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03 September 2006



Maybe it's my rose-coloured glasses of youth, but I somehow feel like it would have been easier to acquire Ethan's record collection at the time that he did. Most of those records were still in print, or at least in semi-decent circulation, at the time of his purchases.

Looking over the list again, I see that the labels these records were issued on are either major labels or jazz powerhouses of the time (Black Saint, Milestone). To me, it's still Ethan's incredible awareness at that age that takes the cake.


David, you make a good point. Despite the supposed promise of the digital era, many of those classic '73-'90 records are long out of print, and show no signs of popping up on iTunes anytime soon. (It will be interesting/depressing to see how many items in the hivemind-generated list are out-of-print/unanavailable/never-reissued on CD in the first place.)

And sure, there's eBay, but that's both a boon and a curse for record collectors -- you can, with only a little effort, eventually find even the most obscure items, but when you have to compete with everyone on the planet for a particular rarity, the auction prices reflect that. On the day I finally got my first turntable (fall of 2002), I was able to stroll into Looney Tunes in Boston and snap up near-mint copies of Make Me Smile, New Life, and Through a Looking Glass (never issued on CD, as far as I know) for less than three bucks apiece. That scene is probably gone now. And New York -- forget it.

But you may also have a bit of a skewed view of how available these records were, even back in the day -- if I recall correctly, you grew up in Toronto? Can I assume that means the flagship Sam The Record Man was in easy reach for you? Rest assured that the selection at Vancouver's record mecca, A&B Sound, was somewhat less impressive.


Yes, I grew up in Toronto (well, the 'burbs, to be specific), and I went to the flagship Sam's a few times, however it closed up while I was still in my jazz infancy. The records I was buying at that time (mostly new releases and the recent RVG edition Blue Notes) were readily available at any downtown T.O. record store - I'd alternate between Tower, HMV and Sam's, not realizing what rarities they stocked at the last. I started seriously buying jazz in high school - well into the advent of the CD, and well after much of this stuff had been pulled out of catalogue. I didn't even know enough to go digging for vinyl.

There's still scores to be made - a McGill colleague of mine found that legendary Brookmeyer/Mel Lewis Live at the Vanguard recording in Alaska, of all places. And around Montreal there's some good used record stores (a couple that would suck all my money if I had a working turntable), but the best resource of all, in a bittersweet fashion, is the Grande Bibliotheque. They've got all sorts of rarities and obscurities - in fact, Grande Bibliotheque and the CKUT library have been the two biggest sources in remedying my historical holes. One can hear the music this way, but not own it.

Anyway, my initial assumption as far as the availability of these records was that Black Saint, Milestone, Soul Note, et al. in their heyday (which are conveniently around the time Ethan was in acquisition mode) were at the very least comparable in terms of supply and demand as Fresh Sound/New Talent now or maybe even ECM. With a trip to a large record store - new or used - or even just a little bit of hunting, one could track these records down.


Fresh Sound, maybe -- but that's nothing to write home about! The vast majority of Fresh Sound records never make it into more than a handful of brick-and-mortar record stores (at least, that's the case stateside, it's probably somewhat better in Europe). And most of those get returned, unsold, six months after release, never to be reordered. Similarly, I blew much of my adolescence pouring over the racks at A&B Sound, pulling out items at random, etc, and while my recollection is now a little hazy, I don't remember them stocking more than a handful of Black Saints and Soul Notes -- usually just a few copies of the new releases, never to be restocked once sold. (I'm only a couple of years younger than Ethan, so we're talking about roughly the same period.) In Vancouver, at least, I don't think those labels had anything like the major-league distribution ECM had(/has).

Of course, it's entirely possible that the record stores in Wisconsin were much hipper than the ones in Vancouver. To be fair, Vancouver did have this place called Black Swan, frequented by all the improv aficionados, but that was really expensive and hard to get to on public transit and shopping there always felt incredibly intimidating.


Of course, a confounding variable here is CD vs. vinyl. As I mentioned, my parents (never big record collectors) had gotten rid of their turntable by the time I'd started acquiring jazz recordings. But even beyond that, Vancouver's flagship music store, A&B Sound, was very quick to ditch their vinyl section entirely. If I recall correctly, by 1988 (when hanging out at A&B on weekends first became a regular activity for me) it was pretty much gone. While A&B were the biggest record store in town, they were actually primarily a stereo component store, and so their whole mission was to sell a lot of AV equipment. They were one of the first outlets to use CDs as loss leaders, enticements to draw people into the store so they could dazzle them with CD players and as much ancilliary gear as they could hawk.

Now, the dawn of the CD era just happened to coincide with the ascendence of Marsalis-inspired conservatism, so of course the first records to be reissued on CD were straightahead dates from the 1950's and 1960's. The selection at A&B consisted overwhelmingly of that kind of stuff, plus mainstream new releases by the suit-wearing Young Lions. (I do vividly remember a massive Rahsaan Roland Kirk box set, but that seemed to be about as weird as they got.) Keep in mind that a lot of seminal, mainstream records were, as of 1988, still unavailable on CD -- I'm talking obvious stuff like Blue Train and Four And More.

Ironically, it was often easier to find a lot of this stuff on cassette -- for instance, it took ages for Larry Young's Unity to become readily available on CD, but it was among the first jazz recordings I bought -- I found the cassette version in a discount bin and figured I'd give it a shot.

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