JAZZ ARCHAEOLOGY, or A NEW TROVE

After my most recent venture into unexpected hot music (finding Lester Young and Charlie Parker 78s) Mal Sharpe told me I was a “jazz archaeologist,” which I take as a great compliment.

I have emerged from another rich unexpected dig, brushed the dust off of my khakis, taken my pith helmet off, and put down my shovels.  Here is my tale.

Yesterday afternoon, while much of the world was engaged in its own pursuits, the Beloved and I were meandering around Sebastopol, California: a paradise of nurseries and antique shops.  We arrived at one of our favorites, FOOD FOR THOUGHT ANTIQUES (2701 Gravenstein Highway South), a non-profit enterprise which gives the proceeds from its sales to the local food bank.  In the past, I’ve found some sheet music there and the odd record or two.  Nothing could have prepared me for the treasure that had arrived there four or five days ago. See for yourself:

Photograph by Lorna Sass

Photograph by Lorna Sass

Yes, perhaps eight hundred ten-inch 78 RPM records in their original paper sleeves. I thought the hoard had some connection to a record store, since many of the discs were blue-label Bing Crosby from 1936 onwards, but I was told that this wasn’t the case: a woman brought them to the store, explained that they were her much-loved collection, and that she now felt it was time to pass them on. I wish I could find out her name to send her thanks, but that might never happen.

And since you’d want to know, the records were one dollar each.

The first afternoon I went through about one-half of the collection: it was a good omen that the first record I picked up was the Victor ST. JAMES INFIRMARY BLUES by Artie Shaw featuring Hot Lips Page. Yes, there were many red-label Columbias by the early-Forties Harry James band, but that’s not a terrible phenomenon.

I gravitated towards the more unusual: KING JOE by Count Basie and Paul Robeson; a Bluebird coupling by Freddy Martin of MILENBERG JOYS and WOLVERINE BLUES; several Fats Waller and his Rhythm sides; a Bob Howard Decca; many Dick Robertson sides featuring a dewy Bobby Hackett; INKA DINKA DOO by Guy Lombardo on Brunswick; BLUE PRELUDE and WE’RE A COUPLE OF SOLDIERS by Bing Crosby on the same label; Johnny Hamp and Arnold Johnson; OLD MAN MOSE by Willie Farmer; a Meade Lux Lewis album set on Disc; Joe Sullivan and his Cafe Society Orchestra on OKeh; WHEN MY BABY SMILES AT ME by Ted Weems on Victor; a blue wax Columbia by Ted Lewis of TEN THOUSAND YEARS AGO — with his special label; a Johnny Marvin Victor solo and duet; THE LADY WHO SWINGS THE BAND (that’s Mary Lou Williams) by Andy Kirk on Decca; Bunny Berigan’s SWANEE RIVER; a Gene Kardos Melotone; the Rhythm Wreckers’ TWELFTH STREET RAG on Vocalion; the Bluebird BODY AND SOUL by Coleman Hawkins; JEEPERS  CREEPERS by Ethel Waters; Deccas by Lennie Hayton and Edgar Hayes.

(Who can tell me more about Willie Farmer?)

I returned this afternoon, and found the little flowered stool Valerie had offered me in the same place, so I resumed my inspection — many records but with far fewer surprises.  Wingy, BG, Fats, Jack Leonard, Ginny Simms, Bob Howard, Dick Robertson, Milt Herth (with Teddy Bunn and the Lion) and a few oddities. FOOTBALL FREDDY and FRATERNITY BLUES by “Ted Wallace and his Campus Boys” on Columbia (with, yes, Jack Purvis as the sole trumpet); the Mills Brothers singing lyrics to Pete Johnson’s 627 STOMP.  Les Brown performing two James P. Johnson songs from his 1939 POLICY KINGS: YOU, YOU, YOU and HARLEM WOOGIE. Jean Sablon singing TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE . . . and a few more.

I passed up a few country records, Julia Sanderson solos, Nat Shilkret and Charles Dornberger waltzes . . . but the collection was a rich cross-section of good popular music of the Thirties and middle Forties, with a few detours into the late Twenties. No specialist jazz labels, no country blues rarities — but the middle-of-the-road pop music of that period was rich and honest.

I feel honored to be partaking of this experience — this voyage into a time when Freddy Martin and Coleman Hawkins occupied the same space in the collective consciousness. . . . and when a purchase of a thirty-five cent Decca or Bluebird was a real commitment to art, both economic and emotional.

On the way home yesterday, the Beloved (after congratulating me on this find and rejoicing with me — she’s like that!) asked me pensively, “What do you get out of those records?”

I thought for a minute and said, “First, the music. I am trying not to buy everything just because it’s there, so I am buying discs I don’t have on CD or on my iPod. Second, there’s a kind of delight in handling artifacts from a lost time, relics that were well-loved, and imagining their original owners. Third, and perhaps it’s peculiar to me, these records are a way of visiting childhood and adolescence once again, going back to a leisurely time where I could sit next to a phonograph, listen to the music, and absorb joy in three-minute portions. I know that I won’t keep these records forever, and I hope — maybe in twenty years? — to pass them on to someone who will delight in them as I do now.”

And delight is at the heart of the experience.

To find out more about the Food For Thought antiques store and the food bank the proceeds go to (the staff is not paid; they volunteer their time and friendship) see here. The store — which has other surprises for those immune to “old records” — is at  2701 Gravenstein Highway South, Sebastopol. Lovely people, and cookies at the cash register for the low-blood-sugar crowd (like myself: record-hunting is draining work).

May your happiness increase!

15 responses to “JAZZ ARCHAEOLOGY, or A NEW TROVE

  1. Michael Burgevin

    Digging the dig- I so enjoyed this read you wrote. Equally, I dug Lorna’s pensive photo of you worshiping (assuming you are on your knees here) what you’ve devoted your life to- jazz music. The photograph of you ‘today’ brought a flood of wonderful memories I have of you at about 20 schlepping that 7″ reel to reel tape recorder of yours (to Battery Park to capture Joe Thomas for posterity or Vic Dickenson at Brews, and wherever else. Yep, Sharpe has got you down- you are a jazz archaeologist. A good thing the Camcorder came along. Great to have known you all these years, MS.

  2. Love this story! Thanks for sharing. Best, Ron A fellow collector

    Ron Fink

  3. WHAT? NO LEE MORSE????😉

  4. Confetta, you know all about the Zen of record (or anything else) collecting. If you go on a quest with your mind aimed narrowly at one gratification, you’ll search forever. If, however, you expect nothing, many times that’s what you get, but with a clear mind . . . a Jack Purvis or Lee Morse disc hops into your lap and purrs. In many years of 78-thumbing, I’ve only acquired two Lee discs, both in California: one, a Columbia BLUE GRASS BOYS about a year ago; the other, a Pathe, a few months ago. Who knows what’s next?

  5. Joe Spencer

    Michael:
    You are indeed high on the Kohlberg scale of moral development: a collector who tells others of a great source!

  6. isn t the coleman hawkins-bodt & soul a collectors item?

  7. Anything on 78 from 1939 is a collector’s item these days, although Hawkins’ BODY AND SOUL is not a rare recording in that it can be heard in many formats, including on YouTube. But I was thrilled to find it!

  8. Dear Joe, thanks for putting me up on a pedestal of moral enlightenment . . . but I might deserve only a small step-stool . . . a truly generous person would have spread the word before he made his purchases, not after?

  9. Helena Davidsson

    Sincerest congratulations for the records and the connaisseur to have found each other as a source of the greatest enjoyment imaginable for the latter.

  10. Beautifully said! May your happiness increase, too, Helena.

  11. Wonderful – I wish I were in your place ! Enjoy those 78s – and play them often !!!
    Brings back memories… In 1980 (+/- a years or two) I spotted a single V-Disc on the famous Paris flea market at Porte de Clignancourt – already then disprized as “used to be good back then…don’t bother going there looking for records”. Anayway: I asked the vendor whether – by chance – he happened to have any more records with (not “on”) this label. “I’ think so – come back tomorrow”. Next day: The guy came up with a pile of at least 100 V-Discs he was happy to get rid of for less than 1$ per record (5 Francs, I think). Today I regret that I only picked the Basies, Ellingtons, Hamptons, Donahues and few others – but I still carried a heavy load onto the Métro subway that day.
    Yes, I can feel how YOU feel – and I LOVED your story !

  12. Rob Rothberg

    Just beautiful, Michael, both story and photo. And as for “many Dick Robertson sides featuring a dewy Bobby Hackett,” I’ll await a detailed report!

  13. Rebecca Kilgore

    By the way, I loved seeing you in your own blog! Looking so enraptured (is that a word?) -Roo

  14. It is and I was . . . !

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