If I’m going to spend time with a new jazz book, I want it to be original, not a recycling of other writers. An ideal book is full of first-hand narrative, it’s well-documented, without a limiting ideology, enjoyably written, full of surprises.
Ginell’s book was particularly interesting to me because I knew something about West Coast jazz (the pre-Chet Baker variety) but not much about this fabled record shop. From the years I spent in New York record stores, I know that each one was its own anthropological microcosm, an eccentric cosmos in itself. So I was prepared to learn a great deal about this manifestation of jazz culture when I opened this book.
But I didn’t expect to enjoy myself quite so much.
On the surface, Ginell’s book is the story of a record shop — as it passes from one set of owners to another, a dozen moves, from 1939 to 1984. But that record shop also had its own label, a spiritedly unusual clientele, and it was a thriving part of the West Coast jazz scene.
The book floats along from one first-hand story to another, and some famous names pass through its pages (not simply as casual mentions): Orson Welles, Jelly Roll Morton, Kid Ory, Bunk Johnson, Nesuhi and Ahmet Ertegun, Dave Stuart, Don Brown, Lu Watters, Reb Spikes, Bill Russell, Marili Morden (the seductive although restrained amorous cynosure of the traditional scene), Duke Ellington, Turk Murphy, George Avakian, the Firehouse Five Plus Two, Joe Venuti, the Rolling Stones, Bukka White.
But some of the most satisfying moments are frankly impossible to imagine: the story of Stravinsky coming to the Jazz Man Record Shop, listening happily to King Oliver (and not buying anything). The tale of Harry “the Hipster” Gibson and his son — the only anecdote in the world bringing “the Hipster” and “Hare Krishna” into the same paragraph. And then there’s the terrible story of Don Brown, a Johnny Dodds’ Black Bottom Stompers record, and a hammer . . . avert your eyes.
Ginell is a clear, enthusiastic writer; his narrative moves eagerly along. It’s clear he isn’t a chronicler-for-hire (we all know those people, who assemble the facts without having their heart in the subject); he is someone deeply involved in the shop, the music, and the scene from 1971 on. But the book isn’t about him, nor is he trying to prove a particular point.
The book concludes with a useful bibliography, discography of the JAZZ MAN label, and an index. It’s beautifully illustrated with clear reproductions of many rare photographs, advertising flyers, letters, and fascinating paper ephemera.
Better yet — in addition to the book, Ginell has put together a fine CD anthology — including Morton, Bunk, Watters, Johnny Lucas, Pud Brown, Ory, Pete Daily, Darnell Howard, Bukka White (a previously unissued recording), George Lewis, Joe Venuti, Jack Teagarden, Jess Stacy, and others.
I found the book / CD combination a delightful experience and predict that you will, too. To purchase the book, you can visit http://www.lulu.com; for the CD by itself, visit http://www.originjazz.com (which has a link to Lulu), or contact the author directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And thanks to Bob Porter for pointing me to this book.