I guess I'm the first one to report in after having left yesterday from the
ARSC conference. I opted to not to stay for the banquet and have to shell out
an extra $139 on a bed 3x too big for me so I hopped a sunset flight back to
The conference was a great success, with an unofficial pre-reg count of 175,
which beat last year's record in Austin. A front page story on vinyl
collectors in relation to the conference appeared in the Seattle Times on Thursday,
so that probably helped bring in some walk-in registrants. There was a
caveat, however. The correspondent warned that most of the sessions were
"esoteric," (as Seinfeld would say, "not that there's anything wrong with that...") but
did recommend two presentations as being potentially "accessible," Roberta
Freund Schwartz's tongue-in-cheek historiography of "Louie Louie" and (gasp!)
my examination of Elektra album cover art (I don't know whether or not to be
offended by being called "accessible." Maybe I'm losing my touch?)
But regardless of the above, most of the regulars were there - Kurt Nauck
and Patrick Feaster ran the proceedings splendidly and most of the presenters
were adequately prepared. There was a problem (as there always is) with a
banquet in the next ballroom, where the PA system was inadvertently patched into
our room as well. So in the middle of some of the presentations on Friday,
you'd hear "will everyone take their seats!" and the ARSCers would look around
to see who was standing up. When I finished my presentation, there was a
spontaneous burst of applause from next door. I didn't think they were paying
Weather was spectacular for most of the weekend. It drizzled a little on
Friday but it was Chamber of Commerce weather for the rest of the time. I
enjoyed a long walk on Saturday, preferring a birds-eye view of Seattle from the
Space Needle to a report on John Cage's music. I was dismayed upon returning,
however, to find that I had not only missed the Cage talk, but so did everyone
else, since the presenter had been unable to show. The dismay was due to a
last minute replacement - a screening of rare country-western films featuring
Jimmy Wakely, Johnny Bond, Noel Boggs, and Speedy West (drat!).
Steve Ramm took me to Bud's Jazz Records, a below-street-level used LP shop
in Pioneer Square, the Bohemian (read: lotsa homeless people and assorted
weirdos) sector of town. I bought a selection of inexpensively priced LPs,
including Ray Anthony's "Jam Session at the Tower," a neat LP from 1956 featuring
a nifty early shot of the just-completed Capitol Tower and jamming by a lot
of Hollywood session men (Conrad Gozzo, Med Flory, Paul Smith and others)
The Pike Street Market Place is always brimming with activity. Buskers
playing blues on weatherbeaten guitars, fish marketers throwing 30 lb. King
salmons, and lots of hustle and bustle. Downstairs were two very interesting shops
- one was "Holy Cow Records," a CD and used LP store that also had some
rifled-through 78s (their logo is a dreamy-looking bovine with wings and a halo...
get it?). Found a couple of interesting things there - an alternative cover
of "Evening at L'Abbaye" by Gordon Heath & Lee Payant on Elektra that I
didn't know existed (same design, just a color change on the front) and the 80th
anniversary commemorative 78 of the ODJB's "Original Dixieland One Step/Livery
Stable Blues," pressed on vinyl with a wonderful reproduction of the
original label. This 78 came out in 1997 as a promotional tool to herald the
8-volume CD set on RCA Victor jazz but was only available to the press. At $10, I
considered it a bargain.
Also got a chance to see Bobby "Blue" Bland at Dimitriou's Jazz Alley, and
despite the warnings by some on-liners, Bland actually put on a great show. It
was the second set on Thursday night, Bland's first for the weekend, so he
was probably about as spry as he was going to be. Bland is 76 and had to be
assisted to the stage by a handler clad in white from head to toe. There was an
upholstered stool set up for Bobby and he never moved from it. He had a crack
band with him (flugelhorn, trumpet, trombone, keyboard - set to Hammond B-3
mode - guitar, bass & drums) that knew him well enough when to play sotto
voce. That's when Bobby shined. He picked out one patron (a 25-year old white
male) sitting directly in front of him, and did the whole show to him. He
would have musical conversations with the guy - improvising questions musically
with the band playing softly behind him. He did "St. James Infirmary," "Stormy
Monday Blues" without missing tempo and right on pitch. He just seemed to be
conserving his strength. On louder songs he was completely drowned out by the
band. But he used his apparent weakness to his advantage, and the result was
a wonderfully intimate performance for only about 40 people (the house
capacity was 400). I'll try and post some pictures from my digital camera.
Steve Ramm chose to go see another double B act, Bobby Bare and his son,
Bobby Jr. and the famous Showbox. He'll report on that I'm sure when he returns.
As for the conference, there were many highlights. The annual Mike Biel Show
is now a tandem. Daughter Leah did a fine job filling in the blank spaces
while Mike changed transparencies (hey, Mike! Learn Powerpoint!) in a terrific
program on manipulation of voice speed on record; he played all the
prerequisites - "Purple People Eater," "Babbitt & the Bromide," "Witch Doctor," but
also showed shots of a fascinating old contraption called the Whirling Dervish
that helped speed up sound without changing the pitch.
Sam Brylawski gave an update on the online Victor Discographical project,
Marie Azile O'Connell gave a paper on how "not" to conduct an oral history,
playing some horrific examples. Helice Koffler reported on "The Golden Apple,"
the '50s flop Broadway musical and its place in the Columbia/RCA battle for
supremacy during that decade. Newcomer Jonathan Ward contributed a piece on a
genre few of us were aware of: musicals created by corporations such as Coca
Cola, Ford, and Westinghouse that were stage for stockholders only. There has
been a flurry of these that were put on LP, available only internally that are
uproariously bad, but they persisted throughout the '50s, '60s, and '70s.
There were two terrific reports on politics - one presented recorded
conversations by Presidents Kennedy, Nixon, and Johnson that showed them in their
true colors. The most stunning of these was a Dictaphone memo by LBJ talking
about a "Knowledge Network" of the future that would enable scholars from one
of the end world to access archives in another, basically predicting the
Internet long before Al Gore ever thought up the idea himself. The other was an
examination of political campaigning on record.
Ava Lawrence gave an informative talk on the nuts and bolts of music
licensing (in a parallel session) as well as the erudite Dennis Rooney's report on
New York pianist Milton Kaye, who is still recording at 97.
And finally, Roberta Schwartz's analysis of the roots of "Louie Louie," (it
was actually a modified cha cha in its original form) and revealed the rather
mundane lyrics (it's more of a sea shanty than anything else).
I'm sure others will have lots to add to my thoughts on the session, but
those were my personal highlights.
Origin Jazz Library