treasures are never really lost if you know where, and how, to look
Everyone I know has misplaced something and, sometimes, those items aren't found until
Anybody who has done a lot of moving around in this crazy world -- and that includes all
the working musicians I know -- has decided one day to spend an enjoyable hour with a
favorite album of the past and found, to his dismay, that the platter, or tape or disc is
no longer in the personal musical library.
Now where did I last hear that scratchy old Bix Beiderbecke record with the Wolverines?
Was I sitting in the living room in Boston, or was I on the deck behind the Colorado
house? To whom did I lend that Phineas Newborn album? Bechet! Where's my Sidney Bechet?
The one with the master takes from the Victor sessions!
When the technology of preserving sound moved into the realm of CDs, I worried that a lot
of the old recordings I cherished would not be available in the more listenable format (I
know, I know, a lot of audiophiles disagree about the merits of digital versus analog
recording, but that's another story).
Consider what confronted the collector: a greedy industry faced with the task of
transferring nearly a century's worth of recorded music into a computerized format that
was exploding weekly with improvements. Choices had to be made, and that's what worried a
lot of us. It meant that music already available could be repackaged and sold for more in
a different format. The fear for me was that not-necessarily-popular recordings that
carried historic weight would disappear for years to come as the recording industry
adjusted to the new techniques that had landed like a dove from financial heaven.
In addition, and because collectors remembered the fate of the 78-rpm record, there was
the nagging worry that all our old record collections preserved in their original formats
would be unplayable. For a period during the 1980s, I found it bloody hard to find a
diamond-tipped needle for my turntable's stylus, so I hurried to transfer many of my
33-rpm and 45-rpm vinyl discs to cassette tapes.
But all was not lost. Happily, and in part because of the controversy among audiophiles on
the digital-analog question to which I alluded above, it appears that more classic jazz
than ever before is available in the CD and, now mp3 formats, and the recording industry
appears to have taken the quality/historicity/popularity question seriously, for there
seems to be no famine of diamond-tipped needles anymore. One can even buy a turntable off
the shelf, pull out those old records and reminisce an afternoon away.
But records will be lost, and here is a tip for the collector who might want to replace
few of those lost items: never lose touch with your like-minded brethren if you are
serious about the preservation of certain modes of music.
Here in my corner of the globe, the institution of the garage sale is healthy. Basically,
that is an exercise whereby a homeowner who is cleaning out his detritus will put some of
it up for sale at, usually, a very inexpensive price. One man's junk, as they say, becomes
another man's treasure. I've bought dozens of books and records and, once, a set of golf
clubs, in this manner, and I've found some real musical and literary wealth along the way.
The cut-out bins full of remaindered records and tapes and CDs in the music shops are a
fertile ground for stumbling across the unexpected fortune. Be prepared to spend some time
and don't be afraid to take a risk on an unknown artist. For half a buck, how can you go
Finally, always remember that someone has what you want. I know this is heresy, and I
don't encourage bootlegging or piracy of music. But the true collector -- here I do not
refer to the fly-by-night greedy mumser, but the real music lover with an archival impulse
-- has a tape or vinyl recording of what you want. And if two of you can ensure that the
historically valuable recording is preserved, then you have served the muse almost as well
as the musician.