I am a child of the Christmas season, having been born decades ago on the 11th day of Christmas. And this lord has been leaping ever since.
These days, I share some concerns over aging, but one January birthday a few years ago included an epiphany-like experience.
I was speaking with Mary, a young student in one of my classes. She was all giggly and happy after returning from Christmas break, and she told me that her favorite present was a record player purchased at a local thrift store.
I told her that I still had my record collection and often listened while preparing my teaching lessons.
Mary said her aunt had handed over a crate of old 33 1/3 discs for her to spin on her new machine. “I just love the pops and hisses,” she told me. “It’s so much more exciting than hearing CDs.”
She said, “I don’t know any of the groups, but I really don’t care. Everybody probably thinks I’m a geek, but I think the jazz records are the best.”
That’s all I had to hear. My animated talk centered around names like Coltrane, Davis, Holiday and Baker. She probably never heard of them either.
“Who’s the geek now,” I wondered.
I was energized by our encounter. On my way home that night, I found myself driving by the used record store that sells out-of-print recordings; ones that either never made it to CD, or had fallen out of favor.
I’ll surprise Mary with a classic jazz record, I thought. She showed such an interest, maybe I can spark a flame.
At first, I had no luck in the genre. There were plenty of 70's and 80’s music: Barry Manilow, Billy Joel, and Sinatra. Oh, not Sinatra. Mary was definitely not the Rat-Pack type.
In a wooden box, resting far beneath the waist-high tables, I found it: "Dave Brubeck’s Greatest Hits," including his quartet’s best-known standard, “Take Five.” I quickly unsheathed the album from its cardboard cover and was amazed to find a nearly flawless vinyl pressing. Not a scratch to be found.
“This is it,” I whispered. “What a jazz primer. Mary will hear 5/4 time, multiple rhythms, and up-tempo progressions.”
I headed to the cashier but decided to scope out one more record bin. To my surprise, resting comfortably between a copy of "Mario Lanza Sings Christmas Carols" and the original cast recording of "The Man of La Mancha," was Erroll Garner’s 1955 masterpiece, "Concert by the Sea."
I had been searching for this treasure for over a year. It’s number 37 on the New York Times list of the 100 Best Jazz Recordings!
The clerk slid Brubeck and Garner into the same plastic bag, and as I stepped into the cold night air, I couldn’t help but think that 'what goes around, comes around,' might also apply to records.
ED. NOTE: This piece was written and originally read March 28, 2010, at the Writers at the Beach Conference in Rehoboth Beach, Del.