Track Selection: Doug’s Blues ( long – 12:00)
Donald Byrd (tp) Joe Gordon (tp) Hank Mobley (ts) Horace Silver (p) Doug Watkins (b) Art Blakey (d) recorded Cambridge, MA, December 2, 1955
One of Byrd’s first albums as leader at the age of 23, joined by the young 25-year-old Hank Mobley, and fellow trumpet-player Joe Gordon, ably supported by stalwarts Blakey, Silver and Watkins. It is also a “live concert setting”, a fairly novel idea as to how to get the best performance and recording. Whilst Van Gelder would often take all his recording equipment out to Bohemia or Birdland to record a live date, on this occasion they brought a live audience into a recording studio in Cambridge Massachusetts, no doubt Harvard and MIT hep-cats diggin’ the scene, to give the musicians audience rapport. Cool idea and an improvement on the Village Vanguard clink of cutlery, and Bohemia’s boisterous drinkers. Nothing but the sound of twenty hep-cats gently stroking their goatees, and breathing the occasional Yeah. Very cool.
Vinyl: Esquire 32-013 first UK release of US Transition label TRLP4
Released in 1956 on original Transition TRLP 4, available only as the original Transition, the UK Esquire release from the same year, or seen as a Japan reissue from 1989 under the non-existent “Blue Note” label. The Esquire is a beautiful pressing, using the original Transition stampers. With its signature RVG handwritten initials, the recording is everything you expect of a Van Gelder. Bright, full, cohesive, a joy to listen to. The bad news is here:
Records on the short-lived Transition label are considered genuinely rare, particularly in collectible condition, and fiercely expensive (or “valuable”, depending on which side of the buy/sell divide you sit). 1956 was early in the curve of radiogram ownership and the microgroove unbreakable LP, lacking the corporate support of big labels like Blue Note, and these were at the time not as well-known young artists as five years later. This is not of course Transition, but equally rare Esquire. I have never seen a copy come to market before.
RVG hand-written initials, original Transition catalogue number etched on the stamper
Cover yellowed by its 55 years of age
Sellers Grading: “Top Copy. Beautiful. Rare in this condition”
(Collectors of CDs, modern reissues and free downloads might want to avert their eyes at this point. Post contains explicit references to money, which cheapskates may find offensive )
This record does not cross your path every day. Or every year, even. Can we talk? Lets be blunt: this was not cheap. Gentlemen don’t talk money, at least not in polite circles, but this went over my house limit. The price on eBay was set by a sniper who wanted it as much as me, a real collector with an eBay score of three hundred records, and if you are out there, na na na! I’ve had it done to me too many times to feel any sympathy. See what a heartless monster eBay turns you into?
Lao Tsu and the Art of War. A warrior’s mental preparation for battle.
From the outset, you must remain entirely focussed on your objective – which is to win this record. No near miss, no nice guys come second, you want this record.
You research its market worth in this condition carefully through Popsike, and then what you think it will actually sell for – winners will often pay more than it is worth in order to win. Has the seller called it “rare!”? Is it? Then you think hard what is the maximum you would be prepared to pay for it, add a bit, then add a bit more, as you wouldn’t want to lose for the sake of a few pounds.
Your mind is now entirely clear. Your destiny awaits. You type in the figure on your snipe.
Final day of auction, and it approaches high noon. The clock ticks. The streets are empty. Somewhere a dog barks, breaking the silence. Snipers check their weapons. As close approaches, the tension mounts, sweat droplets glisten on your brow, your mouth is dry. You take a final swig of whisky. Its show time.
Eyes darting both ways you quickly check that you are still in play. Sometimes it’s already through the roof, and you have to decide if you are going to walk away. This one was still sitting at £20, a fraction of its worth, meaning the real price was now down to the snipers. Serious bidders don’t bid early, they snipe in the closing seconds.You get only one shot. The greatest risk is someone else behind a keyboard somewhere else in the world has the same idea.
Then the final minute of countdown arrives. In the closing seconds half-dozen snipes hit and the price on the screen leapfrogs wildly, and then it is done. Over.
And so it came about, that there was someone else with the same idea. Another bidder who was serious, knew its worth, and wanted it too. Down more to luck, the figure I decided on was slighty more than theirs. Email incoming lights up the screen. Congratulations Enjoy your record. Now it’s time to pay.
Footnote: the Esquire sold for around one fifth of the price of an equivalent Transition. And it’s just as “gorgeous”.