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Roaring 78s, Roaring '20s
May 6, 2004 1:33 PM   Subscribe

Joe Bussard is the self-proclaimed king of record collectors (pre-war 78s, of course). He'll even make you a tape. According to Bussard, jazz died in 1933. Were the '20s America's golden age? Great art, architecture, movies, and even coins.
posted by hyperizer (24 comments total)

 
According to Bussard, jazz died in 1933.

Wrong.
posted by bluedaniel at 1:41 PM on May 6, 2004


Down in the Basement - Joe Bussard's Treasure Trove of Vintage 78s
posted by y2karl at 1:43 PM on May 6, 2004


Terry Zwigoff, director of Ghost World and Bad Santa, agrees on the date:

What does the term “old-time music” mean to you?

To me it means pre-1933, with a few exceptions. I collect records from 1926 to 1932 mostly. I tend to think that a lot of these records represent music that was unchanged since the turn of the century. Old-time music to me infers that it’s pure and in some regards unsullied by outside influences, even though that’s really impossible.

Do you regard this period as the “golden era” of recorded music?

Oh, yeah, the late 1920s. To me, that’s old-time music. And past that, well, if I hear a Milton Brown record from the mid-30s I might really like it, but I don’t consider it old-time music. It’s just been too influenced by the modern age. The older music is more backwoods and I think of it as representing real isolated pockets of eccentricity.

What happened to that eccentricity?

I see radio, or mass communications in general, as ruining that isolation, which to me is what’s most interesting about it. People started imitating. People could hear Bing Crosby on the radio, so they’d all try to sound like him instead of having enough faith in their own weirdness to keep it going.

posted by y2karl at 1:48 PM on May 6, 2004


y2karl - for whatever reason, this guy reminds me of my (admittedly uninformed) opinion of what you might be like.
posted by jonson at 1:49 PM on May 6, 2004


bluedaniel,
Uh-uh. Right. Whatever jazz of value that was done after 1933 was only an echo of what went before. Like most art forms, the first statement was the purest and most essential, and all further production was only commentary upon, reiteration of, or dissipation of that original power. And that's okay. Nothing is meant to last forever. Let us thank our lucky stars that 20s jazz squeaked in through the then-just-opening window of recorded sound. As for the rest of 1920s culture, there is much to be said for it as a kind of golden age, especially in film. By way of evidence, I give you the films of F.W. Murnau, especially "Sunrise"-- the greatest movie ever made.
posted by Faze at 1:51 PM on May 6, 2004


y2karl - for whatever reason, this guy reminds me of my (admittedly uninformed) opinion of what you might be like.

Nah, I have friends who think like this. They consider me a sellout.
posted by y2karl at 1:55 PM on May 6, 2004


I agree, Sunrise is incredible. But I'd been saving up that Lon Chaney link for a while ;-)
posted by hyperizer at 2:00 PM on May 6, 2004


What happened in 1933? Proliferation of radio or something? While I've come accosts some nifty troves of 78's, I've always avoided them since it seems to lead to fetishizing the object over the music. 78's seem to be a gateway drug to nerdly tendencies I fear are only barely latent in my soul. But I'm glad somebody is preserving them. Also, this post on (via boingboing) on archiving old recordings without a needle.
posted by bendybendy at 2:08 PM on May 6, 2004


For the sake of nitpicking, Jazz was essentially stillborn, since it was heavily influenced by Ragtime.

The pure stuff, free of any co-opting, had pretty much faded away in 1899, a good 20 years or so before "the 20's".

/sarcasm
posted by Smart Dalek at 2:14 PM on May 6, 2004


The only pure music is the roars of dinosaurs, echoing across the primaeval landscape.

That shit is totally hardcore.
posted by Spacelegoman at 2:43 PM on May 6, 2004


He'll even make you a tape.

Just wait until the RIAA finds out about this! Can anyone say "raid" ;-)
posted by milnak at 2:50 PM on May 6, 2004


Stomp & Swerve: American Music Gets Hot, 1843-1924 is a good book (disclaimer: by a friend of mine) and accompanying cd on the subject.
posted by liam at 2:56 PM on May 6, 2004


According to Bussard, jazz died in 1933.

So I gather that mr. Bussard, unlike y2karl, is not a die-hard Norah Jones fan?
posted by 111 at 3:11 PM on May 6, 2004


Whatever jazz of value that was done after 1933 was only an echo of what went before. Like most art forms, the first statement was the purest and most essential, and all further production was only commentary upon, reiteration of, or dissipation of that original power.

You're either being sarcastic, or you're wrong. IMHO, artistic inspiration of any kind just plain doesn't work in that fashion. Even art that's considered revolutionary at the time takes influences from something that came before--Picasso's cubist era was influenced by African masks, the Velvet Underground nicked riffs from Chuck Berry and Terry Riley, etc., etc. So if you consider Duke Ellington's or Miles Davis' music to be somehow invalid or derivative just because it takes influences from early jazz (and Broadway, and Tin Pan Alley, and ragtime, and in Miles' case, rock, funk and the electronic avant-garde), then you've got to consider those early jazz cats to be equally invalid as they no doubt had their own influences as well. It's just that the guys who influenced the first recorded jazzmen weren't necessarily recorded themselves. Sure, there's sheet music, but so much of what jazz is about involves things that usually aren't, or even can't, be recorded in music notation.
posted by arto at 3:21 PM on May 6, 2004


Faze, that theory would negate Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and about a few thousand other artists at the very least.

The best quote on this would be that of Frank Zappa, who once said, "Jazz isn't dead. It just smells funny."

If jazz is dead, how the hell I've been making a living for 20 years is a wonder.

And we don't spin Norah Jones.
posted by bluedaniel at 3:21 PM on May 6, 2004


arto nailed it, posting at the same time I had.
posted by bluedaniel at 3:23 PM on May 6, 2004


and in Miles' case, rock, funk and the electronic avant-garde

Yeah, the phone it in from the bar part of his repertoire....
posted by y2karl at 3:47 PM on May 6, 2004


That's a little extreme, dude, I'd hardly call Bitches Brew "phoned in."

As for the Bussard comp: I own a copy and it's got some absolutely revelatory stuff on it. No matter how annoying their purist tendencies can be, guys like this do us a great service by preserving all this great music. I wrote about it last June [self-link].

I tried to buy a tape from the site last year, but some technical snafu kept my purchase from going through.
posted by jonmc at 6:34 PM on May 6, 2004


That's a little extreme, dude, I'd hardly call Bitches Brew "phoned in."

The trumpet was.
posted by y2karl at 7:14 PM on May 6, 2004


So maybe it's a shitty Miles record but a great Teo Macero (sp?) one?

Anyways, mad respect to Bussard for putting this stuff together, it just gets under my skin when anybody has this notion that great art (in whatever medium) stopped at Year X. I mean, if you're gonna create some movement or style explicitly based on influences before some cutoff date (a la the Pre-Raphaelites or the White Stripes) in order to create something new, that's cool, but to sit there as a listener or critic and suggest that nothing great has been made, or can be made, after Year X, strikes me as arrogant, anti-life, and basically wrong.

In fairness, though, it also gets my goat when people refuse to listen to music because it's too old. But really, that's the folly of the young, right?
posted by arto at 10:21 PM on May 6, 2004


it just gets under my skin when anybody has this notion that great art (in whatever medium) stopped at Year X

Mine, too. My aforementioned moldy fig friends used to jerk me around major when they were managers at the WFMU-ish underground FM station where I did my music shows in the 70s because I liked funk and ska and reggae. We would have these arguments when I wanted to do shows on other than country blues or early jazz. Music isn't over just because you can't keep up, is what I used to tell them, You can't tell people it's all over, that nothing is worth anything from now on.

But you can't keep up--there's too much music in the world to give it all the serious attention it deserves. There aren't enough hours in any one life. And, gasp, popular music is just not as meaningful and important as people make it out to be. Sometimes, you just want to hear the birds sing.
posted by y2karl at 12:41 AM on May 7, 2004


...it just gets under my skin when anybody has this notion that great art (in whatever medium) stopped at Year X.

Maybe I shouldn't have included that part in my FPP. It just seemed like a good segue into other '20s links.

In any case, I think the guy's a real interesting character. He's stubborn and obsessive and obviously he's made a lot of sacrifices (friends and family) in pursuit of his collection. It's inspiring, but also a little sad.
posted by hyperizer at 9:11 AM on May 7, 2004


Just because Brussard says everything after 1933 is crap does not mean you have to believe him. 78 collectors are a verrrry strange bunch. Robert Crumb was one of America's biggest collectors - he's drawn some fantastic comics based on the compulsive, anti-social behavior of 78 collectors, himself included. I actually had one collector plot to break into my house to grab a few of my rare 78s - because I wasn't fanatic enough to really appreciate them - and no, I am not kidding.

I listen to a lot of stuff recorded before 1930 - especially klezmer from before WWI, but also blues, calypso, french bal-musette, and old west African palm wine music. I like the immediacy of the music - no edits, slower dance tempos, the sound of musicians enjoying the challenge and novelty of a really primitive recording studio. One gets used to the lo-fi sensibility. One of the things about 1933 is after that date studios had a newer technology to record. I have recordings of creole accordionist Amedee Ardoin from 1929, and then a session he did in 1934. The difference is amazing, but I still love those crackly old sessions.

If you want to hear some really old stuff, check out this site which features music recorded on cylinders going back to the 1890s.
posted by zaelic at 9:21 AM on May 7, 2004


Miles Davis "Bitches Brew" is precisely the sort of thing I had in mind when I said that the earliest expression of a form like jazz is the purest and most essential and that everything else is just commentary. Miles' playing on "Bitches Brew" represents a stage where an art form has gone beyond commentary, to the mere exercise of habit and nervous impulses, the kind of postmortem twitch or expulsion of digestive gasses that sometimes startles mortuary attendants late at night. In any case, the death of an original art form gives birth to another, as the expiration of jazz gave birth to the wonderful pop/jazz hybrid that was dance band music in the 1930s, which pooped out and made room for the less vital but not-entirely-dismissable big band era, and on and on. Miles was in on the beginning of something, but by "Bitches Brew" it was burned out. In rock, for instance, the Velvet Underground is not an exhausted manifestation of mid-sixties rock energy, but the beginning of something else -- something that mostly sucked, since their imitators tended to reflect their easiest-to-copy attributes (the droning vocals, the dissonance, the decadent pose) and not the brilliant songwriting. Music moves along the time continuum in a series of overlapping arcs as one musical form rises and falls, and others do the same.
In any case, our culture has yet to properly assimilate the jazz of the twenties, some of which is junky, some of which is delightfully punky, some of which is as awesome and intricate as Bach and Vivaldi. Twenties jazz is what we should talk about when we say that jazz is America's classical music. Instead, we get Wynton Marsalis...
posted by Faze at 9:56 AM on May 7, 2004


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