Is There a “50-Year Rule” for Jazz Vinyl?

Three “victims” of the 50-Year Rule

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.

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A Little Bird, A Little Philosophizing

Glad to see there is still some collector interest in Charlie Parker. I had heard this theory, and once discussed it here, that there’s a window of about 50 years for interest in a performer/musician and after that period the people who actually could remember him are no longer around and the influence that he or she engendered, no matter how profound, would eventually fade or be forgotten in the afterglow of artists who succeeded them. This seemed particularly apt in the case of popular artists — a Bing Crosby or Fred Astaire, for example — but it also seems to have impacted the jazz world as well. You don’t get the sense that collectors and even aficionados today have the same esteem for, say, Duke Ellington or Count Basie or even Lester Young that collectors and aficionados had 20 years ago. I think about this a lot and wonder, not just about my collectible records (and their value), but about how history will treat earlier artists and whether their contributions will be remembered in the perspective of their era and the eras that came subsequent to their contributions. Artists like, say, Johnny Hodges or Art Tatum or even Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz (and no, I’m not just focusing on the Verve label, although those provide good examples). This came to mind because

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