“And how was your morning, Michael?”
“Quite good. Of course my students can’t multi-task, so class was disappointing, but after that, I headed a few minutes east from my college to UNIQUE — a for-profit thrift store. Mondays at UNIQUE are “Customer Appreciation Day,” where we get a twenty-five percent discount, so that adds to the overall thrill. Today I was looking for a plant pot with drainage holes in the bottom and was checking out the display of Hawaiian shirts, but I bought neither.”
“The records at UNIQUE are near the entrance, so I thumbed through the usual assortment of dull long-playing ones: Christmas music, Hugo Winterhalter, disco 12″ — but saw three that intrigued me: two by the singer Mavis Rivers on Capitol, and one by the otherwise unknown Pat Kirby on Decca — with orchestra conducted by Ralph Burns, always an encouraging sign. $1.49 each.”
[Postscript: Pat Kirby turns out to be one of the finest singers I have ever heard. More about her as I learn more: the facts are few.]
“Then I saw one lonely 78 rpm record in a later-period yellow paper sleeve, and picked it up — the Andrews Sisters’ BEI MIR BIS DU SCHOEN — which, as my good friend Rob Rothberg would tell you, is a Bobby Hackett sighting of the highest order, especially on the original Decca issue. I weighed that record in my hand, decided I didn’t need it, although it was a good omen, even at $3.99. Then I saw more.
Perhaps another fifty 78s, nicely sleeved, in various places. Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey, Glen Gray, Erskine Hawkins, Benny Goodman . . . and the jackpot. My thing. Cozy Cole with Don Byas and Coleman Hawkins on Continental. Bill Harris and J.C. Heard on Keynote. Coleman Hawkins (as shown above) on Bluebird, which I now understand was a follow-up date to BODY AND SOUL and a kind of Henderson reunion, leaving aside Danny Polo and Gene Rodgers. Horace Henderson on Vocalion. And two sacred Commodore records: one featuring Chu Berry, the other Hawkins, both with space for Sidney Catlett:
Record-hunting, for me, always mixes uncontrollable excitement and melancholy. Who died? Who’s in assisted living? Who will never hear J.C. Higginbotham again? A few of the records had sleeves noting that they had come from one Peter Dilg of Baldwin, purveyor of antique phonographs. Peter, where are you now? And a postscript — written after I’d published this blogpost: someone who’d owned at least one of these 78s was a hot-jazz collector after my own heart, because on the paper sleeve of one [a different record, of course] in neat handwriting, he’d noted that Chick Bullock was the singer, and the band was a very nice swinging group — listing each member by name and instrument and giving the recording date. Sir, where are YOU now?
But such melancholy thoughts are always balanced by the child, silently hollering LOOK WHAT I GOT!
So I walked around the shelves, clutching my records to my shirt-front with the ardor of someone who doesn’t want to put his treasures down for a moment. Usually I am alone when I look at records, but today, twice, I spied Brothers of the Collecting Urge, both gentlemen of my general age bracket. One, with baseball cap and ponytail, pretended he didn’t see me when we were looking at the lps. ‘Someone liked singers,’ I said — as an opening gambit, to which the response was a powerful albeit silent Do Not Come Near, Do Not Speak To Me. When I had finished, another fellow — no ponytail this time — was looking at 78s I had been through. I tried again. ‘Lots of good jazz to your left, although $3.99 seems surprisingly high.’ ‘You want ’em, you take ’em,” was his encouraging response, and no more was said. So much for the Brotherhood.”
But now, in my June-warm apartment, I can grade student essays to the finest accompaniment. And although it might be presumptuous to think this, I feel gratitude to the Goddess for letting me be in that space and find these sacred relics which — as we know — still sound good in 2017. Twenty-none dollars and some cents, if you’re curious.
And when I die, I hope my friends are around to divide up the musical bounty. What they don’t want will — if I am lucky in the spirit-world — will end up at some thrift shop, giving the next generation a story with equal pleasure.
May your happiness increase!