6G Needled to Death

November 7, 2007



The history of technology is complex and fascinating, especially as it applies to the reproduction of sound. When CDs began to replace phonographs, my wife and I were happy to stop dealing with phonograph needles, which damaged a record slightly every time we played it, even though we cleaned the record and changed our needles and so on.

Although my wife is much more discriminating in regard to music than I am, CDs are good enough for us. There are, however, audiophiles who believe that the analog technology of the phonograph reproduces music with much more fidelity and warmth than the digital technology of the CD.

OP (our daughter’s Out of Law partner) recently told us that they had replaced their home music system with a system based around iPod technology. I am bewildered.

When my family moved from Wisconsin back to Rockland, County New York (a suburb of New York City), I was eager to find a copy of Jimmy Giuffre’s Traveling Light album I had only heard once on am radio in the middle of the night. One day my father took me into NYC to visit my aunt Henriette and my uncle-in-law Morton.

I had already called some big record stores in the “City” and located one with a copy of the album. We stopped at the record store, I purchased the album,  and brought it with me to Henriette and Morton’s apartment.

Most of my family detested Morton. He didn’t like my family very much, either. I found him a bit supercilious and condescending, but aside from that I got along with him OK.

Both Henriette and Morton were great lovers of the arts. Of course, opera was their greatest love. Clutching my still sealed Jimmy Giuffre album, I was eager to play it as soon as I could. (I was a teenage boy, a type of creature that does not do well with delayed gratification.) It has been over a year since I had heard this album. I wondered: would I still love it?)

Henriette and Morton had no interest in jazz, but they were willing to indulge their nephew. They explained to me that they had a collection of several thousand opera albums. They explained to me that they considered “modern” (at that time, 33 1/3 rpm was considered modern) recordings inferior to classic recordings of such luminaries as Caruso on 78 rpm records. Almost all of their albums were on 78 rpm albums. They explained to me that they used a special phonograph needle, designed to play such old records. They weren’t really sure it would play my 33 1/3 album properly.


Did teenage Random listen? Of course not. I ripped the plastic shrink wrap off the album. Morton placed it on his phonograph. As the music emerged from the speakers, I listened eagerly. It was as wonderful as I remembered, but something was wrong. I am not a person of fast reflexes. I am slow to react in an emergency. The first track was almost finished playing before it dawned on me that the needle was destroying my precious brand-new record.


I previously told the story of how I had searched for a “lost” album containing the song “Gold Watch and Chain” for my wife.

I had searched for years for this record. One day I found it had been re-issued on CD and was able to surprise her with it.

The story of the Jimmy Giuffre record has a similar happy ending. I spent years searching through used record stores trying to find an undamaged copy of Traveling Light to no avail.

Eventually, there was a modest revival (perhaps too strong a word) of interest in Jimmy Giuffre and several of his albums were reissued on CD, including Traveling Light. It was combined with another old “jazz” album, a recording of jazz singer Mabel Mercer. I listened to her part once. It’s OK, but not of much interest to me. The record company’s thinking in this regard was opaque to me.

You can’t always go home again, but sometimes you can visit a re-issued old abode.

Next: Death and the Calendar



6E Blues in the Night

November 4, 2007

When the evenin’ sun goes down
You’re gonna find me hangin’ ’round
The nightlife ain’t no good life
But it’s my life

Many people just like me
Dreaming of old used-to-be’s
The nightlife ain’t no good life
But it’s my life

Listen to the blues they’re playin’
Listen to what the blues are sayin’

Ohhh mine is just another scene
From a world of broken dreams
The nightlife ain’t no good life
But it’s my life

Listen to the blues baby
Listen to what the blues are sayin’

Mine is just another scene
From a world of broken dreams
The nightlife ain’t no good life
But it’s my life

To explain the trauma that occurred at the New York City apartment of my aunt Henriette, who sought to be an opera singer for the Metropolitan Opera and her husband, Morton, who presented himself as her trainer, I must go back a couple of years to a time and location where a musical influence imprinted itself on my immature mind. I will also check out whether David Rochester’s wide-ranging musical knowledge and tastes overlap with my erratic tastes in regard to jazz.

In the 1950s, computers were still new, and the field of computer science had not yet developed into the specialized profession it is now. After his first heart attack, my father, a brilliant man who had neither a college degree nor a good job, talked his way into becoming accepted for training as a computer programmer for a defense contractor, and my family was launched on a hopscotch trek across the United States that took me from the Orange County, California townlet of Brea to Paterson, New Jersey, to Suffern, New York, to Woodstock, New York (yes, that Woodstock, but not yet a national icon) to Madison, Wisconsin.

As a dorky adolescent of about 15 years of chronological age but about five years in emotional maturity, though a five-year-old with adolescent hormones, I enrolled in Verona High School, in a rural suburb of Madison. Hormones that raged when as a piccolo player who could not march in step my love-struck eyes caressed the fair form of Delores, the trumpet player, who later joined the Marines.

Hormones that raged at night when I thought of Renate sleeping in the next upstairs bedroom in our rental house.

Renate was a German woman in her 20s who become engaged to a GI and came to United States to wed him. Something went amiss and they broke up, leaving her stranded in Wisconsin, USA.

Renate struck me as an incredibly sensual, sexy young woman. Of course, to a 15 year old male, almost any female person with breasts seems like an incredibly sensual, sexy woman. However, although Renate was not spectacular in face or figure as young women go, she must have had something incredible going in the pheromone business because almost every American man who met her immediately asked her for a date and then asked her to marry him by the time he took her home.

Jim, a co-worker of my dad’s who parked his house trailer next to our house, accepted Renate’s rejection of him with enough equanimity to introduce her to my family. My parents invited the German stray to live with us. She helped my ineffectual mother with the kids and the chores. My father had learned some German from my previous best friend’s German Jewish refugee mother; Renate provided an opportunity to practice his German some more. People who knew my family wondered what my mother was thinking when she consented to this arrangement, though as far as I know, nothing more untoward than conjugating German verbs occurred between Renate and my dad.

While Jim was at work, he let my siblings and me (and Renate as well) have the run of his trailer. Mostly we used his stereo, which was much better than anything my family had. Mostly I listened to his jazz albums. Mostly Renate listened to his one Frank Sinatra album over and over and over and over and… If this were a novel, something exciting might have happened in Jim’s bedroom, I suppose, but it’s not a novel; just a memoir of a dorky adolescent.

Upstairs in my bedroom in the cold Wisconsin night, unable to sleep as I fantasized about how a sophisticated German woman (who had too many adult males salivating over her to want to have anything to do with a dorky teenage boy) might introduce me to the mysteries of sex, I pressed my AM clock radio to my ear and listened to the far-off stations that drifted across the American prairies at night. Two types of music imprinted themselves on my still musically unformed mind.

One type of music, drifting up from stations in Nashville, emerged from mournful guitars and harmonicas played by blues singers such as Howling Wolf and Little Walter. Blues such as that provide my favorite music even now to inspire me to keep my legs moving as I plug away on my treadmill.

The second type of music was jazz. At that time, children who fancied themselves alienated (and maybe slightly “beat”) listened to “modern” jazz. My impression of modern jazz was that a combo would state a theme, and then soloists such as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk would take turns performing brilliant, if at times raucously discordant, improvisations. (I was not, and still am not, very sophisticated in my musical understanding.)

A slightly different tradition, perhaps corresponding more to chamber music and baroque music, falls under labels such as “cool jazz.” Probably the best known example of this style of music was The Modern Jazz Quartet.

West Coast. During the 1950s, a number of the prototypic “cool” musicians were based in the Los Angeles area, and so the “cool jazz” style was accidentally construed as a regional style and dubbed “West Coast Jazz.” A sizable portion of the major figures who are routinely called “West Coast musicians,” most notably Gerry Mulligan, were not from California and lived there only sporadically during the 1950s. To be fair, however, note that Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Art Pepper, Chet Baker, and others had grown up on the West Coast, bandleader Stan Kenton was based there, quintessential “cool jazz” musician Jimmy Giuffre lived in the Los Angeles area from 1946 to 1960, and many others made their living in orchestras of movie studios there during the 1950s.

Jimmy Giuffre, a thoughtful white Texan who marched not to a different drummer but no drummer at all because he usually did not include drums in his various “chamber jazz”-like groups, at that time played clarinet and saxaphone with guitarist Jim Hall and trombonist Bob Brookmeyer. As they drove from gig to gig across the country in a VW Bus with this version of the “Jimmy Giuffre 3,” they assembled an album they called Traveling Light.

As I listened to the cool, moody jazz travelogue, I was utterly hypnotized. I had to have that album. However, not only was this album not to be found in Verona, Wisconsin about 1966, I doubt there was a jazz album in Verona, Wisconsin in 1966.




Next: The Big Scratch