This story begins in a sweetly undramatic way.
The Beloved and I had spent the afternoon of July 6 doing a variety of errands in the car. We had some time before we had to return home, so she suggested that we do a short bout of “thrifting” (visiting our favorite thrift stores) in the nearby town of San Rafael, California. She favors a hospice thrift place called HODGE PODGE; I opt for GOODWILL, which is half a block away.
Once in Goodwill, I looked quickly at men’s clothing and took two items off the rack for more consideration. I saw there were many records in the usual corner, perhaps three hundred LPs and a half-dozen 78 albums.
Just as I write the novella of the life of the person ahead of me on line in the grocery store by the items (s)he is buying, I create the brief biography of a record collector by what patterns there are. Admittedly, the collection I perused was not solely the expression of one person’s taste, but it seemed a particularly deep 1959 collection: original cast, Sinatra, Dino, Hank Williams, comedy, unusual albums I had not seen before.
In about ten minutes, I found a Jack Lemmon record on Epic, where he sings and plays songs from SOME LIKE IT HOT (he was quite a good pianist), the orchestra directed by Marion Evans. (Particularly relevant because I am also finishing the 1999 book, CONVERSATIONS WITH WILDER — that’s Billy — and enjoying it greatly). A Murray McEachern mood-music session for Capitol, CARESS, with Jimmy Rowles; the somewhat dubious JAZZ: SOUTH PACIFIC, with Pettiford, McGhee, J.J. Johnson, Rudy Williams; Ethel Waters doing spirituals and hymns on Word; Clancy Hayes with the Salty Dogs — Jim Dapogny on second cornet / valve-trombone, Kim Cusack on clarinet — OH BY JINGO on Delmark.
Then I moved to the 78s. I thought about but did not take a Black and White album of six songs by Lena Horne with Phil Moore, but took without hesitation a Capitol collection of Nellie Lutcher, because Sidney Catlett was on a few sides, I think.
More than a few minutes had passed. My knees were beginning to hurt and other people, one with a well-behaved dog, had been drawn to the trove.
The last album I looked at was an unmarked four-record 78 album. The first sleeve was empty. The second one held a Fifties TOPS record “Four Hits On One Record,” which I disdained. The third was a prize — a late-Thirties Bluebird of Fats Waller and his Rhythm doing AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ (“Recorded in Europe”) and GEORGIA ROCKIN’ CHAIR, which pleased me a great deal. It would have been the great treasure of my quest.
I turned to the last record and caught my breath. I know this feeling well — surprise, astonishment, intense emotion — the equivalent of a painless punch in the solar plexus. I’ve felt it other times before — once a year ago in California with a Bluebird 78 in a Goodwill (take that confluence as you will) which I have chronicled here.
This record was another late-Thirties Bluebird, this one by Louis. One side was Hoagy Carmichael’s SNOWBALL (which made me smile — it’s a great sweet song).
For nearly a decade my email address has been firstname.lastname@example.org.
Initially, I took it as a self-definition and an online “alias” because those three words are to me a collective exaltation — “Hallelujah, Brothers and Sisters!” in a swinging four – four.
But “Swing you cats!” is not only exhortation — “Let’s unite for our common joyous purpose!” but celebration that we are communally on the same delighted path.
As I did in the previous Goodwill experience, I took the record over to the Beloved, who was seated peaceably, reading a local free paper. ”What did you find?” she said cheerfully. I went through the records I’ve described, and then reached for the unmarked album and said, “Look at this.”
She admires Fats as I do, so GEORGIA ROCKIN’ CHAIR was properly celebrated. Then I silently showed her the final record, and we both drew in our breaths. When she could speak, she said, “Is today a special day? Some anniversary of your blog?”
And then it dawned on me. Choked up, I eventually said, “This is the anniversary of Louis’ death. July 6, 1971.” After a long, tear-stifled interval during which we simply looked at each other and the record, I took my treasures to the cashier, paid, and we went home.
To describe my feelings about this incident, I run the risk of characterizing myself as one of the Anointed and elaborating on this fantasy vision, where Louis, in the ethereal sphere, sees what I do in his name and approves — sending a little token of his approval my way.
I know that some readers might scoff, “Please! That record was a manufactured object. Thousands of copies were made. It was simple luck that you got it. Do you think Louis — dead for forty-plus years — would know or care what your email address is?” I can certainly understand their realistic scorn.
But since I am sure that the Dead Know — that they aren’t Dead in any way except the abandoning of their bodies, who is to say that my taking this as an affirmation from Somewhere is so odd? How many of us, for whatever reason, have felt the presence of someone we love / who loved us, even though that person is now “dead”?
So I felt, in a more intense way, connected to Louis Armstrong. That is not a bad thing. And I could hilariously imagine the way I might have popped up on one of his letters or home tapes.
I hope all my JAZZ LIVES readers, cats indeed, will happily swing on now and eternally.
I send them all my love.
And I celebrate SWING YOU CATS by making it the first whirl of the JAZZ LIVES homemade video jukebox*:
For those who want to know more about this record, read and hear my man Ricky Riccardi’s essay on SWING YOU CATS, here.
*I have witnessed much high-intensity irritation on Facebook directed at people like myself who make YouTube videos of a spinning vintage record without using the finest equipment. I apologize in advance to anyone who might be offended by my efforts. SWING YOU CATS sounds “pretty good” to me. And my intermittent YouTube videos — the “JAZZ LIVES” DANCE PARTY — will offer 78 sides that aren’t on YouTube. Just for a thrill.
May your happiness increase!