This afternoon, I went on another thrift-shop quest: I search for several rewards, but predictably one is jazz records. I am most keenly interested in 78s, although vinyl, CDs, home recordings, and cassettes have all surfaced recently.
In Petaluma, California, I drove to one of my favorite places, Alphabet Soup Thrift Store on Western Avenue. Once I had assumed the proper posture (hands and knees, for the 78s were in a box on the floor) I saw this:
Just finding ten-inch 78 albums is a treat. As an omen, it was hopeful in itself, although Bing albums are common: he sold millions of discs — this collection is copyright 1946.
I love Mr. Crosby, although I gravitate towards his earlier work, when his gaze was more romantic, less severe. For a moment I mused upon the photograph of the man on the cover, clearly warning me not to trespass on his lands. At best, serious; at worst, unfriendly.
With what I can only describe as guarded optimism, I opened the album, knowing from experience that I might not find the records advertised on the cover within. (In my thrift-shop experience, the records and the album only match when the music is classical, Viennese waltzes, or the songs of Dorothy Shay, the Park Avenue Hillbilly — for reasons I have never understood.)
This is what greeted me, a holy relic:
I can’t prove it, but I would bet a good deal that Jimmie Blanton heard and admired that side: where Walter Page comes through beautifully. The other side is the celestial ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS. (Yes, a later pressing, but why fuss?)
I would have been happy if the remaining records had been Allan Jones or perhaps Helen Traubel. This disc was a treasure. But I proceeded deeper into the album, to find this disc, especially cosmic (for me) because I had revisited the recordings of this band, including Ben Webster, Teddy Wilson, Taft Jordan, Edgar Battle, on a recent extended car trip:
I wasn’t moaning in the thrift store, because I knew the other patrons might find it odd, and I would have to stand up to properly explain that these discs were the jazz equivalent of first editions by prized writers. But JAZZ LIVES readers will understand my state of bliss.
Two other Commodores (!) appeared — the whole of the 1944 Kansas City Six date with Bill Coleman, Lester Young, Dicky Wells, Joe Bushkin, John Simmons, Jo Jones: JO-JO, THREE LITTLE WORDS, FOUR O’CLOCK DRAG, I GOT RHYTHM.
The final record in the album was cracked — but surely playable:
The other side is BLUE ‘N’ BOOGIE, Dexter Gordon credited.
My discoveries weren’t at an end. On the inside cover of this 1946 Crosby album, the owner of the discs had kept a tally. It is hard to read but you’ll note that (s)he loved Lester Young:
I don’t know the facts, and I shy away from melodrama: jazz-mad Patty or Bill secretly demolishing Mom and Dad’s square Crosby platters to have an album for Pres, Bird, Diz, and Babs. But this list is written with pride of ownership and pride of having a burgeoning Lester Young collection. I don’t think that with an album of only six pockets that one would have to write such a list to recall the contents: this tally says LOOK WHAT BEAUTY I HAVE HERE.
That four of the discs on the list survived speaks to the owner’s care, and to the care of the person who delivered this package to Alphabet Soup. I always feel sad when I uncover such a beloved collection, because I worry that the owner has made the transition, but perhaps Grandma or Grandpa simply has the complete Lester on an iPhone?
Did Bing and the Andrews Sisters give way to Pres, Bird, and Dizzy? I can’t say in this case. If you wish to write the narrative of seismic artistic shifts, I can’t prevent you from issuing essays on Modernism. Or academic exegeses of High and Low Art.
But this assemblage — take it as if it were one of Joseph Cornell’s boxes — suggests to me that there was a moment in the bumpy history of “popular music” where Eddie Durham, the Andrews Sisters, “cowboy music,” Three Bips and a Bop, Cole Porter, Bird, Diz, Clyde Hart, all coexisted in relative serenity.
Will those days when music roamed wide-open spaces return? Can we dream of creativity without fences established by the artists, their publicists, the critics, and business people?
I don’t know, and the arguments this might provoke have a limited charm. So if you pardon me, I’m off (across the room) to play my New Old 78s, much loved then and much treasured now. And those seventy-year old relics sound very good now, I assure you. Walter Page and Willie Bryant come through superbly, as do Lester, Jo, and Dexter. And listening to 78s is very good aerobic exercise for me: I have to get out of my chair every three minutes. Lester is watching over my health, or perhaps it is Bill Coleman or Milt Gabler?
Blessings on you, oh Unnamed Lover of Jazz!
This post is for three young tenor players — in alphabetical order — Jon Doyle, Ben Flood, and Stan Zenkov. They know why!
And for those readers who wonder, “What do those records sound like?” I encourage them to search “Kansas City Six” and “A Viper’s Moan” on YouTube, as well as Bird and Dizzy. Reassuringly audible.
May your happiness increase!