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7/31/09

My first record purchase...

Willie "The Lion" Smith, J. C. Higginbotham, Sidney de Paris, Zutty Singleton, Gene Brooks, Henry Goodwin, and Cecil Scott pose with Victoria Spivey, Alberta Hunter and Lucille Hegamin during the August 16, 1961 sessions that became Songs We Taught Your Mother. When I told Jimmy Rushing that I was going to do this album, he said he wanted to be there. I don't recall why Cliff Jackson isn't in Don Schlitten's photo, but he's on the album.


Do you remember buying your first record. It was probably an LP, but in my case it began with a 78 rpm disc—around 1947. I was living in Copenhagen with my mother and her third (but not last) husband. Denmark was slowly recovering from WWII—which I spent in New York and Iceland—but such things as coffee, tea and chocolate were still only available in look-alike ersatz form that tasted nothing like the real thing. Raw material for audio records was also in very short supply, so one was required to bring in an old record (even a broken one) for every new release on bought. To make matters worse, there was little to select from, even in the larger outlets, like the Magasin du Nord department store, and what was there seemed to have been pressed on cardboard. Armed with a couple of cracked 78s, I went there in search of anything by Vivaldi.

I had been interested in music since childhood, when I spent much time on the floor with a portable wind-up and some of my grandparents' records. They bore that in mind when they decided to give me their Victrola (actually a floor model HMV) and a stack of records. Some of these were classical, which I liked, but more were popular music of an era that even then seemed distant. I recall a few: Victor Sylvester's orchestra playing "A Chapel in the Moonlight," Greta Keller doing her cabaret thing, and a smooth Frenchman rendering "J'attendrai", but I wanted something more substantial.

Magasin du Nord had only a handful of records and since I already had the only classical release they could offer, Victor Schiøler playing Beethoven's Apassionata, I asked if they had Bessie Smith, a lady whose voice I had recently heard on the radio. No, but they did have a jazz record and they laid it on the counter. The Parlophone label read 1939 Super Rhythm Style Series, and that sounded intriguing, so I bought my first record: John Kirby's great little band playing "Dawn on the Desert" and "The Turf." I loved it.

About 13 years later, I told clarinetist Buster Bailey that he played on the first record I ever bought. Not so coincidentally, we were seated at The Turf, at 49th and Broadway, enjoying that establishment's famous cheesecake. The following week, I produced a Prestige session that included Mr. Bailey and many other great performers whose names I had worn off labels when the spring broke on my old HMV. (See photo at top). About that spring and the callouses on my finger—well, that's another story.


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