Magazine article IAJRC Journal

Trail-Blazers in Discography

Magazine article IAJRC Journal

Trail-Blazers in Discography

Article excerpt



To edit and publish a magazine for forty years, especially one devoted mainly to discographical matters, requires dedication and perseverance. That magazine was Record Research and its editor was Len Kunstadt.


Len Kunstadt was born in 1925 of an Austrian father and a Russian mother and raised in Brownsville, Brooklyn, New York. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force on July 30, 1943 and I believe that he flew submarine patrols over the Atlantic, serving as a bombardier, during those war years. In his 60s he liked to say that three of his four engines were feathered but that he was still climbing! On leaving the service he studied and graduated from New York University.

By 1955 he was established in the secondhand record market and publication of Record Research began.

In 1958 he was a member of The Orange Blossom Jug Five who recorded an album entitled "Skiffle In Stereo" for Lyrichord. In addition to Kunstadt on kazoo, the other members were Dave Van Ronk, guitar, vocal; Sam Charters, guitar, cornet, vocal; Ann (Danburg) Charters, washboard; and Russell Glynn, jug.

It has been reported that sometime in April 1996 Kunstadt went into hospital for a hernia operation. Once home he experienced severe pain, but when he returned to the hospital he was given pain killers and sent home. He died alone in his New York apartment and his body was found on April 23, 1996, some days after his death.


The first issue of Record Research was dated February 1955. Its sub-heading called it "The magazine of record statistics and information", it was to be "issued every other month", and the short introductory editorial included the statement that the magazine "dedicates itself to the establishment of a magazine built on discographical craftsmanship. It is no successor to any magazine although it shares the many attempts to publish intelligent and informative articles on record research." Reproduced on poor quality paper, its twenty pages included discographies of Eubie Blake and Sunnyland Slim, an introduction to Edison records, and a four page auction list, 358 records, minimum bid 25 cents.

By the following year the standard of both printing and paper had improved. This quality was generally maintained, except for a period in the mid-1970s when newsprint was used for six issues. Bob Colton was Len's partner in the secondhand record business and he later became co-editor of Record Research. Continuing illness reduced Colton's participation in later years.

Grove refers to the magazine as an irregular publication, which is only part of the story. In the early years it maintained its regular schedule and until the late 1980s it still averaged four issues a year. From 1987 publication slowed to two issues a year, then just two appeared between 1992 and 1994, with the final version being dated January 1995.

Quirky is one way of describing Kunstadt's style as an editor. Idiosyncratic is another, as may be judged from two or three of the comments in later paragraphs. Contributors to the magazine included such experts as Walter C. Allen, Frank Driggs, Mike Montgomery, Harrison Smith, John Steiner, Sam Charters and Victoria Spivey. Many were members of Record Research Associates, an informal organization which met regularly for record listening and discussion, and to hear presentations by researchers like Dan Morgenstern, George Avakian, John Hammond and Brian Rust or musicians such as trumpeters Jack Butler and Doc Cheatham, baritone saxist Danny Banks, leader Ben Selvin and Arthur "Street Singer" Tracy. Kunstadt was a founder member of Record Research Associates when meetings began about 1952, originally in members' homes and then in various NYC locations such as the Prince George Hotel and St. Peter's Church.

There is a photograph in RR (243/244) which shows Wild Bill Davison at a Stuyvesant Casino table, being accompanied by a quartet of collectors, including Dan Morgenstern on paper-and-comb and Len Kunstadt on kazoo. …

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