Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Two Memorable Record Buying Experiences

Dave Sumner at Bird Is the Worm recently described an occasion in which he frequented one of the independent record stores in Denver during the 1990’s.

One of my memorable record buying experience occurred in 1974, probably in May or June of that year, when I was living in Wichita. A few days earlier, I had purchased a rock record that I remembered having heard once somewhere else. Once I got that record home and put it on the stereo, I discovered how awful the music sounded. My introduction to jazz had started a couple of years earlier when a friend exposed me to Frank Zappa’s more recent music, first Waka/Jawaka and then The Grand Wazoo. I had heard We’re Only in It for the Money when I was in high school in the late 1960’s but had lost track of Zappa’s innovations. That music also led to my purchasing the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Bird of Fire and Miles Davis’ Big Fun, the edition that didn’t include either “Recollections” or “The Little Blue Frog.”

Determined to commit myself totally to jazz, I selected, a few days later, some of the rock albums that I had gotten tired of, including the one I had only recently purchased, and lugged them to a pawn shop on Broadway, where the owner, while praising me for their condition, still only offered what I remember was a small amount for each album, possibly a dollar or more. I apparently got enough money from that sale because I went to my favorite record store on Harry Street afterwards. The name of this store escapes me. The staff was particularly helpful and shared my interest in jazz. Sometimes, during my visits, I hung around and chatted with the clerk behind the counter while observing what other people were buying.

It was still difficult finding much jazz. The selections in the three or four bins devoted to jazz were limited to what had been recently released, such as Hubert Laws’ Wild Flower and Gary Burton’s The New Quartet, both of which I eventually purchased once my taste in jazz expanded. If Zappa’s Hot Rats had been in stock, I might have chosen that album. I settled on King Kong, an album on which Jean Luc Ponty plays the music of Frank Zappa, and one that I had heard initially when visiting a friend in Salina. One side contains interpretations of Zappa songs--, e.g., “King Kong,” “Idiot Bastard Son,” “Twenty Small Cigars” and the Ponty written “How Would Like to Have A Head Like That,” while the other side contains the lengthy and complex “Music for Electric Violin and Low Budget Orchestra.”

I didn’t yet have a very good stereo. What I had at the time was a portable record player with detachable mid-range speakers, something I had gotten secondhand a couple of years earlier when I was living in Concordia and taking classes at the community college. My approach to life at that time was to avoid as many material possessions as possible. I eschewed material items in favor of a simple life, one not burdened with stuff that I had to lug around. That cheap little stereo provided hours of pleasure and assisted in my discovery of jazz. That stereo also drove away my neighbors when I was living in a one-bedroom house in Concordia. Only a few feet separated my house from theirs, and both houses lacked enough insulation to absorb sound. The family next door didn’t appreciate having their kids kept awake because of my stereo blasting Zappa’s Overnight Sensation, for example, at 10:00 p.m.

King Kong proved to be fascinating. I remember studying the liner notes written by Leonard Feather and paying close attention to the music. Side A proved to be immediately accessible while side B was difficult but rewarding as I responded to certain parts at first and gradually, over time, came to enjoy all of “Music for Electric Violin and Low Budget Orchestra.”

Another memorable record buying experience occurred when I was living in Connecticut in 1985. One Saturday, when I had a bit of spending money, I made my way outside of Hartford to Integrity ‘n Music, a store that specialized in jazz. It was my first visit to this store. Previously, since arriving in Connecticut in 1983, I had been ordering music through Daybreak Express Records.

The entire front of the store, as I remember, was devoted to jazz LPs. There might have been other formats available. My stereo at that time, a Sanyo stereo system containing a turntable, radio, and two cassette desks, wasn’t able to play CD’s. It took about seven more years before I made the complete switch to the CD format.

Over the course of about an hour, I made my way through the bins, studying the covers and reading the liner notes. After moving back and forth from one bin to another, I finally decided to purchase Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue and John Coltrane’s Coltrane’s Sound. I hadn’t yet started studying jazz discographies, other than the Daybreak Express Records catalogue, so I wasn’t familiar with Miles Davis’ earlier work or any of John Coltrane’s oeuvre. My only previous exposure to John Coltrane, oddly, had been Hubert Laws’s cover of "Equinox" on his Wild Flower album and Tom Scott’s cover of "Dahomey Dance" on the debut album Tom Scott & the LA Express. By this time, I was familiar with many of the ECM artists, such as Gary Burton, Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, Mike Nock, L. Shankar, John Surman, Ralph Towner, Miroslav Vitous, and Eberhard Weber. I was also familiar with some of the Polish artists, such as Urszula Dudziak, Zbigniew Namyslowski, and Michal Urbaniak. My education in jazz had not yet included the innovations of artists in the 1950’s and 1960’s. As an autodidact in jazz, I had noticeable holes in my education.

Once I arrived back at my apartment, I discovered how accessible these albums were. All of the music that I had been listening to had prepared me for Kind of Blue and Coltrane’s Sound. I was particularly pleased with my purchases and found much enjoyment in these two albums. These albums led to my discovery of other albums by these artists as I worked at gaining a broader grasp of jazz. Although Zappa provided a means of entering the world of jazz, that world didn’t fully open up for me until I discovered John Coltrane and the earlier work of Miles Davis, many years prior to Davis’ electric period. Many of my album purchases in the years that followed were limited to either music recorded between 1958 and 1965 or musicians who began to receive attention at that time—Joe Henderson, for example. My renewed interest in contemporary jazz didn’t begin until 2007 or so.