Guest Column: Blue Note Angst

Our friend Daryl Parks, who wrote a previous post on originals versus reissues, has written another piece, this one around the angst of both owning and selling original Blue Note records (and others) worth a lot of money. Here ’tis.

By Daryl Parks

Let me cut to the chase: I am selling first-press, holy grail Blue Notes this week. In our Jazz Collector community, we rarely discuss the emotions related to such sales, so I will. I’m not sure that I’m doing the right thing by selling these records. I am guess that your comments or bids will let me know.

I began to follow Jazz Collector some six years ago. A retired neighbor had given me a few pristine jazz lp’s worth a few dozen dollars, which caused me to learn as much as I could. Al and the JC family taught me more than I ever knew I wanted to know about jazz records: first editions, grooves, initials in the runoff, and more. As I knew I would never be able to afford the rarest of the rare first editions at the center of the site’s clamor (e.g., Blue Note, Prestige, New Jazz) I stood offstage with my re-issues and infrequent Impulse first presses for five years. I often dreamed about owning just one of the rare ones described and discussed. (Fast forward) Then, last year, out of the blue, I owned six.

I knew enough about jazz vinyl to help a jazz family sort and plan to sell a major collection of 6,000 lp’s from their passed loved one. After the organizing and pricing, as they neared the sale, they allowed me to buy some solid Blue Notes – Jackie McLean, Art Blakey at Birdland , Art Blakey at Jazz Corner , – along with a couple that appeared less significant at the time, an obscure (1972) private press of 90 (?) free jazz lp of New Art Transformation and a “Liberty” press of Wayne Shorter Adam’s Apple. It was an open, solid deal for both of us, even as the buyers of the 6,000 lp collection stood at the door. (Dang, I wish I could have afforded that Tina Brooks.)

I’ve read every word on those sleeves in the year since. I’ve listened alone in the dark as each pristine groove played. “Wow, wow, wow,” I would tell myself. “I cannot believe I own these!” Over time, however, my love of these rare Blue Notes has struggled to keep pace with their dollar values. As I noted in a previous JC article it may be that my 53-year-old ears or my audio equipment is somehow disconnected from the quality those first press grooves emit; moreover, the pull of first presses as “objects” is simply not as significant for me as most of my Jazz Collector mentors. I’ve struggled to reconcile the difference between the financial value of my first presses and the sound of the reissues of the same lp.

I’ve loved owning the wildly rare, “impossible to find,” “thick American cardboard” lp’s of first press Blue Notes (& a rarer free jazz lp) that I’d coveted for so long. That said, I have placed them for sale. It’s hard for this educator to justify owning items that I cannot appreciate to the full extent of their value.

One more point of interest, I think: I actually worried about these lp’s. Every time I took them out, I wanted an outfit like John Travolta starring in the Boy in the Bubble. I worried if my turntable was adjusted perfectly. I worried that one of my kids would touch the cover with jelly on their fingers. I worried that I might drop an lp on my unvacuumed rug.

Next weekend the auctions will end. I will pay my great pal, TJNovak — the conservative grader with the perfect history — for consigning them. I will pay Ebay and Paypal. With the rest of the money, I will first pay for the reissues of the exact same lp’s, allowing me to enjoy them with my ears, system, and family situation, as I tell others, “Ya know, I once owned the first press of this!” I will then (mentally) pay for all of the records I’ve bought the past five years at thrift stores and estate sales that turned out to be duds in ways that I was not educated enough to spot at those times. I will also pay for more of the Impulse and Riverside records that I’m more comfortable touching, along with additional BN reissues, to expand my growing love of jazz vinyl. I will also send some back to the family from which I bought the first presses, I mean… none of us foresaw a first-press, Shorter Liberty skyrocketing like this. Really, I did not mean to underpay that much.

When it is all done, I will remain unsure that I have chosen wisely. It’s not that I fear that their values will skyrocket in the years ahead, though they may. It’s not that I deeply fear I would have scratched or ruined one of them. It’s more the certainty that I do not/will not appreciate their amazing value as BOTH objects and sources of sound, as reflected in their potential financial worth. I am blissful listening to the reissues of the same lp, though they would likely sound better with Al’s smoking influence. I just want to sell them to JC family members who can appreciate their entire, whole, “damn-I –finally got that” worth.

17 comments

  • That Blue Freedom’s New Art Transformation is a significant record, although not well-known. It’s certainly a sterling example of self-produced recordings in the 1970s, and the distillation of European free music approaches (FMP, ICP, Incus, et al.) by young players in the American Midwest. Some copies came with hand-drawn/painted covers, others with this printed image.

  • Lucky is the man who has no regrets !

  • geoffrey wheeler

    The cover of the Jackie McLean “Jackie’s Bag” is mindful of the package for the rare and expensive Francis Paudras book, “To Bird with Love.” I bought a NM copy, complete with box, for $300 and sold it for around $900. I also have the Paudras book about Bud Powell, “Dance of the Infidels.”

    As for selling rare and collectible Blue Notes, what you say makes good sense.

  • I am amazed by the mono vs. stereo price gap on Shorter’s “Adam’s Apple”! The stereo goes for prices that seem right for a Liberty pressing, but I see your mono is already going up up up!

  • The Maclean does not seem to be having a deep groove?

  • Hard to tell about the McLean, the pictures aren’t very clear. Higher res shots with better lighting would go a long way.

  • Thanks for great article. There goes more of my “nest egg”, whatever……

  • You might want to inform TJNovak that he has the incorrect address of your “Art Blakey at Birdland” eBay listing as 161 Lex, and not 767 Lex…

  • Daryl…

    I’m a high-end audiophile and collector. And I usually shun making any comments on these sites, but I felt compelled to be honest where others may be reluctant as it pertains to your question.

    It’s not surprising you think the French DMM reissues sound better than the original Blue Note 1st editions. However it’s not your 53 year old ears (as you’ve suggested) but your 40 year old system that’s the issue. Your system/components were built in the early 1980’s. More specifically your Rotel RA 812 integrated amp delivering 45 watts/channel accompanied by an old Dual 5000 semi-automatic belt driven turntable played through a pair of rebuilt Advent speakers is not going to deliver the delicate nuances, warm fidelity or exceptional separation imbedded in the grooves of those 1st edition Blue Note gems.

    In theory if you don’t plan on upgrading your (approximate 40 year old) system you should sell your 1st editions. Reissues are great alternatives/options for old inexpensive systems. In fact just one rare original 1st edition Blue Note record would sell for more than your entire system is worth today. Some friendly advice, if the vinyl is more valuable than your entire system some changes should made.

    Lastly I own a NM- 1st edition pressing of Blue Note 4051 titled “Jackie’s Bag” and the 1st edition’s have double sided deep grooves. The copy tjnovak is selling for you doesn’t look as though it has the double sided deep groove nor is there any mention of a deep groove in the item description. From the markings it appears to be a review copy not a 1st edition as it’s listed. Good luck

  • I tend to agree, with the caveat that a lot of people are more interested in the artifacts than the system they’re played on. I collect (primarily) avant-garde jazz, which certainly doesn’t come cheaply these days, but dealing with small label private pressings and sometimes creative recording ‘engineers’ would not be enhanced by a $5,000 or $10,000 stereo. Those muffled drums and clarinet shrieks aren’t gonna sound that much more present on such a system to warrant the price tag.

    But yes, original modern jazz records in mint condition on a high end stereo sound great. Same with a lot of audiophile non-jazz records: I had the pleasure of listening to a German RCA pressing of Lou Reed’s “Berlin” on Lou’s very expensive studio setup and damn if it didn’t sound awesome. If money were no challenge most of us would choose *both* stereo and high end albums and not have to make decisions.

  • Dimitri, the OLD word you used in describing Daryl’s system is irrelevant.

    My System comprises of Tannoy Monitor Golds dpeaker drivers from the early 1960’s
    a Vintage Ortofon MC SPU, a Vintage Garrard 401 deck with SME 3012 arm from the 1960’s some vintage Valve amps (Tubes to you guys)…
    and let me tell you my man, it can extract everything and more you describe!

    But i agree with the message you are getting across regarding reissues..
    That said, there are some mighty fine reissues out there..at a premium

  • Shaft– I spent hours making certain that I had every detail correct on these lp’s. While Jackie’s Bag was super heavy, first press address, & “Review Copy” stamped, it does not have the DG like the other two– (DG= the wide groove beneath the paper label in the middle, as I understood it). I will let the experts make sense of what that means. I can tell you it is clean & plays pristine. Every detail on these records is conservative.

  • Dimitri– Just saw your comment. Thank you for your feedback. I agree with your statements regarding the lp. I did not mention DG or First Press with that lp. Best wishes for your collecting in 2018.

  • Daryl, thanks for clarification!

  • Wow, didn’t see that coming! Is that the highest price a Liberty Blue Note has sold for?

  • I know right? One actually sold for about a thousand a while back …

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