Long before digital downloads there was the public library. In Santa Monica you could borrow twenty LPs at a time and I always checked out the max. Some were fairly new and clean copies but most of the good stuff was old and frayed and a little scratched up. The scratches sometimes added character to the sounds. Some of the album covers were faced. Others were completely destroyed, the vinyl exiled to a blank sleeve and tiny handwriting half-explaining what was inside. A few compilations said nothing anywhere about the music. I always sampled a few of these at a time and some became my favorites. I’d dub them onto a cassette tape for the car and them until the tape jammed or snapped. Then I’d try to find those same blank cardboard record covers in the library’s jazz racks.
Sometimes I’d catch one of those favorites on the radio—usually an upbeat, uptempo thing, horns harmonizing over a tight rhythm section. I’d listen out for the who and the what and sometimes I got it:
Benny Golson, Stablemates.
McCoy Tyner, Contemporary Focus.
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Down Under.
I remembered those cuts and when I had a little money to spend in the record store I’d find the albums on which those tunes were originally recorded.
Over the years, I think I’ve picked up most of those sides but there are still a few I’ve never heard, never been able to identify. I wonder sometimes if I’d even remember them now, thirty-plus years later, if I heard them.