Magazine article IAJRC Journal

A Gramophonic Love Affair: The Heart and Soul of Jazz Collecting

Magazine article IAJRC Journal

A Gramophonic Love Affair: The Heart and Soul of Jazz Collecting

Article excerpt

I sometimes reflect upon whether the majority of our members who are domiciled in America ever wonder how those in other countries came to be involved in the jazz music phenomenon indigenous to the USA. I can only relate this question to my own experience. Such thoughts crystallised when I read with great interest the report in the February 2008 Journal written by Dieter Salemann of his indoctrination in post-war Berlin. My own initiation in jazz goes back a bit further.

In the 20s and 30s my parents both played the piano and encouraged me to have lessons, an offer which I resolutely refused, now much to my regret. Our instrument was a pianola (player piano) and I was encouraged to pump the foot pedals. Most of the piano rolls were of classical pieces, but there were some 1920s ones by Meloto, housed in colourful boxes, reproducing piano pieces in a syncopated style. Such tunes as Bye Bye Blackbird and Side by Side. I much enjoyed these.

My father also allowed me to listen to the dance bands on the wireless, but not of course to stay up for the late night broadcasts. In 1932, when I was six years old he bought me a wind-up gramophone, the His Master's Voice Portable Model 101, introduced in 1928, plus some records. I can only recall Albert Ketelby's In a Monastery Garden and In a Persian Market, also The Laughing Policeman and Laughter and Lemons, by comedian Charles Penrose, plus my favourite - Teddy Bears' Picnic, by the BBC Dance Orchestra conducted by Henry Hall. You will note there was no jazz!

My parents were very fond of the variety theatre (vaudeville) and took me regularly to the Brighton Hippodrome, where "the top of the bill" was frequently a dance band, such as that of Billy Cotton or Jack Hylton. On the stage in 1937 I witnessed for the first time Nat Gonella and his Georgians. Nat was standing out in front of his ten-piece band, looking very smart in blue blazer with brass buttons, white flannels and those brown and white leather shoes we termed "co-respondents' shoes"! Nat revered Louis Armstrong, whom he had met in London in 1932, and did his best to play and sing like him. I was hooked!

Years later, in company with our editor, Andy Simons, I saw and heard Nat at Pizza On The Park in London, a very pleasant basement venue in black and silver. He was 90 and had given up trumpet, but was singing with a small group led by Digby Fairweather. During an interval I told him that he had personally cost me a lot of money. He looked surprised but I explained that due to seeing and hearing him I had ever since spent too much money over the years pursuing my serious interest as a long time jazz collector. He was most amused.

I began haunting Woolworths, expending my one shilling per week pocket money on their nine-inch Crown records, made in London, which only cost 6 pence (10 cents) each. To this day, my favorite is labelled as by The Swing Rhythm Boys, Is It True What They Say about Dixie? Crown 212. The musicians were from Jay Wilbur's band, and included Max Goldberg, trumpet; Paul Fenoulhet, trombone; Freddy Gardner, alto sax; and vocalist Ronnie Hill. In later years I knew the last-named as a respectable provincial Westminster Bank manager!

During wartime, with a friend I began scouring the second-hand shops, particularly those selling furniture, which uniformly had large piles of dusty 78s, often without their paper sleeves, stacked in corners. On our knees we compared notes, because so many were issued under pseudonyms. For example, The Denza Dance Band on English Columbia (The California Ramblers, Ross Gorman, etc.), The Corona Dance Orchestra on Regal (The Georgians, The Original Memphis Five, etc.), and so on. We puzzled over these and soon learned the benefit of studying matrix numbers in the wax. Let us take the Columbias - five digits in the shellac meant a recording made in London, whereas six digits indicated a potentially more interesting recording made in the USA. …

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