Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Collection

I got to thinking about recorded sound and collecting albums recently, and it occurred to me that music these days is atomic. By that I mean each musical performance, each piece or tune, exists as an entity unto itself regardless of the circumstances under which it was created. Each piece is a single atom, if you will, in a universe of like musical atoms, isolated from its fellows by today's technology. That technology is, of course, the same we use here on Gems – the Internet and file-sharing.

Take Charlie Parker's album of Cole Porter tunes, recorded for Verve in 1954. The tunes on that record were meant, I assume, to work together as a whole, as Bird's interpretation of the music of one of America's great song composers. But for most listeners today, who get their Charlie Parker via iTunes or other less orthodox digital sites, that context is lost. They type in "Charlie Parker" and a zillion files come up, everything from Bird's tragic "Loverman" on Dial to stuff by Supersax, and they cherry-pick the tunes of interest, download them and then listen to them as random iPod selections. Great jazz, yes, but divorced from any historical or organizing context. Atoms, see?

For me, and I'm guessing for the tens of visitors to this blog, the context is more than important. It's essential. That's why I bother to upload album covers and whole records even though a tune or two might be a dud, and that's why you take the time to download them, burn CDs, print out covers, etc. The music is the main thing, but knowing where it comes from, and who made it, and why and when, simply enhances the experience of listening. 

But ... maybe this is all changing? It seems like everyday more and more data are uploaded to the web. The Jazz Discography Project is doing an marvelous job building an Internet-based catalog of work by (thus far) major jazz artists, and nearly every rare and long-out-of-print record I can think of is available somewhere on the web, either commercially or through fan sites like Gems. So, pretty soon – maybe within our lifetimes – perhaps all of jazz's recorded output will reside in the Cloud, replete with detailed discographical information. That would be extraordinary!

And it might mean that collections like mine, and like all of yours, will become outmoded, as useless as the home encyclopaedia now is. An interesting thought, eh?

But to celebrate collecting, I put together a brief video about my magnificent obsession. Here is a good portion of my record collection, sans 78s, tapes and CDs. I had to Photoshop together all the shelves because they're too heavy to house in a single room (a potential floor collapse!). The covers are just some I grabbed off the 10- and 7-incher shelf – a good size for my little scanner – and the tune is by the marvelous Betty Bebop. Enjoy, and happy collecting! 


  1. You're absolutely right David. I have also the fantasy that there will come a time when "our obsession" will be available in the web simply by typing a title in google...
    And you're right too in what you say collected just as a trophy hunting lose a sense. So, my small contribution in my blog, contextualising recordings according to famous books...
    Thank you very much for your blog, for share your music and for your radio show.

  2. Don't think our collections will become useless, cause there's one important (at least to me) aspect of vinyl collecting no internet based collection can replace.
    And that's the sheer physical fun of handling vinyl. The beauty of the big cover pics, the smell of the old cardboard, the whole ritual of putting on a vinyl record is lost when one's only listening to online music.
    The information and the pure music may one day all be found somewhere in the cloud, but the side of music collecting that appeals to the other senses than the ears is lost.

  3. Glad to see blbs and EPR drop by. Liked the clip David - BN403, any chance on posting it sometime.

    Started with Steve Lane record back in the late 60s, move swiftly to the Creole Band, Bechet and Morton. Some ten years later Parker bug laid me low - never recovered and found myself buying Navarro and Brownie records. Managed to remove my father and brother from the living when playing Free Jazz (Coleman - Atlantic). Love cardboard smell too EPR.

  4. I think we will all be amazed at how much of this great music will be available for a few clicks in the near future, Hector. There's already so much of it on line that I have trouble finding things to post that aren't already available! But I'll keep trying ...

    Yes, El PR, you're absolutely right about the tactile pleasures of record collecting. I'd overlooked that aspect of our obsession. There's nothing like the smell of old, mildewy jazz LPs in the morning!

    I love the evolution of your jazz acquisitions, Baron. When I worked at the record store, I used to drive out the squares by putting on Ornette's "Free Jazz." And Parker is indeed a bug that's chronic. If you've not checked out Phil Schaap's website, you really must. He's got samples of his "Bird Flight" shows that are quite amazing. They define the term "obsession"! Here's where to find it:

  5. Phil Schaaap - Checked out the site David and will download them - I'll listen to them late evenings. Your show is not downloadable is it?

    1. Yes, Baron, I think you'll dig Phil's in-depth look at Bird's music. His penchant for endless iterations of discographical minutia can be maddening at times, but he knows his stuff and has EVERY Parker recording that exists. His show proposing that Bird played "The Lady in Red" on a one-nighter in NJ is typical of his parsing of the work of the great altoist. Enjoy!

  6. Your fan club is about to increase David - keep looking in.

  7. Congratulations for your courage to begin on this marvelous trail. I've already grabbed some rare gems you present here: George Auld, Mary Lou..There are many and I must calm down!
    I'll keep looking and reading your Jazz tales.
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks for your kind words, cvllos. Glad you've found some things here of interest. This stuff is too good not to share! Look for more to come ...

  8. "The music is the main thing, but knowing where it comes from, and who made it, and why and when, simply enhances the experience of listening. "I totally agree with you,and appreciate what you do for this blog.Thank you.謝謝.