stores, this album was only available by mail directly from Audio Fidelity, and only to those requesting a free copy using company letterhead.

Which came first? Without the aid of instant replay, this race is still too close to call.

IZ ZAT SO? Audio Fidelity's selection of the Dukes of Dixieland and sound effects for their first stereo issue was prophetic, as recordings — stereo in particular — of these two divergent choices became the backbone of the company.

Ultimately they released about 15 LPs by the Dukes and 30 with nothing but sound effects.

Unlike music and vocals, the novelty of authentic railroad sounds is hearing the train gradually approach in just one channel, then rumble through the center of the audio field (equally from both speakers) only to chug off into the distance from the other channel.

These sounds are from old-time cannonballs (i.e., steam locomotives) rather than diesels, thus the “Sounds of a Vanishing Era” reference.

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