I had the good fortune to visit my long-time dear friends Lisa DuRose and Susan Peters at their St. Paul, Minnesota home this summer. I’d like to think of myself as a passable guest, so once I knew we would have plenty of time to talk and laugh and muse, I kept my requests manageable: interesting things to eat (pride of place went to Cheng Heng, a wonderful Cambodian restaurant (448 University Avenue), visits to thrift shops, a delightful bookstore, Midway Used and Rare Books (1579 University Avenue W.).
I made one Special Request.
I’d heard of a magical place where 78 RPM records and machines to play them flourished, so I asked Lisa and Susan to take me here:
I was worried that I would go down into the depths and never surface, so I asked them to pick me up in an hour, which was an atypical kind of restraint on my part. Lisa and Susan were curious about this museum of sounds and shapes that they’d never entered, so they came in with me.
Scott, the owner, stopped what he was doing and greeted us. I have an odd sense of comedy, so I said that I was a jazz blogger from New York, a collector of records, and that I had brought two friends who lived locally, that Lisa was my probation officer and Susan was my psychotherapist. Perhaps because of Scott’s clientele, he only allowed his eyes to widen a bit, but did not boggle at this news. I started to laugh, gave him my card and a Louis button, and we were off and running into hilarious instant friendship. Here — just so you know I am not describing some time-machine dream — is the store’s Facebook page.
Here is a six-minute film portrait of Scott in his element, blissfully honest, doing what he was meant to do:
And here is a very short film of Scott, playing a cylinder on an Edison “Gem” machine:
Scott and I fell into conversation about Joe Sullivan. That in itself should tell you a great deal — in this century, how many people can talk with depth about Joe? I tore myself away — he is hilarious, erudite, and entertaining — to look at records. Of course there was a Louis section, an Ellington section, but (as you can see from above) there was a Bob Pope section and one devoted to Don Redman, one to Clarence Williams.
I no longer do well with extreme sensory stimulus, and I was grateful that I could find a mere eight records: Joe Sullivan on Sunset (!) and Conqueror (the 1939 Cafe Society Orchestra); Henry “Red” Allen on Banner; the UHCA issue of JAZZ ME BLUES with Tesch and BARREL HOUSE STOMP with the Cellar Boys; a sunburst Decca of Louis’ ON A COCOANUT ISLAND; a beautiful Variety of Chauncey Morehouse and Swing Six (no “his”) of ON THE ALAMO. In the name of realism, I will also point out that the days of finding N- Paramounts at the Salvation Army for a nickel apiece are long gone. With tax, these records cost slightly less than eighty dollars, and I went away feeling gloriously gratified.
Two other record-collecting sidelights. Scott knows a great many kinds of music well and deeply, so the shop offers opera, “roots music,” and many other things that I didn’t have time to explore. If I remember correctly, he has three-quarters of a million records, both on the ground floor and in a well-organized basement. And more machines on which to play them than several large houses could accommodate.
And while I was there, the phone rang and Scott had an extraordinarily courteous gentle conversation with a man of a certain vintage who wanted to bring his beloved and for-sure valuable collection of late-Forties black label Bing Crosby Deccas for Scott to buy. I was touched by the kind seriousness with which Scott handled the man on the phone, never condescending to him or being scornful, while telling him the truth, that it would not be worth his while to bring the Crosbys down in hopes of a splendid payoff.
I admire Scott’s enterprise greatly — where on earth are you going to see a 78 record shop with its own Red Norvo section? Yes, I know a few other stores exist, and I’ve had self-indulgent fun in the 78 section of Amoeba Music — I think the one on Haight Street, but Scott’s store is a paradise of rare music and rare artifacts. You won’t find Oliver’s THAT SWEET SOMETHING DEAR there, but if you visit and go out empty-handed, and you love this music, I marvel at you, and not necessarily in an admiring way.
He is a man of stubborn devotion to his own ideal, and that is a beautiful thing. I will go even deeper and say that if everyone who loves older music — and the way in which it was heard — bought a seven-dollar record from Scott, or, better, a working vintage phonograph, the world we know would be improved. I wish that he and his passionate vision prosper and continue.
May your happiness increase!