this site, a reissue is “the repeated issue of a published work,” and is also known as a “re-release” or “re-edition.” But what is the history of the reissue? When did the practice begin? Why? Under what circumstances? Obviously a reissue is one of those special cases when a verb is used as a noun: the action of reissuing creates a reissue. Walter Benjamin (“The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”) might say that the reissue is a consequence of modernity’s many tools for mechanical reproduction, and hence represents the process of the democratization of art.
Bruce Boyd Raeburn (New Orleans Style and the Writing of American Jazz History, University of Michigan Press 2009), indicates that the practice of reissuing started during the Great Depression, when in 1934 Milt Gabler negotiated a leasing arrangement with the American Record Company (ARC) — which controlled the masters of the moribund OKeh, Brunswick, and Vocalion labels — and reissued some early jazz recordings on his Commodore label. The next year he formed the United Hot Clubs of America (UHCA) and reissued 57 jazz classics on the label over the next five years.
Then, according to this interesting article, in early 1940, Columbia Records followed Milt Gabler's lead and authorized a 20-year-old Yale student (the Yale campus was a mere 20 miles from Columbia’s Bridgeport factory) from Russia named George Avakian to choose from among hundreds of early jazz records--in effect a database--those that would be rescued from obscurity and reissued. Hence George Avakian, consciously or unconsciously believing in the democratization of art, made many hard-to-find recordings available to a broader listening audience. “In this way,” the author of the aforementioned article astutely observes, “the first outlines of a primary canon emerged that would influence the writing and thinking on jazz history for decades to come.” Thus also began the so-called “New Orleans revival” and the quest for genuine jazz. Not only did the practice of reissuing canonize certain jazz records, it historicized jazz and established standards of proper taste, for these records were reissued in albums consisting of four red label Columbia 10” 78 rpm records under the banner Hot Jazz Classics, “hot jazz” now a distinct, meaningful kind of genuine jazz music. Put in another way, jazz not labeled “hot” was no longer considered authentic jazz. Such is an effect of canonization, but also one of the consequences of the reissue. As Walter Benjamin observed,
One might generalize by saying the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition. By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence. And in permitting the reproduction to meet the beholder or listener in his own particular situation, it reactivates the object reproduced. These two processes lead to a tremendous shattering of tradition. . . . Instead of being based on ritual, it [art] begins to be based on another practice--politics.
Or, to use Derridean language, a reissue is a “citation” grafted into a new context and, as an inevitable consequence, refunctioned.
Jazz audiophiles say that many of the reissued records in the Hot Jazz Classics albums were pressed from original stampers, noticeable because there is no lead-in groove but just barely room enough at the edge to drop the stylus (the original records were actually 10 1/4” as opposed to the 10” size of the reissues). As I understand it, there were around 20 albums issued by Columbia Records in the Hot Jazz Classics series, the first four being the following:
Louis Armstrong, King Louis, C-28, #1 (pictured above)
Bix Beiderbecke, Jazz As It Should Be Played, C-29, #2
Fletcher Henderson, Fletcher Henderson, C-30, #3
Bessie Smith, Empress of the Blues, C-31, #4
When Columbia reissued these four albums beginning the spring of 1940, the cornerstone of the jazz canon was laid. Following the reissues of Bix Beiderbecke, Bessie Smith and Fletcher Henderson were albums on Duke Ellington (#5) Earl Hines, and Frank Teschemacher (#7). Other reissues followed, and so the past became present. The reissue, a consequence of mechanical reproduction and all that it implies, thus gave birth to the audiophile, one who philosophically adheres to the hierarchy of original and copy and who therefore denounces the copy in the name of the original, and the collector, one who exhibits the will to omniscience and has taken up the aural equivalent of the hobby of trainspotting.