Audio Fidelity Records
Audio Fidelity Records, was a record company out of New York City, most active during the 1950s and 1960s. They are best known for having produced the first mass-produced American stereophonic long-playing record in November 1957 (although this was not available to the general public until March of the following year).
Sidney Frey (1920–1968), founder and president of Audio Fidelity, had Westrex, owner of one of the two rival stereo disk-cutting systems, cut a stereo LP disk for release before any of the major record labels, several of which had the Westrex equipment but had not yet produced a stereo disk. Side 1 was The Dukes of Dixieland; Side 2 was railroad sound effects. This demonstration disc was introduced to the public on December 13, 1957 at the Times Auditorium in New York City. 500 copies of this initial demonstration record were pressed. On December 16, 1957, Frey advertised in the trade magazine Billboard that he would send a free copy to anyone in the industry who wrote to him on company letterhead.
That move generated a great deal of publicity and launched a revolution in the way the world listens to music: on two channels, for two ears, in stereo. Frey promptly released four additional stereo disks. The equipment dealers had no choice but to demonstrate on Audio Fidelity Records. Frey became known as "Mr. Stereo" during that era.
Stereophonic sound was not entirely new to the public. In 1952, sound engineer Emory Cook developed a stereophonic disk that used two separate grooves and playback needles; the following year he had a catalog of about 25 disks available for audiophiles. Multi-channel sound was integral to the widescreen motion picture processes Cinerama (1952) and CinemaScope (1953). And stereophonic audio tapes had been commercially available to audiophiles, although expensive, since the mid-1950s. After the release of the Audio Fidelity demonstration disks, the other spur to the popularity of stereo disks was the reduction in price of a stereo magnetic cartridge, for playing the disks, from $250 to $29.95 in June 1958. The first four stereo discs available to the general public were released by Audio Fidelity in March, 1958— Johnny Puleo and his Harmonica Gang Volume 1 (AFSD 5830), Railroad - Sounds of a Vanishing Era (AFSD 5843), Lionel - Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra (AFSD 5849) and Marching Along with the Dukes of Dixieland Volume 3 (AFSD 5851). By the end of March, the company had four more stereo LPs available.
In the summer of 1958, Audio Fidelity recorded 13 classical LPs in London's Walthamstow Town Hall. The orchestra was the specially-formed Virtuoso Symphony of London, which consisted of London orchestral players and leading instrumentalists including Anthony Pini, Frederick Riddle, Reginald Kell and Marie Goosens. However, once these recording sessions were over, it was never heard of again. Six of the LPs were conducted by Alfred Wallenstein, who concentrated on the symphonic repertoire (Brahms's 4th Symphony, Tchaikovsky's Pathetique, Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, and so on) and six by Arthur Winograd (both conductors were ex-cellists) who recorded lighter fare, such as operatic marches and popular overtures. The 13th LP (Strauss Waltzes) was conducted by Emanuel Vardi. The LPs were expensively produced and retailed at a very high price but reviews of the time were divided between critics who found the stereo sound immensely vivid and others for whom it was over-modulated to the point of distortion.
During the period of Sidney Frey's ownership (1954-1965), Audio Fidelity went on to record a varied group of artists including Louis Armstrong, Al Hirt, Lalo Schifrin, Oscar Brand, Lionel Hampton, Elmo Hope, Pat Moran McCoy, Larry Adler, Johnny Puleo, Patachou, Mohammed El-Bakkar, Leon Berry, Fernando Sirvent, Harry Breuer, Eddie Cantor, Bobby Christian, Myron Cohen, Jo Basile, The Teemates, Don Shirley, The Sounds of the Nickelodeons at Paul Eakins' Gay Nineties Village, classical music, and sound effects. In the 1970s, the label recorded the Irish folk group The Clancy Brothers  and Louis Killen.
Sid Frey was a well-respected industry maverick. In his speech, "The Role of the Producer", Tom Wilson  included Frey in an extraordinary list of impresarios: "If we look at the history of our business, at such companies as Kapp, Columbia, Audio Fidelity, and Motown, we see that these organizations were led to greatness by great listeners, men who had an ear for music, men who were able to make sound creative as well as financial judgments. I’m talking about men like Sid Frey, David Kapp, Goddard Lieberson, and Berry Gordy." (Tom Wilson producer credits include landmark records for Bob Dylan, The Animals, The Mothers of Invention, and many other artists in a career that spanned the 1950s- 1970s.)
Bossa Nova in the United States
In September 1962, Sidney Frey, president of Audio-Fidelity Records, flew to Rio in search of bossa nova artists to take to New York for a concert. Tom Jobim and João Gilberto were the obvious picks, but he brought all he could—Luiz Bonfá, Oscar Castro-Neves, Carlos Lyra, Milton Banana, and Sérgio Mendes. The Carnegie Hall concert on November 21, 1962 was a historic moment—bossa nova, sub-titled "new Brazilian jazz," was presented for the first time to an American audience.
Audio Fidelity, Inc. was founded in 1954. A British branch, A-F England, Ltd., was established in 1959. Sidney Frey sold the company to Herman Gimbel in 1965. The company's name was changed to Audio Fidelity Enterprises circa 1971. It purchased Chiaroscuro Records in 1976. The last known releases under the Audio Fidelity label were circa 1984. In 1985 the company became Milestone Records. In 1997, Audio Fidelity Records was purchased out of bankruptcy by Colliers Media Company. At this date much of the catalog is being re-mastered and re-released digitally by Reach Entertainment and The Copyright Group.
Key employees of the company, who were mostly uncredited on the recordings included: John Mosley, chief audio engineer, Willy Hamilton, chief audio engineer; Lawrence Frey (brother of Sidney), audio engineer; Rosalind Frey (wife of Sidney), vice president; Carl Shaw, business manager; George Demko, comptroller; Manny Vardi, producer; Claire Orson, Diane Terman, Georganne Heller, publicity; Bill Shuler, Ruth Martin, graphic designers.
Additional labels owned by Sidney Frey included Karate Records, Kinor Records, Dauntless International, and Audio Rarities.
Sidney married the former Rosalind Kanon in 1948 and had two daughters, Andrea and Melanie.
Collector Don W. Reichle compiled a comprehensive database and collection of Audio Fidelity recordings which are now housed at the Syracuse University Library. The collection consists of:
- 1,404 different catalog numbers
- 1,176 different artists identified and cross-linked with album details.
- 5,857 different track titles identified and cross-linked with album details.
- 640 different pictures of album jackets cross-linked with album details.
- "Audio Fidelity Bombshell Had Industry Agog," Billboard, Dec. 22, 1962, p. 36.
- Dukes of Dixieland Website
- "Mass Produced Stereo Disc is Demonstrated," Billboard, Dec. 16, 1957, p. 27.
- Patmore, David. The Story of Audio Fidelity - a pioneering American LP label. Classical Recordings Quarterly, Summer 2014, No 77, p24-28.
- "Audio Fidelity Bombshell Had Industry Agog", Billboard, Dec. 22, 1962, p. 36.
- YouTube Link to "Railroad-Sounds of a Vanishing Era"
- "CBS Discloses Stereo Step," Billboard, March 31, 1958, p. 9.
- "Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong"
- Al Hirt (Space Age Pop)
- Lalo Schifrin Website
- Oscar Brand Website
- Sounds from Rikers Island
- Elmo Hope Hardbop Homepage
- Johnny Puleo (Space Age Pop)
- Mohammed El-Bakkar
- "Orientalist Party Music,"The Believer, July/August, 2010.
- Leon Berry Website
- Harry Breuer (Space Age Pop)
- Bobby Christian (Space Age Pop)
- Joe Basile (Space Age Pop)
- Teemates Website
- The Teemates (60s Garage Bands)
- "Noise Merchant," Time, May 19,1961
- Liam Clancy Website
- Tom Wilson Producer Website
- Bill Dee's Bossa Nova Website
- "Beyond Ipanema" documentary film trailer, October 12, 2009
- Bossa Nova at Carnegie Hall Video
- YouTube link to Bossa Nova: New Brazilian Jazz album
- "Frey, Demko Back From Europe Trip", Billboard, Nov. 21, 1960, p. 6.
- Billboard - Google Books. Books.google.com. 1965-04-10. Retrieved 2013-07-22.
||This article's use of external links may not follow Wikipedia's policies or guidelines. (July 2013)|
- Sex Selling Record Albums AP 8/9/1959
- Article about Sidney Frey Home Audio Setup
- The Stereo Disc today October, 1960 article in Electronics World magazine
- Don W. Reichle Audio Fidelity Collection at Syracuse University Library
- Discography of Audio Fidelity Recordings at Syracuse University compiled by Don W. Reichle