Since the compact disc is now an obsolete medium for music, or so I am told, perhaps readers have to be nearly ancient to remember the tactile pleasures of the phonograph record. Jazz fanciers are particularly prone to such nostalgic ecstasies, because so much life-changing music was contained on black discs, ten or twelve inches in diameter, which rotated as we watched. The labels were lovely, the discs were tangible. They were fragile and if you scratched a record, you heard the click or the whoosh whenever you played it.
And perhaps we loved most fiercely those artifacts that were flawed. I think of my first copy of the Vanguard long-playing record, The Vic Dickenson Showcase, that had a warp in it so that I could watch the tone arm ride up into space and descend, gently, without disturbing the flow of the music — three-dimensional sculpture rotating as the gently propulsive collective improvisation on “Old Fashioned Love” wove its strands. Or my V-Disc of Hot Lips Page and friends performing “The Sheik of Araby” that had a skip in it at the end of Nick Caizza’s somewhat uninspired tenor sax solo, so that I had to sit near the record and be ready at the precise moment to lift the arm out of the stuck groove. When I first purchased a copy of the CD with that dazzling performance, I missed the sound of the skip. Such is memory!
These old-time thoughts were stimulated by an email conversation with the remarkable Menno Daams, celebrated elsewhere on this blog, where he wrote:
My father had Bugle Call Rag [by the Chocolate Dandies, 1930] on a worn-out 78. There was a chip missing from the rim of the record, so you had to be very careful to place the needle exactly in the first groove to avoid the gap — and then that wonderful opening cadenza! I don’t care how many notes Bobby Stark missed, THAT’S exciting trumpet playing!
This is to take nothing away from Bobby Stark or the rest of the unfortunately-named Dandies, but I suspect that just a bit of Menno’s pleasure in that record, and in his recollection of it, is in its small imperfection. If any readers have equally fond feelings for a particular disc — its physical characteristics as much as the music contained — I’d love to hear their stories. And the best response (as judged by an impartial panel) will win some flawed jazz disc from my collection, as an appropriate talisman.
Yours in the sainted name of Decca, Blue Note, Commodore, and Session, with rim chips, lam cracks, and more —