Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Amazing Bud Powell

I don’t know how many hours of my life has been spent in record stores. Not many lately, but it once was a regular indulgence. Rhino Records on Westwood Boulevard was my favorite spot. Those bins of used and promotional LPs were a treasure trove for a young man discovering jazz.

By the late 1980s I was spending more time tearing through the CD racks. Still, I’d sometimes browse around the jazz LPs for the full tactile experience of holding a record jacket and the connections they had with the roots of this music and for the occasional conversation with a kindred soul.

One of those conversations was with a guy who ended up in my living room going through my albums. I had told him I wanted to convert to CDs and would sell him any of the vinyl I owned. His name was Reggie and he was strictly an LP man. No intention of switching over. Said his jazz collection took up an entire wall of his apartment.

He knew what he was looking for. Snagged my copy of The Amazing Bud Powell Vol. 1 and asked how much. I gave him a price and he slid the record out of its frayed jacket, then asked if he could play it. I hadn’t really gotten into that album at all. It was somehow too intense for me, too introspective.

Reggie didn't seem to mind any of it--or the mild popping of the record. When it got to "Un Poco Loco, " he said that the way he’d heard it, Bud Powell composed that letter while he was still living in his mother’s home, calculating those crazy chords during dinner, kept going back to the piano and pounding away—until his mother couldn’t take it anymore and stabbed the back of his hand with a fork.

I don't know if that story is true—I've never had any of Reggie's stories entirely verified (though two of them inspired a novel)but suddenly the incessant cow-bell drumming, the repetitive rolling chords, and a right-handed solo that seemed to be talking to itself all made sense. I wanted to hear it again. I wasn't sure I wanted to sell it.

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