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Various Artists: The Riverside Records Story

As a listener new to jazz and college in 1959, I gravitated to the brainy, saucy, all-blue Riverside label for my East Coast sounds, rather than the brawny, established blue-and-white Blue Notes. (I was getting my West Coast hits largely from Lester Koenig’s affably mellow-yellow Contemporary label.) The Riverside label’s stable had appealing breadth of scope, a palpable swagger that eschewed the hard-bop hammerlock, a slew of pianist/ composers of infinite-and again, wide-appeal (R. Weston, T. Monk, G. Russell, B. Evans, B. Timmons, E. Hope, D. Friedman, K. Drew, W. Kelly).

The packages themselves boasted thorough liner notes (complete with composers, timings, recording dates), hip cover art with color photos…an endless list of attractions. The recordings were usually strong and clear, the pressings decent. Monk, particularly galvanizing in his prime, set my logic processor doing loop-de-loops. I never imagined then that the “feisty kid brother” Riverside, run by Bill Grauer and Orrin Keepnews, had reached the halfway point of its meteoric lifecycle.

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