Tag Archives: 78 rpm

IN RECORD TIME: A VISIT, ALL TOO-BRIEF, TO THE VINTAGE MUSIC COMPANY OF MINNEAPOLIS

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!

QUIRKY, CURIOUS, WISE: “DO NOT SELL AT ANY PRICE: THE WILD, OBSESSIVE HUNT FOR THE WORLD’S RAREST 78 RPM RECORDS,” by AMANDA PETRUSICH

About one-third of the way through Amanda Petrusich’s new book, I became convinced that its author was, as the British say, daft. Mildly unhinged. Charmingly irrational.  I say this as a badge of honor, not an insult.  It was in the middle of the chapter where Petrusich (normal-looking, quite attractive in the author’s photo) had gone through scuba training to dive into the river in Grafton, Wisconsin, near the Paramount Records factory — defunct for eighty years — in search of the rare records and Paramount ephemera that legend has it the employees had tossed into the waters.

DO NOT SELL

Although no record in the world would ever entice me into a wetsuit, I thought, “This is a kind of devotion to the cause that makes great — if slightly unstable — art.”

I had already been entranced by Petrusich’s book while she was on dry land.  I am not an stereotypical record collector — I prefer to encounter jazz recordings serendiptiously — but I liked Petrusich’s manner and approach from the first pages.  For one thing, she steadfastly refuses to satirize, to stand back at a mocking distance from the subject or from the figures she chronicles.  She does comment on the stereotype — overly pale men who spend their lives indoors and often below ground level, but Petrusich not only treats her subjects with interest and deference, but with affectionate respect . . . and becomes one of them in her own fashion. Her writing is lively, and the book rarely lingers for long on one obsession or the next (at times, it had the snap of a series of New Yorker mini-profiles).

The book is never a slow-moving history of the field (although she does touch on some of its legendary figures, such as James McKune and Big Joe Clauberg, Harry Smith and his Anthology) but its whimsical expansiveness leaves a reader feeling elated rather than deprived.  I wish I could have time-traveled Petrusich back to the mid-Seventies gatherings of collectors at the Prince George Hotel in New York City, but she has been to the New Jersey Jazz Record Collectors’ Bash, so that will do. At more than one point, I thought, “I could certainly tell her stories of collectors,” but I suspect that my reaction is far from unusual.

I should alert JAZZ LIVES readers that Petrusich’s fascination has almost nothing to do with the objects of the jazz lover’s sacred quest. ZULUS BALL does not rate a mention here, nor do the Bix Old Gold broadcast acetates, or the “little silver record” of Lester Young that Jo Jones talked about.

Petrusich is captivated by rural blues — of the sort recorded by Paramount before the company folded in 1932 — and she has her first epiphany listening to Mississippi John Hurt’s BIG LEG BLUES with collector John Heneghan.  But what saves this endearingly wandering narrative from being One Woman’s Descent Into The Maelstrom is both Petrusich’s light touch and her willingness to ask deeper philosophical questions about collecting, music, and our perceptions of both.

For all its amiability, DO NOT SELL AT ANY PRICE is a deeply serious book that — sometimes indirectly, other times head-on — asks hard questions about what makes an object valuable, and what drives certain people to amass such objects, both in what we see of them and what they see of themselves.

Anyone reading this book who is new to record collecting will find it impossible to look at a 78 rpm record the same way again — even the dullest one — without sensing its almost mystical electrical power to entice. (I write this, fully aware that I already knew how a blandly labeled RECORDS paper folio in a shelf at Goodwill may contain objects that would increase my pulse rate.)

A pause, so that you can hear Petrusich’s own voice, while she muses over the gap between the music and the artifact, the sound and the shellac disc with its memorized matrix number, and tried to figure out where our feverish excitement comes from:

That chasm–between a studied response and a gut-borne one–seemed even more palpable in the specific context of prewar blues music, where the hunt for (and especially the subsequent analysis of) the records appeared to run directly counter to the lawless spirit of the work. With a few notable exceptions, blues music was rowdy and social, and its creators led brash, lustful lives. They drank and roamed and had reckless sex and occasionally stabbed each other in the throat. There was something incongruous about sitting in a dimly lit room, meticulously wiping dust and mold off a blues 78 and noting the serial number in an antique log book. Why not dance or sob or get wasted and kick something over?  Some collectors, I knew, did exactly that, but for others, the experience of a rare blues record involved a kind of isolated studiousness, which of course was fine–there’s no wrong way to enjoy music, and I understood that certain contextual details could help crystallize a bigger,richer picture of a song. But I continued to believe that the pathway that allowed human beings to appreciate and require music probably began in a more instinctual place (the heart, the stomach, the nether regions). Context was important, but it was never as essential–as compelling–to me as the way my entire central nervous system convulsed whenever Skip James opened his mouth.

Balancing such vividly evocative meditations — which open out into lovely elusive speculations — are the concrete, often hilarious markers in Petrusich’s quest: buying records with collector Chris King at a flea market in Hillsville, Virginia; visiting Pete Whelan amidst his rare palm trees and rarer records in Florida, talking with John Tefteller over lunch in Brooklyn, being admitted to Joe Bussard’s basement shrine to hear Black Patti 8030; looking through Don Wahle’s papers with Nathan Salsburg; talking about collectors with Ian Nagoski and with Bear Family’s Richard Weize.

As the book winds down — through “ethnic music” and cowboy throat-singing, a visit to the Southern Folklife Collection, a detour into SKOKIAAN, a few pages where Petrusich muses on the relations between autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and collecting, and finally visits from two people active in the contemporary New York City world, phonograph collector / expert exhibitor Michael Cunella and musician / collector Jerron Paxton — I confess my jazz self became slightly restless.  “Couldn’t you have written about just one person who collects Leon Roppolo?” I muttered to myself.  But Petrusich’s many narratives are so sweetly compelling — vivid in their understated way — that I forgave her that omission.  And the book ends with yet another epiphany, when Petrusich encounters the “new” set of Paramount Records issues:

I felt suddenly and fiercely protective of a subculture I had no real claim to. I wanted 78s to continue offering me–and all the people I’d met–a private antidote to an accelerated, carnivorous world. I didn’t want them to become another part of that world. I wanted them to stay ours.

I do not know if Petrusich’s fierce protectiveness is possible or plausible, or even desirable. I understand it completely: so much of the lure of collecting these artifacts is the secret, even snobbish delight one can take in moving so far outside the mainstream as to require subtitles, a translator. But I wonder if the world would be happier if everyone could listen to Charley Patton 78s while making breakfast.

And I wonder if Petrusich will check in with us in ten years. Has she purchased a turntable on which to play her recent beloved acquisitions? I hope so. It would sadden me immensely if I learned, through whatever avenue one learns such things, that she had thrown it all over for a smartphone with a larger memory for music and a new delight in, say, swizzle sticks or first editions of Yeats.  But I think this won’t happen. Among its other virtues, and they are numerous, DO NOT SELL AT ANY PRICE is the journal of a spiritual enlightenment, a finding of a series of personal truths. And that is always fascinating to read.

Much, if not all, of the music Petrusich falls in love with in this book is either outside my sphere of pleasure or I am ignorant of it. But before I had read thirty pages of this book, I was already recommending it to people who love the music and the records. I recommend it to you as a deep, elegantly quirky pleasure, whose music reverberates long after one has finished reading it.

May your happiness increase!

SPINNING PLENITUDES

A few weeks ago, a young couple came to my apartment to buy a piece of furniture I’d hardly used.  (Now there’s more space for dancing.)  The young woman earnestly asked me about turntables — thinking of being able to play her mother’s beloved 1970 record collection.  I showed her both a modern one (and played her a track from a Marty Grosz Stomp Off record, which absolutely floored her with its bounce and warm sound).

Then I decided to become a true eccentric, a genuine suburban antiquarian and descended even deeper into history by playing her a 78 (Keynote, J.C. Heard, ALL MY LIFE) on another turntable.

I don’t think this was a transformational experience for her (and her boyfriend was pleasantly impassive through the whole thing) but it was clear she had never seen anything like it.

“How do you know where to put that thing [the stylus]?”  “What happens when it comes to the end?”  “Is that sound [the surface noise] part of the thing, the record?”  “Does that have only one song?”  And so on.

I don’t want to rehearse the discussion of iPod and MP3 downloads / compact discs / vinyl records / 78s / live performance — too many acres to plow! — but I did revert to my childhood in two sweetly nostalgic acts this morning.

One, I played a 78 record — LOW DOWN DIRTY SHAME / SOLITUDE (Vocalion 5531, rim chip, V) by Joe Sullivan and his Cafe Society Orchestra.  Lovely.  Two, I stared at the revolving disc and the diminishing circles described by the needle as the music came out of the speaker.

And I thought, not for the first time, of the beautiful paradoxes.

When the needle is lowered into the first groove, listeners enter into that musical world — new or familiar.  All experience lies before us, all possibility!  (Jack Purvis might explode in the last chorus.)  But we are always conscious of the finite limits of that world.  Listening to a live performance, we can tell when the band is near the end — although there always might be two more choruses!  A record, a disc lying on the platter, is visually bounded — its beginning and end marked out for us to see.

So as the needle follows its path, I feel the joy of hearing what’s there, perhaps the anticipatory sensation of “I can’t wait for the good part that I know is coming,” yet there’s the sad awareness of knowing the end is near.  Another sixteen bars, another thirty seconds, perhaps another two inches of black grooves.  “Oh, no, it’s going to be over!”

Everything comes to an end, we know.

But with records we have the wonderful opportunity to pick up the needle from its mindless elliptical orbits in the run-off groove and have the experience again.  Imagine being able to eat another meal in the same restaurant without monotony, without satiety.  It’s not the first kiss repeated, of course.  But second and third kisses are seriously pleasurable, too.

For those who cannot play a record today, I offer a video simulacrum — I think of it as a natural antidepressant, with no side effects:

SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS, or PICNIC WITH ME

A little jeu d’esprit for today:

To be precise, this is a 78 rpm “picture record” on the Vogue label, circa 1945.  Musically it is probably far removed from hot jazz, but it’s the playful Forties cheesecake that caught my eye.  This young woman, attired in clothing that manages to be both tight and short, is reclining — after a fashion — on a blanket in the middle of an undefined meadow.  Although picnics are usually informal occasions, she has on alarmingly high heels and seems to be levitating from the blanket.  (Perhaps she is lifting her legs so she doesn’t collide with the pasted-in image of bandleader Kassel, grinning somewhere under her knees.)

To her left (although she is not registering it in her field of vision) conveniently there is a small portable phonograph . . . and a large anonymous hand (parodying the Sistine Chapel ceiling?) is offering her a phonograph record-replica of the larger scene, complete with lovely young woman and generous hand. 

The mind reels, and the recording isn’t even spinning.

DOODLE DOO DOO indeed.

“DULCE LORENA” y “NO ES ELLA DULCE?”

To people who have never collected jazz records, what follows might seem both trivial and inexplicable.  But while searching for recordings by the sublime trumpeter and singer Henry “Red” Allen, I came across these oddities on eBay — two sides from his 1957 RCA Victor RIDE, RED, RIDE IN HI-FI . . . issued as a 78 rpm record in Argentina, their titles logically translated into Spanish.

and . . .

Sweet, no?

JAZZ PAGES WORTH READING

Through the magic of Google Alerts, I was directed to two new jazz-related blogs, both of which are worth a serious look, for different reasons.

Jon McCaslin’s FOUR ON THE FLOOR came to my attention because of a recent feature on Papa Jo Jones — irreplaceable, perhaps inscrutable, certainly uncontrollable.  Here Jon has collected a number of video clips that shine the spotlight on Jo.  And his blog is full of other intriguing stories!  Visit it at http://jonmccaslinjazzdrummer.blogspot.com/ .  By the way, “Four on the floor” doesn’t only refer to manual transmission: it refers to the life-enhancing practice, among drummers of another generation (as well as Hal Smith, Kevin Dorn, Chris Tyle, Nick Ward, and Jeff Hamilton) to use the bass drum to keep the rhythm going. 

Through a rather circuitous route, I found myself rapt, staring at one beautifully-designed record label after another on Ted Staunton’s website.  Ted modestly says that he doesn’t own all the records, but he has assembled them in logical order and told a bit about the history of each label.  And the labels themselves are often lavish Art Deco miniatures:

Because the Beloved and I are now on Maui, I thought this label was particularly appropriate:

Ted’s site can be found at http://www.tedstaunton.com/.  You’ll be astonished!

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2009
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Steinman and Jazz Lives with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

RARE DISCS FOR SALE

I find it soothing to visit eBay on a regular basis to see what’s for sale and to muse about it. 

Our topic for today is 78 rpm jazz records, which used to be the only kind until the early Fifties.  I was somewhat overwhelmed the profusion of them on eBay — 1,183 items!  Of course, some of them had no business being in that category — a Dutch hand organ record, Clyde McCoy picture discs, records by Dinah Shore, Xavier Cugat . . . but there were more than enough authentic jazz rarities to make my head spin.  Here are some remarkable ones:

78 1

The combination of the Gennett label and Earl Hines is a potent one.

78 3

When was the last time you saw a Jack Purvis 78 for sale?

78 6

Squirrel Ashcraft and the boys, when they were very youthful.

78 9

Eddie sang on this one and apologized later . . . but it has Tesch, Sullivan, and Krupa, too.

78 11

I think this is a song from an otherwise forgotten musical production; if memory serves, the other side is YOU HAVE MONEY, DON’T YOU? — a song title that doesn’t make my heart leap with anticipation.  I want to know what the record under this one is!

78 12

Early Barry Harris and Frank Foster in Detroit, on the NEW SONG label.

78 14

The other side of this Wardell Gray record is called THE TOUP, no kidding.

78 16

I believe, although perhaps incorrectly, that this record has an early Jess Stacy solo passage; at least he remembered playing with this band.  (The leader would say, “Are you ready, Kittens?”  And they would have to answer “Meow!”  The life of a working musician.)

78 Fats Japan

And finally . . . an eBay seller is offering a dozen Japanese Victor Fats Waller and his Rhythm records . . . for some exorbitant price.  Who knew that Fats had such a reputation in Japan?  Did that country enter the Second World War because they wanted Fats to play for them?  It’s a theory no one, as far as I know, has yet explored.

The larger social significance of this list might be summarized quickly.  78s are unplayable artifacts for almost everyone in this iPod era and they look like valuable antiques that will fetch pleasing prices.  But the economy has made many people look for things to sell that they would otherwise have held on to.  Better that these records get sold on eBay to enthusiasts who can play them, so the music doesn’t vanish entirely.  Who knows how many wonderful 78s get thrown out when collectors die?  “Provide, provide,” as Robert Frost wrote.

BIX, BING, and FRIENDS IN THE BERKSHIRES

The Beloved and I are fond of a certain kind of antique store — not too expensive, devoted to fine French furniture costing thousands, and not specializing in rusted tools and old newspapers.  She is currently entranced by certain kinds of McCoy pottery (planters, not the terrifying cookie jars); I, predictably, look for sheet music and old records.  I might gaze longingly at a Victrola but have no intention of making a commitment to one. 

Sheet music is often in terrible shape if it’s been stored in the barn, and if it’s been well-cared for, the prices rise.  Today we were in Sheffield and Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and I was directed in one store to a fine small collection of music.  Someone had taste: there were Cole Porter songs I’d never heard of, a Swing Era-vintage STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, and a batch of early African-Americana: IF THE MAN IN THE MOON WAS A COON and BY THE WATERMELON VINE, MAH LINDY LOU.  But these nicely-preserved artifacts were out of my price range.

Records, too, are usually disappointing: the great days of junking for Paramounts and Gennetts are long, long gone.  More typically I face Bobby Vinton and Frankie Carle, Donna Summer and Christmas songs.  Now and then a popular Goodman or Glenn Miller collection emerges, or a Jazztone from the Fifties, but such appearances are not the rule. 

Today, which happened to be the first Monday in August, before we turned for our temporary country home, the Beloved said, “Let’s cross the street and go into that shop, the one advertising farm tables.”  The shop was somewhat disorderly, and the owner was surprised, he said, that he could direct me to some sheet music (which turned out to be in bad shape).  On the way there, my vigilant eye was caught by a pile of records — microgroove issues without cardboard jackets scraping against one another mingled with 78s. 

When looking through records, one tends to make judgments on what one finds most often: too many Sammy Kaye and Eddie Fisher records and I begin to droop.  78s from the Fifties, obviously, are newer and have had fewer chances to crack and break.  All was reasonably dull until I came to two records, almost adjacent to one another.  I asked the owner, as innocently as I could, what he was charging, and he said, “Oh, a dollar apiece.”

When I took my two finds to him, he said, “Oh!  These are more valuable.  I thought that pile was only Sinatra and Tony Bennett.”  I stood there quietly and said, “Yes, they are more valuable.  What do you want for them?”  And he smiled at me, rather resignedly, and said, “Oh, a dollar apiece,” which I happily paid him.  It was an odd moment: he knew they were worth more but was being generous and perhaps feeling relieved of the burden of two more objects that threatened to overwhelm him.  

Neither record is in splendid condition.  But they both have been played over and over again, which makes them more valuable emotionally even if some eagle-eyed grader would rate them somewhere between V- and G.  Who knew that Bix and Bing got to Massachusetts, and that they had been preceded by the Original Memphis Five?  Someone in the Twenties had, as they say, an ear.  And you can now see the results.

East Chatham Summer 2009 I 018East Chatham Summer 2009 I 017

East Chatham Summer 2009 I 019

East Chatham Summer 2009 I 020

 The photographs are slightly blurry, but my pleasure in these discoveries and the casual generosity of the shop owner is sharp and clear.  “From Monday on, we’ll be in clover . . . !”

LOVELY TO LOOK AT

People who have never held an original 78 rpm recording from the great jazz past might not understand why these pictures are so exciting, but they are.  I’ve heard this music for almost forty years now, and I’ve got the digital versions on my iPod and on CDs, but when I saw these pictures of records for sale on eBay, I thought it would be worth sharing them with my readers:

KC 6 two

KC 6 one

Commodore509b

Commodore509A

SWING ARCHAEOLOGY

jelly-78I just visited Agustin Perez’s very enlightening and heartfelt blog, MULE WALK AND JAZZ TALK — where he has arranged for our delight a series of jazz record advertisements from magazines circa 1938-1944: Hot Record Society, Blue Note, Signature, Bluebird, Solo Art, and more.  If you don’t know the music represented here, these ads might seem charmingly archaic but no more meaningful than drawings of old-time detergent boxes or tubes of toothpaste.

But if you do know what it must have meant to buy the new Art Hodes session on Signature, these ads are tender artifacts of a time when “a record” was a two-sided 78 rpm disk, highly breakable, costing anywhere from thirty-five cents to a dollar, and it was something to treasure.  We who collect jazz now and are able to buy every record Fats Waller made (for example) on twenty-four compact discs, should stop a minute and recall such pleasures, even if they had vanished before we were born.

(In the spirit of accuracy, I must note that the label on the left isn’t advertised in Agustin’s pages — but I was looking for an appropriate illustration and found this: the first of the Circle label’s issues of Jelly Roll’s Library of Congress recordings — a rarity I had never seen before and wanted to share here.)

JULIE FOLLANSBEE, MANNY FARBER, AND KID ORY

kid-ory-78As much as I love jazz, I love the stories that attach themselves to the players, the records, the places the music inhabits.  Earlier today, on WNYC-FM, Leonard Lopate spoke with Kent Jones and Philip Lopate about the flim critic and painter Manny Farber, who celebrated subversive “termite art.” I never met Manny Farber, so my connection to him, perhaps tenuous, exemplifies two or perhaps three degrees of New York separation.

It was, however, my privilege to know the actress and entrancing personality Julie Pratt Shattuck, born Julie Follansbee.  Julie died on August 16 of this year.  She was 88.  I  was introduced to her by her dear friend Harriet O’Donovan Sheehy (widow of the great Irish writer Frank O’Connor — and my benefactor as well).

Julie wasn’t tall, but she seemed regally so — without being stuffy.  Her diction was elegant,  but she delighted in delivering tiny hilarious shocks.  I was standing next to her at a downtown art show when, for whatever reason, she turned to me and recited the limerick about the young man from Madras.  I still haven’t recovered.

Her blue eyes would flash and she would laugh uproariously.  She was one of the most vividly alive people I have ever met; she loved a party, and until her final illness, the word “Whee!” punctuated her talk.  Lucky me! — to have been invited to 242 East 68th Street for tea, the occasional tiny glass of bourbon, dinner — and wonderful stories.

Julie knew that I was immersed in jazz.  I gave a party at her brownstone where the great guitarist Craig Ventresco played and awed everyone.  I also remember a wonderful evening when a trio of Julie, myself, and her friend Roseli Olivera went to the Cajun to hear Kevin Dorn’s band play, where Julie sat, awash in the music, her eyes closed, her head swaying, her face a portrait of bliss.  Once, she mentioned that she had a small collection of 78 rpm records.  Would I like them?  Yes, I said, I would.

Sometime in 2007, then, I went to her brownstone and Julie gave me these 78 rpm records:

Jack Teagarden (Brunswick): Ol’ Pappy / Fate-thee-Well to Harlem

Duke Ellington (Victor): Jubilee Stomp / Black Beauty

Gene Krupa’s Swing Band (Victor): I’m Gonna Clap My Hands / Mutiny in the Parlor

Bessie Smith (Columbia): Empty Bed Blues, Part I and 2

Sidney Bechet and his New Orleans Feetwarmers (Victor): Shake It and Break It / Wild Man Blues

Old Man Blues / Nobody Knows the Way I Feels Dis Morning (as printed on the label)

Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven / Five (UHCA): Potato Head Blues / Put ‘Em Down Blues

Sister Ernestine Anderson acc. Bunk Johnson’s Jazz Band (Disc): Does Jesus Care / The Lord Will Make A Way Somehow

Kid Ory’s Jazz Band (Crescent): Creole Song / South

J.C. Higginbotham / Frank Newton Quintets (Blue Note): Weary Land Blues / Daybreak Blues

Boris Rose acetate disc: Body and Soul (Hawkins) / I Can’t Get Started (Berigan)

Dizzy Gillespie (Manor): I Can’t Get Started / Good Bait

Bob Wilber’s Wildcats, with Dick Wellstood at the Barrelhouse Steinway (Rampart): Chimes Blues / Old Fashioned Love

I was thrilled: Julie had always been generous to me, and she saw the joy on my face of even having these precious artifacts to leaf through.  The records had been well-played, which I found touching, and they, taken together, suggested someone’s deep love and understanding of jazz in its many manifestations.

“Did you collect jazz records?” I asked Julie.

“Oh, no, these weren’t mine,” she said.

I looked at her quizzically.

manny-farber“Do you know of Manny Farber?” she continued, and I was happy to say that I did.

“Well, when I was living in the Village, sometime in the late Forties, he came around to call.  I don’t recall how I met him.  But he brought these records with him, and he left them behind.”

Sensing that there was some bit of narrative hidden under that calm surface, I just looked at her.

Julie said cheerfully, “Oh, he wanted to sleep with me.  But I wasn’t interested in him.  And he never came back for the records.”

At that time, Manny Farber was still alive, 90 or 91years old.  Julie and I discussed, whimsically, whether I should write him a note and say, “By the way, would you like your records back?  Julie has been keeping them for you,” an idea that never took shape.  For those who savor coincidence, Manny Farber died on August 17, 2008, one day after Julie did.

I miss her.  I’m sorry I didn’t visit her more often.  And I’m sorry that when I looked for a picture of her on Google, none came up — although the many DVDs of the films in which she appears did.  I say “Whee!” in her honor, and thank her for this story and this gift, one of so many.

P.S.  And my hero Eddie Condon signed people’s autograph books with “Whee!”  Great minds think alike, exuberantly so.

CD OF THE MONTH (November 2008)

I’ve written approvingly of other issues on the Canadian Jazz Oracle label, originally the beloved idea of Colin Bray and John Wilby; I’ve learned that Colin approached John R.T. Davies at his home in Burnham, Bucks with the idea of starting a new label; “Ristic” joined as an equal financial partner. Jazz Oracle is a superb label for hot jazz, blues, and hot dance recordings, beautifully documented, and in fine sound — projects of consistent quality, far from the dreaded “bootleg” issues of past and present.  This most recent issue, collecting twenty-seven tracks under the real and nominal leadership of one Benjamin David Goodman, whose centennial is next year, is an entrancing collection.

But first, a caveat.  Goodman is so firmly fixed in the public mind as the hot clarinetist-bandleader-Swing Era-nostalgia-icon that it may be necessary to say that the BG here is not yet the King of Swing, and he certainly isn’t the elder statesman embracing “Memories of You,” “Send in the Clowns,” and “Avalon” on television.

Although the illustrious personnel on these 1930-33 discs includes Gene Krupa and Bunny Berigan, Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Dick McDonough, Arthur Schutt, Larry Binyon, Charlie Teagarden, Manny Klein, Stan King, and others, the Palomar Ballroom is years in the future.  What’s here is evidence of the cross-fertilization of jazz and dance music, hot improvisation nestled comfortably into well-played stock arrangements.

Some of us, as more rigid and less sophisticated jazz listeners, when presented with a Fred Rich or Sam Lanin 78, focused only on the sixteen-bar hot solos and ignored the rest of the record.  True, someone hearing this CD for the first time may be slightly unsettled by the crooning of Paul Small, Scrappy Lambert, Sid Garry, Grace Johnston, or Johnny Morris.  But an open-minded listener comes to realize that these records are immensely significant as artifacts of jazz’s subversive powers: the 1931 fox-trotting couple, clinging close during a rhythm ballad, didn’t know that Manny Klein or Dick McDonough was working his enchantment — but recordings like these made jazz acceptable to a public who might otherwise have thought it foreign, unbridled.  And advocates of “pure jazz,” whatever that is, should go back and check out the Goodman Victors and Columbias of 1935-45, many of which are lovely dance music with swinging vocals — not that far from these 1930-1 hot dance sessions.

Listeners unmoved by hot dance music will still want to consider this issue for its four final tracks — a 1933 session under the leadership of singer Steve Washington.  These records, in their own way, are precursors of the hallowed Billie Holiday and Mildred Bailey sessions of the middle Thirties.  In them, a little-known but emotionally compelling singer works as part of a small swinging jazz ensemble.  Although “We Were The Best of Friends” is not an ambitious composition, once heard, Washington’s yearning version is hard to forget.

Good music for those who can hear it!  And it’s available through http://www.worldsrecords.com, where you’ll find full details on this and other Jazz Oracle issues.