Bob Weinstock, who founded the independent jazz record label Prestige in 1949 and ran it for more than 20 years, died on Saturday at a hospice in Boca Raton, Fla. He was 77 and lived in Deerfield Beach, Fla.
He died of complications of diabetes, said his daughter-in-law, Barbara Weinstock.
Mr. Weinstock produced and released some of the most important jazz recordings in the beginning years of the LP era. Prestige releases – and those of its related imprints, including Par, Swingville, Moodsville, Bluesville and Tru-Sound – weren't known for perfection. Mr. Weinstock generally set up recording sessions with no rehearsal time. (One of the exceptions to this rule was the Modern Jazz Quartet, whose pianist, John Lewis, insisted on rehearsals before making the albums “Django” and “Concorde.”)
But Mr. Weinstock did a remarkable job of flooding the market with the work of many of the greatest small-group jazz bandleaders during an exceptionally fertile time for jazz in New York. They ranged from King Pleasure's “Moody's Mood for Love” – a national hit that saved the label from financial ruin when it was released as a 78 single in 1952 – to two all-day sessions with Miles Davis's quintet in 1956, with no second takes, a stockpiling of material Mr. Weinstock demanded in return for letting Davis out of a contract. It resulted in four separate important LP's: “Cookin' With the Miles Davis Quintet” and its companion volumes, “Relaxin',” “Workin',” and “Steamin'.” Mr. Weinstock's label also released hundreds of recorded sessions by John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Eric Dolphy, Gene Ammons, Red Garland, Coleman Hawkins and Annie Ross and others before it was finally sold to Fantasy Records.
Mr. Weinstock grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. With the encouragement of his uncle, Philip Hunt, who ran a successful chemical business serving the motion picture industry, and his father, Selig Weinstock, known as Sol, a shoe salesman, he began as a jazz-record retailer while a teenager, shipping and selling records out of his home through ads in Record Changer magazine.
He rented retail space inside the Jazz Record Center, a shop on 47th Street near Sixth Avenue, owned by the former prizefighter Big Joe Klauberg. He was beginning to frequent the Royal Roost, a Midtown club that was starting to book more and more bebop groups, and Mr. Weinstock converted from swing and New Orleans music to the newer style.
In January 1949, when he was 20, he made his first recordings, of Lennie Tristano's quintet, releasing them on a label that he called New Jazz. Less than year into his business, he realized that he was recording so many saxophonists that he started a new line, Prestige, with a saxophone logo; eventually Prestige won out as his overall imprimatur. His records, including several by Stan Getz and Sonny Stitt and Annie Ross's “Twisted,” were finding success on the radio and in jukeboxes. Phobic about airplane travel, Mr. Weinstock traveled around the country by bus, talking to distributors and disc jockeys, and with his father's help he set up an effective promotion and distribution system.
Mr. Weinstock could not read music or play an instrument, but he had a good ear and a sense of jazz's natural evolution toward the bebop pioneers Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. “He grew up on King Oliver and Louis Armstrong's Hot Five recordings,” said the jazz historian Ira Gitler, who worked with him in the early 1950's. “And he felt that Dizzy and Bird were the equivalent of the Hot Five.”
By the late 1950's, Mr. Weinstock was hiring others to sign artists and produce the sessions, and the company's direction changed with the music. By the mid-60's it was moving toward soul-jazz, recording many titles by Richard Groove Holmes, Willis Jackson and Charles Earland.
After selling the company to Fantasy Records in 1972 – which, in turn, was bought by the Concord Music Group in 2004 – Mr. Weinstock moved to Florida.
He is survived by his companion, Roberta Ross; his sons James, of North Lauderdale, Fla., Bruce, of Minneapolis, and Philip, of Tamarack, Fla.; and three grandchildren.