Top Artists – Art Pepper

Art Pepper – At The Village Vanguard Vol. 4 – Our Shootout Winner from 2007

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At The Village Vanguard Vol. 4


A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This Minty Contemporary Demo LP has WONDERFUL SOUND AND MUSIC! The highlight of this pressing is the well-defined DEEP bass — all the intricacies really come to life. The sound is rich and sweet! And holy crap, that piano sounds really nice. On More for Les, Pepper switches from sax to clarinet and the result is a wonderful, bluesy track that is completely original. The clarinet sounds like it is in the room with you. 

If I had to find a fault with this album, the sax can be a bit honky. The top end has its problems, but there are elements, like that piano, that REALLY COOK!

Overall, I’d say this is one of the better sounding live jazz albums you could hope to find from the late ’70s.

This album features the great Elvin Jones on drums, plus Geoge Cables on piano and George Mraz on bass.

Art Pepper – Friday Night At The Village Vanguard – Our Shootout Winner from 2007

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Friday Night At The Village Vanguard


A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This Original Contemporary LP has EXCELLENT MUSIC AND SOUND! The real highligh of this volume is the version of Caravan — just listen to Art playing both alto AND tenor! There’s also a great version of Pepper’s bossa-influenced track Labyrinth. The sound is rich and full-bodied. Listen to the cymbal crashes to hear how extended the top end is. The piano has real weight to it, but the sax sounds a little bit compressed and the bass could be a bit tighter.

Art Pepper – Smack Up – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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Smack Up


A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

WOW — the first Smack Up Hot Stamper to hit the site in over two years! We love this album and wish we could find more great copies, but it sure ain’t easy. Here’s a Contemporary Yellow Label pressing that’s very good on side one and INCREDIBLE on side two. The first track on side one doesn’t sound quite as good as the rest of the material, but by the second track this thing is SMOKIN’.

You’re going to flip out over this side two, mark my words. The sound is lively and dynamic with a powerful bottom end. The saxophone sounds just right — breathy, full-bodied and realistic. This side has all the tubey magic of the best black label originals, without their bad vinyl and bloated bass. I get black label original Contemporary pressings in all the time, but few of them are mastered right and most never make it to the site. Some are pure muck. Some have bloated bass that is hard to believe.  (more…)

Art Pepper – …The Way It Was – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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…The Way It Was (2010)


A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This Contemporary Yellow Label LP has WONDERFUL SOUND AND MUSIC ON BOTH SIDES! It’s airy, open, and spacious with superb clarity and an extended top end. The beautiful reading of Autumn Leaves on side two is DEMO DISC QUALITY!

Side one of this album is made up of unreleased material Art recorded with Warne Marsh, the tenor It’s great to hear Art play against another sax man. Fans of straight ahead mainstream jazz will find much to enjoy here. Of course the Contemporary studio sound is wonderful — it’s yet another triumph for one of our favorite engineers, Roy DuNann. (more…)

Art Pepper – So In Love

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So In Love


A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

Baker Bigsby, one of our favorite engineers, recorded about half the album at Kendun right here in LA, specifically the songs Blues For Blanche, So In Love and Stardust. Is there a difference in the sound of those tracks compared to the others on the album? We’ll leave that little game to be played by those of you who are so inclined.  (more…)

Art Pepper – One September Afternoon – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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One September Afternoon


A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

AN EXCELLENT A++ SIDE TWO for this album — this is an excellent recording from 1980, one of the best of the later Art Pepper period during which Art was signed with Galaxy and was devoting his remaining years to playing and recording as much as possible. The album is engineered by Baker Bigsby, as is Art Pepper Today (1978), my personal favorite Art Pepper album and amazing sounding if you can find the right pressing (we’re working on it!).  (more…)

Art Pepper – Straight Life

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Straight Life



A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This Jazz Classic boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound, or close to it, from first note to last. The two long ballads, “September Song” at over ten minutes, and “Nature Boy” at just under ten, give Art and the boys a chance to stretch out and take it to another level.

Art Pepper’s saxophone sound is just right – present, breathy and airy with clear leading edge transients. The lineup on this LP is truly stellar, especially for 1979, with the legendary Tommy Flanagan on piano, Billy Higgins on drums, and the great Red Mitchell on bass.  (more…)

Barney Kessel – Some Like It Hot

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More Some Like It Hot


A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This is absolutely the right sound for this music. There was simply nothing that could beat the Triple Plus side, in any area of reproduction. If you like the sound of relaxed, All Tube jazz recordings, you can’t do much better than Some Like It Hot. Many of the copies we played suffered from blubbery bass and transient smearing, but the clarity and bass definition here are surprisingly good. 

This copy is spacious, sweet and positively dripping with ambience. The liquidity of the sound here is positively uncanny. This is vintage analog at its best, so full-bodied and relaxed you’ll wonder how it ever came to be that anyone seriously contemplated trying to improve it.

One of our original pressings had an amazing side two but side one was just a dull, thick, blubbery mess. We may try to sell it someday because even half of an amazing sounding record is worth owning, in my opinion anyway. (Considering that most audiophiles don’t seem to pay much attention to the sonic variations in the sound of their records from side to side, you can be sure that most collectors have plenty of records with only one good side. They just never noticed.) (more…)

Art Pepper – Intensity – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

Intensity is right — this is some SERIOUSLY GOOD SOUNDING alto saxophone led quartet jazz. AMG was right to give this one 4 1/2 stars — the musicianship is top notch and Pepper’s playing is INSPIRED throughout. 

The real surprise was how well recorded this album from 1963 is. I can’t recall a more DYNAMIC Contemporary. Pepper’s sax gets seriously LOUD in some passages. This is very much a good thing. Not only is he totally committed to the music, but the engineers are getting that energy onto the record so that we at home can feel the moment to moment raw power of his expression. (more…)

Shorty Rogers – The Swingin’ Nutcracker

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The Swingin’ Nutcracker


  • Insanely good Living Stereo sound throughout with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades and playing reasonably quietly
  • Al Schmitt handled the engineering duties, brilliantly, with Shorty and dozens of his West Coast Pals contributing to the dates, the likes of Conte Candoli, Art Pepper, Bill Perkins, Bud Shank, Harold Land, Richie Kamuca and more
  • “The most remarkable aspect about the score is how boldly it re-imagines the original. The Swingin’ Nutcracker is contemporary from an American perspective without patronizing the European original.” – Marc Meyers, Jazz Wax

This vintage RCA pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.


What do we love about these Living Stereo Hot Stamper pressings? The timbre of every instrument is Hi-Fi in the best sense of the word. The instruments here are reproduced with remarkable fidelity. Now that’s what we at Better Records mean by “Hi-Fi”, not the kind of Audiophile Phony BS Sound that too often passes for Hi-Fidelity these days. (For a taste of the ridiculously phony sound I’m talking about, click here.)

There’s no boosted top, there’s no bloated bottom, there’s no sucked-out midrange. There’s no added digital reverb (Patricia Barber, Diana Krall, et al.). The microphones are not fifty feet away from the musicians (Water Lily) nor are they inches away (Three Blind Mice). This is Hi-Fidelity for those who recognize The Real Thing when they hear it. I’m pretty sure our customers do, and whoever picks this one up is guaranteed to get a real kick out of it. 

What amazing sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1960
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

What We Listen For on The Swingin’ Nutcracker

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The musicians aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt — Al Schmitt in this case — would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

The Players

Bass – Joe Mondragon 
Drums – Frank Capp, Mel Lewis 
Piano – Lou Levy, Pete Jolly 
Saxophone – Art Pepper, Bill Holman, Bill Hood, Bill Perkins, Bud Shank, Chuck Gentry, Harold Land, Richie Kamuca 
Trombone – Frank Rosolino, George Roberts, Harry Betts, Kenneth Shroyer 
Trumpet – Conte Candoli, Jimmy Zito*, Johnny Audino, Ray Triscari 

A Big Group of Musicians Needs This Kind of Space

One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.

Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.

And most of the time those very special pressings are just plain more involving. When you hear a copy that does all that — a copy like this one — it’s an entirely different listening experience.


Side One

Like Nutty Overture (Finale)
A Nutty Marche (Marche)
Blue Reeds (Reed Flute Blues) 
The Swingin’ Plum Fairy (Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy)
Snowball (Waltz Of The Snowflakes)

Side Two

Six Pak (Trépak)
Flowers Of The Cats (Waltz Of The Flowers)
Dance Expresso (Coffee)
Pass The Duke (Pas De Deux)
China Where? (Tea Dance)
Overture For Shorty (Overture In Miniature)