Is There a “50-Year Rule” for Jazz Vinyl?
A few weeks ago I got into an interesting email discussion with one of our loyal readers, Dave Sockel, who sent me an article about the plummeting market value of Elvis Presley collectibles, particularly old Elvis vinyl. Dave’s email came with the subject line: “A cautionary tale for all of us?” This was my reply:
“I remember reading something a few years ago — I think I posted on Jazz Collector — about a “50-year-rule” for artists. Basically, 50 years after the peak of the artist’s popularity and/or death, he or she is all but forgotten and the demand for their stuff starts to really erode. We’ve kind of seen it with the beboppers in Jazz, and a guy like Art Tatum. When I started collecting, Tatum records were collectibles. Not any more.
“You see it really clearly with popular artists. At one time Bing Crosby was the No. 1 artist in the country, making more money than any other entertainer. Today’s generation has literally never heard of him and, if they have, it would only be because of “White Christmas.” They would have no knowledge of his popularity. My son had some friends over in their 30s. I asked if they had ever heard of Billy Eckstine, who was a big star. My son was the only one that had ever heard of him, and that’s only because of me.”
“Agreed. I have been reading the archive online copies of Hentoff’s Jazz Review from 1958-1960. Probably 2/3s of the record reviews and content is devoted to New Orleans or Dixieland type material with the rest touching on the moderns like Coltrane or Rollins. You couldn’t give away the trad stuff today even to Goodwill. Good news is that the NY 23 copy of Blue Train should be dropping in value soon, right?”
It’s an interesting topic because, clearly, so many of us here in the Jazz Collector community are heavily invested – literally and figuratively – in artists and music that could easily apply to this 50-year rule. The records that have established themselves as the most “collectible” of the era seem only to be going up in value, with no end in sight.
Will there eventually be a drop off in these records. It’s hard to see, frankly, given that the demand remains high and the supply will always be limited. But it’s hard to generalize because there seem to be exceptions to every rule: Charlie Parker Savoys don’t have the same cachet as they once did, but the 10-inch Dials are still in tremendous demand. Same with artists such as Lester Young, Stan Getz, Johnny Hodges and Coleman Hawkins: While their entire catalogues are perhaps not as prized as they once were, there are certain records that still command top dollar and are continuing to go up in value.
Is the Jazz Collector market more like an art market, where the “50-year rule” does not apply? Or will Hank Mobley 1568 to the way of Elvis or Bing Crosby? I happen to think it’s mostly the former – value will continue to increase for the higher end collectibles. Thoughts?