Another record which has been ‘doing time’ in our storage space is this Dizzy Gillespie compilation, which we can’t really put out in the shop because one of its two LPs is missing. In these cases we sometimes keep the albums in the unlikely hope we’ll find that missing album (this has happened) or that (more likely) we’ll find a second copy missing the other LP.
Other times the half-complete double albums are put in with all the other free records we offer every year at our block party in April. And some, like this, we keep around. This is an album where the liner notes are pretty interesting in and of themselves.
The nice folks at the Smithsonian Institute had a history of making records even before the Folkways label was bequeathed to them in 1987. The Asch family donated the label founded by Moses Asch in 1948, and given to our national museum on the condition its couple thousand titles remain in print.
This enormous influx of new material more or less buried the original Smithsonian Collection label, which was a program in the Institute’s Division of Public Art, itself part of the Institute’s Office of Public Service. Columbia Records produced the actual records through their Columbia Special Products division, which also included other educational material and, for a time, the Sesame Street catalog. Its catalog of classic jazz compilations — notably in 1973 The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz, a six-LP box set which became a surprise success — and American recordings of the standard classical repertoire receive little of the attention today given to the Smithsonian Folkways label.
This Gillespie retrospective is one of our favorite albums in the Smithsonian’s jazz series, along with the absolutely essential Fletcher Henderson compilation Developing an American Orchestra. If you came across this set in the new arrivals bin of your favorite record store in 1976, you saw a pretty familiar image of Diz on the cover, although he is not playing his distinctively bent trumpet (an instrument which he donated to the Smithsonian in 1985, by the way). Inside, however, are recordings from the first half of the forties which provide a very different picture of the young man who would become a founder of modern jazz.
The collection includes recordings like “Pickin the Cabbage,” a song Gillespie wrote and arranged for Cab Calloway’s Orchestra in 1940, when he was twenty-three years old. Martin Williams, who also compiled the Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz, deliberately left out Diz’s early recordings with Charlie Parker because he notes that “they have often been collected and reissued and, more important, Parker’s brilliance has sometimes clouded the issue of Gillespie’s own.” This was very true in the seventies, when Bird retrospectives were all the rage and again today — a surprising portion of Gillespie’s recorded works are currently out of print.
Diz’s legacy is heavily in his role in early bebop and also the establishment of Afro-Cuban jazz in the United States, but so much of his work was also in the big band arena. This compilation (at least the one LP we have to hear) represents some of his earliest experiences working in that setting. In a particularly remarkable example of the evolution of jazz, his own big bands and smaller combos would later include musicians such as John Coltrane, Lalo Schifrin, James Moody and Yusef Lateef.
Its inspiring that so much of this American tradition is well-preserved on records and CDs. We’d really like to see more of Diz’s records in print since we’re obviously huge fans (having posted him here and here and here, for instance). This is one of the things that makes working in a record store rewarding. Now if only we could find the second LP to this set…