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My Blue Note Obsession: A Ridiculous Quest Begins

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Two years ago, I bought 31 Agatha Christie novels—all at once. Then I wanted more.

It didn't seem nutty at the time. My local library sells used books. One day I was in the store and there they were: a set of blue-covered, leatherette books. It was the Agatha Christie Mystery Collection by Bantam Books. I like Agatha Christie; I used to like her a whole lot. I had a notion that someday I would read all her novels. So a matching set of 31 Agatha Christies—at the ridiculous price of $1 a book— was something I could not pass up. I bought them all.

But as any mystery fan knows, Agatha Christie wrote many more than 31 books. Thirty-one isn't even half. Oh no. And having bought 31, I was sure I needed all the rest. And not just any Christies but the complete, 81-book, blue-covered leatherette Bantam set.

And then, I was sure, I would read them all.

This is the collector's mentality. It's not enough to have a book. It's not enough to read the book. A collector must own every book in the series, preferably in the same hard-covered matching set.

It's not an investment. It's not even about reading and enjoying them all. It's about the pride of having. It's a psychological thing, and I don't pretend to understand why. It just is.

All collectors are like this. For some, it's about stamps, or baseball cards, or Beatles records. As a kid, I collected all those things, plus Hardy Boy mystery books. I didn't want just the star baseball cards—the Willie Mayses, the Tom Seavers. I wanted the whole series, including the scrubs. (Topps, the baseball card company, made it very easy to know whether you had every single card. They printed one or two special cards in every series that contained checklists of all the other cards you needed to own. How thoughtful.)

And so I now begin another collecting quest. I want to own every Blue Note jazz CD from the 1950s and '60s. As a jazz fan for 40 years, this is my favorite genre, on my favorite label, in my favorite era. I want to hear all this music, sure. But more than that, I want to own it. All of it.

I know. There's a ton of great music on other labels. RCA Victor is older. (Check out the 9-CD 80th anniversary box set. Mama mia!) Impulse is more avant-garde. (Check out The House That Trane Built. A most excellent read.) And the Wynton Marsalis catalog is practically a label unto itself. (Did he really release eight single albums in 1999 and then a 7-CD box set of live recordings at the Village Vanguard? Jeez.)

So yeah—Blue Note, a singularly boppish choice. My goal is to pick up every CD in the 1,500 series, in order (that's 100 albums), then move on to the 4000 series, then 4100 and so on. I see lots of familiar names: Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
, J.J. Johnson
J.J. Johnson
J.J. Johnson
1924 - 2001
trombone
, Bud Powell
Bud Powell
Bud Powell
1924 - 1966
piano
, Jimmy Smith
Jimmy Smith
Jimmy Smith
1925 - 2005
organ, Hammond B3
, Lou Donaldson
Lou Donaldson
Lou Donaldson
b.1926
saxophone
. But also plenty of unfamiliar names: Thad Jones
Thad Jones
Thad Jones
1923 - 1986
trumpet
, Jutta Hipp
Jutta Hipp
Jutta Hipp
1925 - 2003
piano
, J.R. Monterose
J.R. Monterose
1927 - 1993
sax, tenor
, Sabu, the Three Sounds.

Discovery—that's the whole point. Great, familiar hard bop seasoned with enough new tunes and bands to make the whole enterprise comforting yet intriguing.

Ambitious? Yeah. Overly ambitious? Probably.

But the collector is excited. We shall see.

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