I have several stories of how and when I found Jazz music, but this particular one seems to stand out more than the rest. Growing up in the late 60s through the 70s, I was a strange kid with strange tastes and although I heard a lot of music that was currently on Pop radio, I seemed to prefer listening to music that happened before my time.
Old records seemed to fascinate me like time travel, especially the 78s that spun really fast on the record player.
In the summer of 1972, our family drove up to Northern California to visit our cousins who lived in the area where John Sutter discovered gold during the 1800s. One of my parents’ pastimes was browsing antique shops and there seemed to be many in that area at the time, full of artifacts from the gold rush.
One, in particular, had a big stack of 78s which at the time were probably considered junk by the owner. These records couldn’t have been more than 30 years old at that time but they seemed ancient by the nine-year-old me. To my great surprise, the owner offered me the entire lot for only one dollar and I thought I had scored the deal of the century.
Out of the many records in there (which included Gene Ammons, Lester Young, James Moody and more) one in particular really knocked me out, It was a record called Cracked Ice by an alto sax player named Earl Bostic. Mind you, I had no context whatsoever about any of these artists or the music, as it was decades before the internet existed and there was nary a book that mentioned Earl Bostic at the time.
The song itself was a heavy wailin’ instrumental blues bounce that went in for the kill and held no hostages.
I played Cracked Ice over and over for years until I nearly wore out the grooves.
Some five years later, I still had a thirst for more of this music but really had no idea where to find it. I knew it was Jazz and that’s about it.
One evening when I was 14, I visited the public library with my father and went into the record section. This was when you could check actual record albums out from the library and also listen to them on headphones at special listening stations. This was also before anything was digitized and the libraries had drawers upon drawers of physical 3×5 card catalogues in alphabetical order.
There it was. The section of cards that said Saxophone. Maybe there would be an Earl Bostic record in there. No such luck. But there was an album called Gerry’s Time (listen on YouTube) by a sax player named Gerry Mulligan (which I innocently thought was pronounced “Gary”). The librarian put the record on the turntable behind the counter as I put the big white plastic headphones on, waiting to see what this music was going to be.
It opened with a song called “Woody’n You” which I would find out later was quite a famous BeBop standard.
Instantly my life was changed forever, This was a cookin’ album and was my introduction to trumpeter Harry Sweets Edison, bassist Ray Brown, drummer Louie Bellson and guitarist Herb Ellis, Oscar Peterson was also in this all-star aggregation, holding down the piano duties plus Stan Getz (who I knew already via The Girl From Ipanema).
The guy sitting next to me must’ve thought I was nuts, bobbing my head back and forth, patting my foot frantically, lost in a world of my own.
The following song was called “Candy”, which blew my mind all over again. I checked this album out and made a cassette from it immediately. This was my new soundtrack and I hoped to someday find a vinyl copy, but that took years because this was an obscure album, not to be found in new record shops during that time.