95th: Put not your meat to your mouth with your knife in your hand; neither spit forth the stones of any fruit pie upon a dish nor cast anything under the table.
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FAREWELL TO ART TATUM
28 November 2004
I finally managed to get Art Tatum out of my house.
Despite being blind in one eye and only partially sighted in the other, Art Tatum is considered by many to be the greatest jazz piano player who ever lived. My father, who ate, drank, slept and played jazz piano was an avid fan of Art Tatum. It always amazed me that my father could hear two or three notes of a recording of jazz piano and knew it was Art Tatum. He was a pianist's pianist.
My father had huge collection of records, which he began collecting in his youth, when all that was available was 78 rpm records. When long playing 33-1/3 rpm records came in, he switched from 78s to LPs. He died before CDs became popular.
He always told me that the records would be worth a fortune and, at one point, I'm sure they were. He had classic recordings long out of availability and if it was quality jazz piano, recorded between the 1920s and the 1980s, he probably had it.
When he died, I inherited the record collection. I let the kids go through everything and take what they wanted, I took what I wanted and what was left over could stock a small record shop. Everyone told me that I could make a lot of money off the records if I'd drive them around to record collectors, but it wasn't worth the time, money, and effort to me to do that, so I called around, trying to find someone who would just take the lot off my hands--the crap as well as the good stuff.
Ultimately I found someone who would take the bunch for something like $150, but he would come to my house and cart it away, and that was worth the loss of whatever I could get by driving them around all over hell and gone for me (ironically, the Life magazines my father collected throughout the war, that we always teased him about, which filled only two boxes, I was able to sell to a used book store for $300!)
The exception in the record sale was all of my father's 78 records. Paul had asked that I not sell them because they were so closely tied with Grandpa and he just couldn't bear to part with them.
If I had sold them at that time, I might have been able to find a buyer.
Paul never looked at or played the records after his grandfather died and they take up a lot of room. A lot of room. At some point after Paul died, I invited the husband of a co-worker to come and look at them. I knew that Sean collected 78s and his wife told me he would be in 7th heaven to have the chance to take some of the records.
Sean came and looked at the collection and was both overwhelmed by the numbers and underwhelmed by the quality. He told me he'd come back in a week to go through them more thoroughly. He never showed up.
When we recently moved Walt's mother's bookcase into the house, the only way it would fit was if I removed the 78s from the record cabinet downstairs. (We had found a place for the bulk of the 78s upstairs, but I still had two shelves full of 78s downstairs.)
I was ready to sell them to anybody who would take them off my hands. I called Sean back to give him the right of first refusal. He showed up to look at the records that I needed to get rid of immediately. He took two records.
One thing I learned from Sean was that where the "value" of these records would have been is if my father had kept them in the original sleeves, but he had bought albums which each held 10-12 records, and he had most of his records in these albums. The records were each labeled and the albums at one time carefully catalogued so he could find anything at any time.
But the fact that he took them out of the original sleeves (and pasted paper labels on them) made them, Sean tells me, essentially worthless.
Also, in the years since my father died "remastering" has made collecting rare recordings easier. These old scratchy 78s are re-recorded and cleaned up so that they sound better and put onto more durable CDs. The collector might want to have the original packaging but, of course, I don't have that.
You also can hardly find a turntable that will play records of any kind any more--and one that will play 78s is very hard (or expensive) to come by.
After Sean took what he wanted I was faced with all these piles of albums of 78 records I didn't want.
In addition to the fact that they were stacked all over the floor was the fact that Sheila discovered a taste for the glue that held the spines of the albums together. Over the weeks, she has managed to chew most of them, despite my yelling at her, blocking them off, and doing whatever I could to keep her from them. There wasn't a single album that wasn't teeth-marked and some had pretty much been eaten completely away.
My mother finally told me that the thrift shop where she worked handled 78s and would be happy to take them. I was ready to move them to the car to take them to her when the big brouhaha exploded which resulted in my mother quitting her job.
I was back to square one looking for a home for the damn 78s.
Finally, my mother went back to work at the thrift store and was willing to take the 78s. There is some irony in the fact that these records she had to contend with all of her life, which I'd now been storing for 20 years, were going back to her care again!
Before we left for Thanksgiving dinner, we loaded all the records into the trunk of the car and then moved them all to the trunk of my mother's car. My floor is finally free of 78s and Art Tatum is gone.
I still have lots of 78s upstairs, but they are all in cabinets and out of the way, so now that I know they are essentially worthless, I am not as pressed to try to get rid of them.
My father always told me that my fortune would come when I sold his records after his death. I'm glad that he never found out that the records he felt were priceless to him were essentially worthless to the rest of the world.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Ned and Grandma, Thanksgiving Night