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Ted Heath Swings in High Stereo – More Gold from HDTT

01-22-2022 | By Rushton Paul | Issue 119

Kenneth Wilkinson, Kingsway Hall, and the Decca Tree—it all adds up to Audiophile Quality Big Band sound. I'm delighted to find yet another Kenneth Wilkinson recording to savor, this time in a luscious big band jazz recording that surprised me to find again. Leave it to Bob Witrak at High Definition Tape Transfers to uncover gems from the archives.

Ted Heath Swings in High Stereo -  a Decca recording transferred by HDTT. 1958, 2022 (DXD) HERE

Ted Heath was one of the most famous band leaders in Great Britain in the 1950s. And this album is perhaps his most well-known release. He and his band play with all the energy and verve essential to joyful Big Band music. It has been said that Heath’s early Decca recordings may be some of the best sounding big band albums ever recorded. I can't say that from my own experience, but just listen to the opening track as Heath and his band play Ellington's "C" Jam Blues. Here is audiophile quality in spades. And, from 1958!

Original record covers from 1958, London on the left, Decca on the right

Unlike my recollection of the sound of the original LP, which I once had, this transfer does not have the classic "tubey" sound we're so familiar with from that era. The sound here is tighter, cleaner. Just about what I'd expect as coming from a good 2-track 15ips dub of the master (which I do not claim this to be—it just sounds like it).

Bob Witrak does not identify his source for this transfer, but he must have found something good because this entire release sounds terrific in the DXD transfer to which I'm listening. The Kingsway Hall magic is all there, sounding like it has not been messed with from the original tapes. Here we have tight, rich, full bass with excellent weight. And the timbre of the instruments sounds spot on, with very open transparent sound. The kind of clarity for which Kingsway Hall was cherished.

This is vintage analog sound at its best. Full-bodied and relaxed, with plenty of detail and resolution. The only thing that mars this recording is the over-dubbed audience applause. (Yes, I know this was one of the first stereo recordings made in public, but the audience applause must have been added in the studio when creating the edit master tape.)

Ted Heath was a giant of the big band era, just performing in England. Count Basie is quoted as saying, "You’ve got a band… Ted Heath… He scares me to death… When they sent those first Heath records over to the States they really knocked everybody out… For me I think Ted is the best precision band and so very entertaining…I mean so far as I’m concerned I think Ted is the most." And Woody Herman is quoted as saying following a European tour. "I saw the band and was incredibly impressed…one of the cleanest and swingiest of the big bands of the era… Always rated at the top of the list… You would hear more Ted Heath records than ours, Basie or Ellington…"

Do I know of a better sounding stereo recording from 1958? Yes, a couple classical music recordings from 1956 and 1957 (HERE). But this one is excellent. And it is so because of Kenneth Wilkinson and Kingsway Hall—you just don't get better than that.

Highly recommended.