Of late I have been living in a temporary self-created chaos, attempting to pare down a surfeit of possessions from my apartment. Today I opened a closet and decided to move a stack of four wooden crates containing about a thousand cassette tapes collected and traded over the past twenty-five years. Drawn irresistibly to their labeled spines, I thought, “My God, there’s so much music here that I haven’t heard in years — and would delight in — that I really should dig out a half-dozen and enjoy them.” The cassettes, as well, brought back memories of years of tape-trading with generous collectors, including Bill Coverdale, John L. Fell, Bob Hilbert, Manfred Selchow, Tom Hustad, David Goldin, and a dozen more.
So this morning, I was driving into Manhattan, exulting in an hour of rare Don Byas (with John Mehegan, Vic Dickenson, Slam Stewart, and perhaps Lem Davis on alto) — including rehearsal versions of INDIANA and I GOT RHYTHM, preliminary to the famous Byas – Slam duets at Town Hall in 1945. These acetates, by the way, were recorded by Baron Timme Rosenkrantz in his apartment.
The music pleased me more than I had expected, so I have resolved: the cassettes are coming out into the open, where I can play them (the space in the closet will be filled, easily) and rather than be tempted to buy the first new jazz compact disc that winks at me, I will rediscover some of these treasures. Not, mind you, as an exercise in asceticism or frugality, but as another way to pleasure. At this stage of my life, I am not prepared to swear off new compact discs. I am also not organized sufficiently to have an official rediscovery every day, but since my car still has a cassette deck, these old-time artifacts can enlighten and elevate me during my commute.
What awaits me? Lee Wiley. Louis with Gordon Jenkins on television from 1952, on-location recordings from the Nice Festivals of 1974-5, and more.
I urge my readers to revisit those treasures they haven’t played in years — whether the stash is under the bed, in the basement, or simply on high shelves. And if the collection is fertile, you could almost close your eyes and pick “the fifth cassette from the left” and come up with a pleasant surprise. If you come up with something you dislike, perhaps it means that the particular cassette isn’t worth saving. Either way, you win.
I’d vbe fascinated to hear from readers about what delights they find . . . .