Saturday, 19 September 2009

The Unknown Jazz Fan (UJF)

I keep an eager eye out for interesting LPs in the local charity shops (US readers should think thrift stores; it's the same principle). In this connection I'm reminded of a quote from El Maestro con Queso, a witty British internet wraith who writes about a dream he had of Hammond organs. "The B3... would be more useful for studio use. If your studio was under air attack." He adds, "Normally I only dream of scouring charity shop for records." Well, me too. The thing about charity shops is, from time to time, extraordinary things turn up in their vinyl bins. On one memorable occasion a mint copy of a bootleg of Quincy Jones's score for The Italian Job appeared; what the hell was that doing here in Putney High Street? Never mind, just scoop it up quick before it dissolves like a dream). Anyhow, the last few weeks have been a bonanza on this front. It all began in Putney at the British Heart Foundation shop with a clutch of albums by Jimmy Rowles, Duke Ellington and Miles Davis (Siesta, with Marcus Miller). It didn't stop there. I found that other shops in Putney had similar caches of quality jazz records.Gerry Mulligan (with Ben Webster), Zoot Sims, more Duke Ellington and more Jimmy Rowles (a pattern was emerging here). These were duly added to the bag. They were all in tip top condition and had obviously come from the collection of the same person. A discriminating and admirable individual. I began to think of this person as the Unknown Jazz Fan. Maybe the Unknown Jazz Fan has moved on to that big jazz club in the sky, leaving grieving family members to disperse an impressive collection of records to the local charity shops. Or on a more optimistic note, perhaps the UJF had converted the entire collection to digital recordings and was simply liquidating the now redundant vinyl as charitable donations. (Of course there are those who will think that death is preferable to converting analogue recordings to digital, in which case they should swap the opening clauses of the last two sentences.) In any case, I soon had a large stack of LPs supplanting the cat from the armchair (sorry Molly) and hours of listening pleasure ensued. It was great and I was a little wistful that I had found all of the UJF's LPs. Then an idea struck me. What if the Unknown Jazz Fan had gone further afield than Putney? I duly checked the charity shops in Wandsworth. Nothing. Then I went to East Sheen. Bingo. Fats Waller (a great 1960s RCA Camden pressing), Albert Ammons, Tommy Dorsey, and a splendid Si Zentner compilation (Big Band Hits) with some arrangements by Bill Holman. It seems that the UJF had a particular enthusiasm for the big bands. And also vocalists. As I trawled through the shops in Sheen I found a Tony Bennett with Ruby Braff, an Ella Fitzgerald with Nelson Riddle, a Hoagy Carmichael and a slew of Sinatra. Okay, so the UJF had gone through Putney and Sheen, spreading his treasures like Johnny Appleseed. I consulted my mental map. Where else should I try? Clapham Junction yielded just one Peggy Lee and another Hoagy Carmichael. But Richmond and Twickenham provided another mother lode. Artie Shaw and his Gramercy Five, another Peggy Lee and a Ted Heath Phase 4 album with Johnny Keating arrangements. Also my one-time co-worker and all around nice guy Courtney Pine's first album on Island (as with the Miles Davis Siesta, it seems the UJF does occasionally slip and listen to something modern). And thanks to my book on the big bands (see 2 August 2009) I picked up a compilation by the previously unknown Roy Fox, an expat American who was huge in Britain in the 1930s. It's charming and beguiling, with some delightful vocals by Mary Lee. There were also incredible early British Fontana pressings of a 1950s Sinatra album and, unbelievably a 50s Fontana Miles Ahead by Miles Davis. Unfortunately these last two were so badly scratched that there was no point in buying them. I regretfully left them there for the next jazz nut to find. The Unknown Jazz Fan's LPs were normally immaculate but occasionally a real dog would turn up and my guess is that these were already second hand when the UJF acquired them. Nonetheless, I couldn't believe my luck. Where else should I try? Hammersmith and Chiswick were earmarked for an early swoop on Saturday morning, yielding Woody Herman and a German pressing of Les Brown with Doris Day on vocals (a combination that I'd been actively looking for). After that minor triumph I almost left behind a double album by Dave Pell. This was a budget compilation on Pickwick (50 Hit Sounds of the Big Bands by the Dave Pell Orchestra) and it had a majestically tacky cover. But then, so did that great Si Zentner... So I bought it, feeling like a bit of a chump. But as soon as it hit the turntable it just about took my head off. Consisting of Dave Pell's covers of classics by Ellington, Goodman, the Dorseys, et al, it was just beautiful and sweet and swinging. A wonderfully smooth, tight, together combo. I was already an admirer of Pell from his work with Lucy Ann Polk (see 6 September 2009), but my estimation of him moved up several notches. Another classic, salvaged from a charity shop, for a pittance... And the quest continued. On Wednesday I joined my sister for a pizza in Barnes on the occasion of her birthday. Was she touched by the promptness with which I turned up at the restaurant? Was there a tear in her eye at my enthusiasm? She evidently didn't notice the bag bulging with ten albums from the Barnes charity shop which I had turned up early to browse (yes, the UJF has been here, too!) featuring Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington and Woody Herman. The Woody Herman LPs not only featured Bill Holman arrangements but also had the great Balkan trumpeter Dusko Goykovich in the band — that's his picture at the top of this entry. (Dusko is pronounced Doo-skoe, by the way. Thank you for pointing that out, Guy Barker.) Now I sit here, wondering where next to travel in London to seek out the largesse of the Unknown Jazz Fan. Of course, I'm aware that he may not even exist. The findings could all be coincidental, the pattern just imaginary, something I'm imposing on random data, like the canals of Mars. Hmm yes. Fascinating theory. I think I might head up towards Chelsea next week. There are some promising charity shops there...

1 comment:

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