By now it’s common knowledge among music fans that CD sales have plummeted, while the LP has made a furious comeback. Last year almost 2 million new LPs were sold. Part of that renaissance has been the reissue of classic jazz and classical recordings. Here Chad Kassem’s Acoustic Sounds has been doing yeoman’s work. Thanks to remastering wizard Steve Hoffman, Acoustic Sounds is now poised to reissue on 45 rpm no less than 25 albums from the famous Impulse label, which featured everyone from Coleman Hawkins to Ben Webster. In addition, Music Matters’ Ron Rambach has been putting out marvelous 45 rpm versions of the Blue Note classics. They sound terrific. It’s a real service since so many of the originals come with a tariff that can be staggeringly high.
But not always. As good as the reissues may be, there remains a lot to be said for collecting older LPs. Perhaps it appeals to the prehistoric hunter-gatherer lurking inside us. It’s also the case, however, that the original monos often simply sound stunning, possessing a solidity, dynamism, and high frequency energy that stereo reissues can’t always match, especially if you splurge on a mono cartridge, which is making its own comeback.
A recent trip to New York, where I visited Academy Records on West 18th Street and the Jazz Record Center on West 26th street, provided a powerful reminder of the lure of black gold. Even as Tower Records and other purveyors of the CD go under, vinyl shops seem to be going strong. What’s more, their proprietors often have a deep knowledge about their esoteric wares. Academy, where I picked up, among other things, an Archiv LP featuring baroque Italian organ concertos, seems to have a limitless number of LPs flowing in. They’re also extremely reasonably priced, ranging from $2.50 to $8.00 for the most part. They’re also in excellent condition. If you’re looking to assemble a classical LP collection, I couldn’t think of a better place.
Academy is easy to find. The Jazz Record Center takes a little more legwork. Literally. Owner Fred Cohen will buzz you in, but he’s located on the eighth floor. For any jazz LP fan, his shop is something of an El Dorado. He has thousands of LPs neatly stacked in bins, among them a stash of original Blue Note, Prestige, and Impulse that aren’t always inexpensive, but are fairly priced. I was fortunate enough to espy Blue Note 1542, featuring a young Sonny Rollins, as well as an Art Blakey recording. There are also a number of Pablos and other LPs ranging from $5 to $15 in price.
What's more, meeting Cohen turned out to be a treat. Cohen, affable and precise, explained to me that he’s not “fastidious” about the equipment, but loves the albums. He’s a serious jazz connoisseur, who has an extensive personal collection of both LPs and memorabilia. He’s currently completing a book on Blue Note records. I picked up a copy of the excellent volume Longplay: the History of Records and Modern Jazz, which is based on an exhibition held by the JazzBaltica organization in Salzau, Germany. The book, which contains an essay by Cohen on Charles Mingus, reproduces a postcard from him complaining, “I have had my record’s stolen, copied, and robbed by my inability to find one honest man, person or record company in America.” It was not an uncommon complaint among recording artists. We also see a copy of John Coltrane’s first record contract with Prestige Records in 1957 which states that he will receive $300 per 12’ album and record three per year.
In addition, the book contains an essay by the well-known critic Dan Morgenstern that offers much valuable information about the evolution of the LP. As Morgenstern notes, “the advent of modern jazz and the introduction of the LP occurred in fairly close sequence.” Morgenstern also notes that the arrival of the 10-inch LP fostered the rise of spectacular covers by artists such as David Stone Martin and Paul Bacon.
I don’t know how it is with you, but for me establishing an LP collection isn’t simply a matter of amassing a bunch of black discs. It’s an education.