Collecting Their Thoughts

Scientists reveal rare and aggressive species! Hide (or seek) those old records before it's too late!

The way it's going now, the experienced collectors, those with an ear to the music and an eye to the future, are not giving up their lifetime acquisitions just to make a quick buck or even many thousands; they are gradually replacing their collections of jazz 78s and LPs with CD reissues. But where does the average (read impoverished) collector go to find all these historical and musical indispensibles that people like me keep writing about? Overseas, of course.

The truly industrious jazz collector will never be a passive dupe of the major American recording companies or, even less, the avaricious retail chain outlets that shape public taste through ignorant and discriminatory marketing practices. Since by nature he is both single-minded and relentless, he will seek out his quarry, wherever it may be. And in the case of high quality, conscientiously produced reissues of classic jazz, he will turn to Europe.

There were quite a few Americans who took their jazz seriously enough in the Twenties and Thirties to buy records and even keep them, but from the earliest years on, it was the Europeans - primarily the British, French, Belgians, and Swiss - for whom the study of jazz became life's controlling passion. They wrote the first intelligent criticism; they compiled the first discographies; and they sculpted the first, albeit groping, histories. They had the first regional appreciation societies and even, by example, influenced American record companies to bring back into circulation earlier records. These were the first reissues. The fever spread, and independent bootleg jazz labels began sprouting up in Australia, Italy, Spain, Argentina. While the more passive stateside collector was content to wait for the occasional obligatory bone thrown him by the American majors - Victor (RCA), Columbia (CBS), and Decca (GRP) - his more intrepid counterpart spread his net globally to haul in rarities to this day not recognized by U.S. labels.

This does not mean, however, that the interested collector has to seek out each and every foreign jazz label and deal with them individually. Stepping in to perform that service is the so-called "one-stop" mail-order distributor. The function of this middleman is to facilitate import purchases by dealing directly with foreign companies or their agents, buying in bulk to cut down costs in shipping, and, for the most part, passing the savings along to customers. These distributors don't advertise in the general press, so one has to ferret deep in the underground.

A good start would be to learn something about these various labels and their recent releases. Such factors as stylistic orientation, quality of remastering, access to previously unissued titles or alternate takes, average playing time per CD, and price range are the major elements to consider before taking the plunge. But even to get this far takes some doing, because such rarefied information is generally confined to the review pages of specialist jazz magazines, hardly the sort of reading matter one would find in convenience stores, supermarkets, or the local library. I refer specifically to such English-language publications as Jazz Times, Down Beat, Cadence, and The Mississippi Rag in America, Coda in Canada, and Jazz Journal International in England.

In addition to articles, news items, and relevant album and concert reviews by knowledgeable critics, many of whom are also musicians, these magazines carry in their advertising a virtual directory of jazz specialist shops and mail-order distributors, both here and abroad. Admittedly, the absorbing hobby of jazz collecting involves both time and money, but with the right sort of guidance these investments can be kept to a minimum, while the major goals - enjoyment, fulfillment, and heightened awareness - become increasingly a part of everyday life.

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