It’s always surprised me that jazz collectors seem to place only marginal value in autographed albums or other memorabilia. There are exceptions of course: A Charlie Parker signature on a contract or a Billie Holiday inscription on a book are extraordinarily rare collectibles that fetch a small fortune whenever they appear on eBay or on auction lists from dealers.
But my experience is that autographs don’t necessarily do much to enhance the value of a collectible. To test this, I recently did a search of completed auctions on eBay in the category of jazz using the key word “autographed.” The results confirmed my theory:
An autographed copy of an original Joe Carroll record on Epic from 1956 in VG+ condition, failed to sell at a minimum bid of $24.99.
A Hank Jones autographed record on Concord fetched one bid at $6.99.
An LP autographed by Lionel Hampton, who had recently died, got a high bid of $4.99.
A Maxine Sullivan LP on Chiaroscuro didn’t get any bids at $6.99.
Also not getting bids were various albums with signatures by such artists as Art Hodes, Dick Johnson and Georgie Auld. Even items you would expect to do well, didn’t: A copy of Chet Baker’s Most Important Jazz Album of 1964/1965, with a dated autograph by Baker, received a high bid of $52 and failed to meet the dealer’s reserve price: An autographed copy of Kenny Dorham/1959 in VG+ condition sold for only $41. Here was the biggest surprise of all: An original pressing of Thelonious Monk’s Brilliant Corners, autographed by Monk, in VG/VG+ condition, sold for $153.50. You would think Monk signing one of his classic albums would sell for a lot more than that.
As a collector, I love finding copies of signed records and I love that I’ve only rarely had to pay a premium for the autographs. Through the years I’ve accumulated signed LPs from such artists as Joe Albany, Benny Carter, Chris Connor, Lockjaw Davis, Herb Ellis, Maynard Ferguson, Stephane Grappelli, Woody Herman, Art Hodes, Sheila Jordan, Herbie Mann, Marion McPartland, Big Nick Nicholas, Dizzy Reece, Billy Taylor and Clark Terry, among others. I keep the autographed records separated from the rest of my collection.
Although I do love having the autographed records, I’ve never been one to actually bring a copy of a record to a concert or club and ask an artist for a signature. I personally find it kind of tacky and intrusive, although I’m sure the artists don’t view it that way. The one time I did bring a record for an autograph was when I saw Carmen McRae perform at The Blue Note with Zoot Sims in the late 1970s. I brought a copy of Carmen McRae Sings Lover Man on Columbia, one of my favorites of her many albums. Even then I didn’t have the nerve to ask for the autograph: I sent my wife back stage. She came back with the autograph but said McRae was not happy, refused to sign at first and only signed because it was an old album that she liked. That was the end of my career as an autograph hound.
It wasn’t, however, the end of my autograph hunting. Through the years I’ve found some interesting stuff in stores and online. One of my favorites is an original copy of Arthur Taylor’s A. T.’s Delight on Blue Note with the 47 West 63rd St. address in mint condition, signed by Taylor in 1980. That one would go for a pretty hefty sum. Other favorites include a 78 of Moody’s Mood For Love signed by James Moody; Other 78s signed by Zoot Sims, J.J. Johnson and Sonny Stitt; And a copy of the book “Satchmo” signed “To Joel, From Satchmo Louis Armstrong.” I don’t know who Joel was, but my late brother’s name was Joel, so I can always fantasize.
But the all-time personal favorite from my collection is a signed album from Sonny Rollins. Rollins is one of my idols, but, more than that, what makes this autograph special to me is the context. It’s a copy of Sonny Meets Hawk from 1963. The album is signed all across the back in dark black marker and inscribed as follows:
“12/13/63. To my friend at ‘A+ P’ with Holiday wishes to you & yours Sincerely Sonny R.”
The idea of Sonny shopping at the local A+P in Brooklyn and giving this as a gift to a friendly clerk and taking the time and interest to sign it, it just makes it so real and personal. And that, I guess, is what the autographs do for me in general: Make the collectible more real and personable and one small step closer to the artist. Now, if I could just get a signature by Bird or Trane . . .