Sunday, April 13, 2014

Music and Life at 33 1/3

From across the street, it looks like an ordinary store on a busy little street in suburban St. Louis. I could read the sign. Euclid. The name was familiar, but I hadn't been here before. This required a closer look. I crossed.

Euclid Records. Might as well. I had time to kill before an appointment. I grew up with records. 78’s. 45’s. And especially LP’s. 

I walked in. Big place. Lots of bins, shelves. Signs that said Rock and Soul and Rap and Latin. Didn't seem very promising, at least not for me. 

I noticed a landing on the right, stairs leading up, sign beckoning to me, insisting I go on up. Birdland. Jazz Corner of the World. I had spent many a night there, decades ago, time in New York hunting down jazz players and clubs. Especially the Sacred Temple of them all: Birdland. I looked at my watch. Okay, so I might be a little late for that meeting. Up I went.                                  

My first thought on looking out at the second floor was “Field of Dreams”  - an endless field of vinyl.Build it and they will come. And I was there. Not on this Thursday. Not on this day in March of 2014. But on a day when I still lived at home, dad at the shoe store, mom shopping or at the beauty parlor, my brother playing baseball. And I had my record collection. Dozens of LP’s at first, then hundreds, finally three thousand.

The great names lived here in Euclid, side by side from Armstrong through Zavinul. Albums I had once owned, wished I still had, except not enough space.

Names like Gerry Mulligan, Benny Goodman, Mose Allison, Jazz at the Phil, Oscar, Brubeck, Duke, Monk, Stan, Miles, MJQ. My field of dreams with all the legends waiting there to be picked up, their jackets read, the black vinyl slipped out, carefully laid on the turntable, needle lowered, then sit back, dig the sounds, and read the liner notes. Until they were memorized. The recording dates, the musicians at each and every position, the tunes and composers and length of the cut, bits of history or back story, photos in black and white.

I wanted to meet the person in charge of these treasures. Probably the same guy that bought my 3000 albums a dozen years ago. A door near the top of the steps said “Office.” I knocked. “C’mon in,” he said. I did. Just as I hoped: his office was a mini-museum. 

Joe Schwab, the owner, looked up from his computer while I told him I had an idea about writing something for my blog. We talked, about jazz and the record business and Euclid Records. The wall behind him was covered with jazz photos, many of them, he told me, taken at Peacock Alley, the fabled jazz club in midtown St. Louis during the 50’s, before The City tore down all the historic old buildings for some civic progress concept.

A short conversation with Joe, then I walked back, meandered down the aisles, picked up an occasional album, its weight and shape so familiar to my hands. Old friends waiting to be heard once again. They say you can't go home again. Sure, you can. At Euclid Records. At least for me. And other record stores that know the value of jazz lp's. 

Yes, there are time machines. They travel at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute. They can take you back fifty years and more, as clean as a whistle, as clear as a dear friend’s face. As pure as a tenor sax solo.