Someone had taste.
May your happiness increase!
Someone had taste.
May your happiness increase!
This story begins in a sweetly undramatic way.
The Beloved and I had spent the afternoon of July 6 doing a variety of errands in the car. We had some time before we had to return home, so she suggested that we do a short bout of “thrifting” (visiting our favorite thrift stores) in the nearby town of San Rafael, California. She favors a hospice thrift place called HODGE PODGE; I opt for GOODWILL, which is half a block away.
Once in Goodwill, I looked quickly at men’s clothing and took two items off the rack for more consideration. I saw there were many records in the usual corner, perhaps three hundred LPs and a half-dozen 78 albums.
Just as I write the novella of the life of the person ahead of me on line in the grocery store by the items (s)he is buying, I create the brief biography of a record collector by what patterns there are. Admittedly, the collection I perused was not solely the expression of one person’s taste, but it seemed a particularly deep 1959 collection: original cast, Sinatra, Dino, Hank Williams, comedy, unusual albums I had not seen before.
In about ten minutes, I found a Jack Lemmon record on Epic, where he sings and plays songs from SOME LIKE IT HOT (he was quite a good pianist), the orchestra directed by Marion Evans. (Particularly relevant because I am also finishing the 1999 book, CONVERSATIONS WITH WILDER — that’s Billy — and enjoying it greatly). A Murray McEachern mood-music session for Capitol, CARESS, with Jimmy Rowles; the somewhat dubious JAZZ: SOUTH PACIFIC, with Pettiford, McGhee, J.J. Johnson, Rudy Williams; Ethel Waters doing spirituals and hymns on Word; Clancy Hayes with the Salty Dogs — Jim Dapogny on second cornet / valve-trombone, Kim Cusack on clarinet — OH BY JINGO on Delmark.
Then I moved to the 78s. I thought about but did not take a Black and White album of six songs by Lena Horne with Phil Moore, but took without hesitation a Capitol collection of Nellie Lutcher, because Sidney Catlett was on a few sides, I think.
More than a few minutes had passed. My knees were beginning to hurt and other people, one with a well-behaved dog, had been drawn to the trove.
The last album I looked at was an unmarked four-record 78 album. The first sleeve was empty. The second one held a Fifties TOPS record “Four Hits On One Record,” which I disdained. The third was a prize — a late-Thirties Bluebird of Fats Waller and his Rhythm doing AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ (“Recorded in Europe”) and GEORGIA ROCKIN’ CHAIR, which pleased me a great deal. It would have been the great treasure of my quest.
I turned to the last record and caught my breath. I know this feeling well — surprise, astonishment, intense emotion — the equivalent of a painless punch in the solar plexus. I’ve felt it other times before — once a year ago in California with a Bluebird 78 in a Goodwill (take that confluence as you will) which I have chronicled here.
This record was another late-Thirties Bluebird, this one by Louis. One side was Hoagy Carmichael’s SNOWBALL (which made me smile — it’s a great sweet song).
For nearly a decade my email address has been email@example.com.
Initially, I took it as a self-definition and an online “alias” because those three words are to me a collective exaltation — “Hallelujah, Brothers and Sisters!” in a swinging four – four.
But “Swing you cats!” is not only exhortation — “Let’s unite for our common joyous purpose!” but celebration that we are communally on the same delighted path.
As I did in the previous Goodwill experience, I took the record over to the Beloved, who was seated peaceably, reading a local free paper. “What did you find?” she said cheerfully. I went through the records I’ve described, and then reached for the unmarked album and said, “Look at this.”
She admires Fats as I do, so GEORGIA ROCKIN’ CHAIR was properly celebrated. Then I silently showed her the final record, and we both drew in our breaths. When she could speak, she said, “Is today a special day? Some anniversary of your blog?”
And then it dawned on me. Choked up, I eventually said, “This is the anniversary of Louis’ death. July 6, 1971.” After a long, tear-stifled interval during which we simply looked at each other and the record, I took my treasures to the cashier, paid, and we went home.
To describe my feelings about this incident, I run the risk of characterizing myself as one of the Anointed and elaborating on this fantasy vision, where Louis, in the ethereal sphere, sees what I do in his name and approves — sending a little token of his approval my way.
I know that some readers might scoff, “Please! That record was a manufactured object. Thousands of copies were made. It was simple luck that you got it. Do you think Louis — dead for forty-plus years — would know or care what your email address is?” I can certainly understand their realistic scorn.
But since I am sure that the Dead Know — that they aren’t Dead in any way except the abandoning of their bodies, who is to say that my taking this as an affirmation from Somewhere is so odd? How many of us, for whatever reason, have felt the presence of someone we love / who loved us, even though that person is now “dead”?
So I felt, in a more intense way, connected to Louis Armstrong. That is not a bad thing. And I could hilariously imagine the way I might have popped up on one of his letters or home tapes.
I hope all my JAZZ LIVES readers, cats indeed, will happily swing on now and eternally.
I send them all my love.
And I celebrate SWING YOU CATS by making it the first whirl of the JAZZ LIVES homemade video jukebox*:
For those who want to know more about this record, read and hear my man Ricky Riccardi’s essay on SWING YOU CATS, here.
*I have witnessed much high-intensity irritation on Facebook directed at people like myself who make YouTube videos of a spinning vintage record without using the finest equipment. I apologize in advance to anyone who might be offended by my efforts. SWING YOU CATS sounds “pretty good” to me. And my intermittent YouTube videos — the “JAZZ LIVES” DANCE PARTY — will offer 78 sides that aren’t on YouTube. Just for a thrill.
May your happiness increase!
I don’t usually write blogposts about blogging, but I ask my readers to follow this one to the end. It has its own surprises. The Beloved and I sometimes talk about worry and its ubiquity and how to shake it off. About a week ago, I posted GET HAPPY? And a day later, the Beloved posted her own variations on the theme, MY WORRY CUP. Both of these blogposts have this piece of music in common:
I am always moved by the wistful optimism of the song and the beauty of Bing’s voice — and the way that this performance has its own satisfying dramatic shape, moving from song to recitative to whistling. It’s a very compelling performance, and it always reminds me that one’s troubles can be made to vanish if you gently wrap them in dreams. The lyrics also suggest that there is a limitless supply of dreams in the universe — always a good thing to hear.
You will notice that the YouTube video begins with a close-up of a lovely record label — what collectors call a “buff Bluebird,”very attractive in itself. Bing recorded the song in 1931 and the record seen here is from mid-1937.
A few days after we had published our blogposts, the Beloved spotted a Goodwill store we had both delved into in 2011, always finding treasures. We went inside, elated and curious, and threw ourselves into the treasure hunt. I found a spectacularly bold Hawaiian shirt; the Beloved found her own prize. I remembered that in 2011 I had bought a half-dozen late-Twenties records there, so I knelt on the floor among scattered 78s. I opened one of the ten-record brown cardboard albums and saw a buff Bluebird label. Expecting nothing remarkable, I drew out a well-preserved copy of Bing’s WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, a record I had never owned.
It is a cliche to write, “My mouth fell open. I was speechless,” but it was true. Carefully I put the record into a paper sleeve and, holding it behind my back, went over to the Beloved and said, quietly — in the presence of Mystery — “You won’t believe this.” And we marveled at the artifact that had appeared to us.
The object and its suggestive powers are both powerfully in our thoughts. If you like the mathematical: what are the chances that a piece of fragile, breakable shellac would emerge intact after seventy-five years? What are the chances that it should appear to us, who had been humming and singing and thinking about that song for the days immediately before?
I could hypothesize that Someone or Something put it there for us to find, as a little gleaming light on the path, or The Path. Since I believe that the dead know what is going on on this planet, I could — with some quiet amusement — think momentarily that Bing had arranged for it to be there. I could even entertain the possibility that it was there as a reward in a universe where such synchronicities are all around us if are hearts are open to them. I could turn the whole idea on its head and think that this disc was the starting point for my journey and the Beloved’s, that we had thought of the song and written our posts because the record was waiting to be found. I think it meaningful that the disc appeared in a place called GOODWILL, where many less fortunate people come to shop — their troubles larger than their abilities to dream them away. All the omens, including the hopeful Bluebird, augur well. The other side of the 78, and I think not by accident, is an Irving Berlin song called THE LITTLE THINGS IN LIFE. Ponder that.
I have no real answers. But I am awestruck, delighted beyond the quick formulaic responses with which we brush away the beautiful Mysteries: “accident,” “randomness,” “luck,” or “coincidence.”
What do my readers think?
And while you muse and dream, please listen to Mister Crosby.
I send thanks to Bing, to Harry Barris, Ted Koehler, Billy Moll, David J. Weiner. I hope to spread Goodwill through JAZZ LIVES.
May your troubles be small. May your dreams be powerful.
May your happiness increase.
Whenever we go into an antique store, thrift store, Goodwill or the like, I hope that there is a pile of records. Most often the results are drab: the Dean Martin Christmas Record, the Hollyridge Strings Play (fill in the blank), 12″ disco hits. When there are albums of 78 rpm records, often they are middle-of-the-road classical sets, early Fifties red-label Columbias and Deccas. Something like a sunburst Decca Bing Crosby or a canary-training record is a bombshell in the midst of this assortment.
Who knew that the wine country and environs in Northern California would be so full of possibilities?
Mind you, no Gennetts or Paramounts; nary a Steiner-Davis in the lot. But I want to report two successful treasure hunts. (An older generation used to call this “junking,” but somehow the name — to me — suggests pawing through piles of trash.
Here are the gems (ninety-nine cents each plus tax) from a visit last night to the Goodwill in Petaluma, out of a plastic crate full of 78s that, for the most part, were either pre-electric or postwar pop.
The first one:
All I know about this is that “Ed Blossom and His New Englanders” is a pseudonym for the California Ramblers, and from the issue number I would date it as late 1928. The other side — a familiar tune — was more promising. (I left the sticker on for proof):
That’s a perfectly amiable dance record, neatly played — but for someone like myself waiting for Jack Purvis to make himself known in the next-to-last bridge, a bit of a letdown. Still, it serves as a reminder of just how much we should value those hot interludes, because they didn’t appear at every session.
Here’s the second find, and although I have no idea of the accompaniment (again, no listing in Rust), I wasn’t disappointed. This disc had been well-played, a tribute to its singer:
Not only a Lee Morse record, but one of her originals! And here is the thing in itself: a fascinating exercise in history in reverse, or influence looking in a mirror. On the second chorus, Miss Morse sounds like Tamar Korn; on the third, she anticipates Connee Boswell:
The flip side:
We move forward to this afternoon and an antique store on Grant Avenue in Novato — SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY — where I purchased three of these marvels for two dollars each:
These are eight-inch home recording discs, with five of the six sides grooved — three of them divided in two. None of the discs has any writing on the label, and the store did not have a three or four-speed phonograph, so I paid my money and live in hope — or in Emily Dickinson’s “Possibility.” What are the odds that these discs contain recordings of a 1943 after-hours jam session? Slim, I admit. More likely they are someone playing LADY OF SPAIN or Grandpa’s speech to the Rotary Club. (In past encounters, I’ve seen those discs — Sister Susie’s hymn recital.) But one must take risks in this life . . . !
The prize that accompanied these discs was the paper sleeve for a ten-inch Recordio disc — it was also in the pile, but blank and with the coating eroding and cracking. But you should know that RECORDIO DISCS were manufactured by Wilcox-Gay (of Charlotte, Michigan), and that they were ALUMINUM BASE, PROFESSIONAL QUALITY — meant FOR THOSE BETTER RECORDINGS.
“WILCOX-GAY offers a selection of 6 1/2″, 8″and 10″ sizes in RECORDIO DISCS for your recording needs. Aluminum base discs are manufactured to precision standards and are surfaced with a long-life, mirror-clear coating . . . combined with low surface noise this gives them preferred ratings on all markets. Fibre base discs are the original RECORDIO DISCS, famous for their long life and excellent reproduction. They are light, flexible and can be mailed without fear of damage. Genuine RECORDIO DISCS in aluminum or fibre base can be obtained from your local RECORDIO dealer. Always ask for them by name.”
“SUGGESTION Your recordings will last longer if you always keep them in this envelope when not in use. CAUTION Do not place RECORDIO DISCS on furniture or any laminated surface. Under some climactic conditions the dyes used in the manufacture of these discs will discolor certain surfaces.”
“Recordiopoint curring and playback needles are the perfect companion for RECORDIO DISCS. Always insist on Recordiopoint needles and RECORDIO DISCS for use with your Recordio.”
If there’s exciting news in a few weeks when I place these RECORDIO DISCS (they do demand all capital letters, don’t they?) on my phonograph, I will surely let the JAZZ LIVES readership know . . . we live in hope!
The Beloved and I have been savoring in our extended California holiday, and when we arrived near Berkeley, I said, quietly, “There’s a famous record store I want to go to. It’s called Amoeba Records.” She agreed; she encouraged me to do it early in the day. That’s what she’s like!
I’d learned about Amoeba from that world-traveler and generous soul David Weiner, who had told me of its wonders and even brought back a rare Condon disc for me. So I had visions of bins full of oddities and heart’s-desire-discs . . . you know, “Oh, my goodness, I’ve been searching for this for years!”
It wasn’t the Arabian Nights, but I didn’t go away empty-handed.
While I was rapt, silent, fascinated, the photographer Lorna Sass caught me unaware, a pilgrim on the jazz quest.
The photograph shows how impressive Amoeba is — reminiscent of The Real Thing many of us knew so well in the pre-compact disc / download / online purchasing days. I am amused by the accurate likeness: my left hand is ready to move along the browser to the next possible purchase, while my right hand holds the Latest Object of Desire for consideration. The stance of the experienced record buyer, I think.
What I am holding in my right hand indeed turned out to be A Prize: CHRISTL MOOD, a 1985 Phontastic Records session I’d never heard of featuring the Ellington trumpeter Willie Cook with “the young Swedes,” among them the magnificently swinging pianist Ulf Johannsson. $2.99 plus California sales tax, which is exactly what the new Hawaiian shirt (decorated with Japanese-style sketches of turtles and pineapples) cost a few days ago at Goodwill.
And should you see me deep in contemplation at a record store, do come over and say Hello, although I might jump, startled, being so intensely involved in The Quest.