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Essential Buying Tips for Building a Jazz Collection


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O.K., so you're trying to build up a nice little jazz recording library for yourself and you want to be able to do it without breaking the bank or facing dirty looks from your spouse for blowing the vacation budget on the latest round of CDs. Well, this writer has been there and done that (including the dirty looks), so I'd like to share what I learned about how to collect jazz recordings in the most economical and resourceful way. Because while jazz CDs seem readily available at some of the major retail record stores, it's easy to waste money and end up with a smaller, more limited amount of sounds by relying simply on this most direct and obvious route to acquiring jazz recordings.

Here's a few essential tips then for building your collection on a budget, or listening, as it were-on the lamb.

First, check out music before you buy it whenever possible.

You may have buddies or girlfriends that can hip you to stuff, there are MP3s and sound samples galore all over the net, and there's listening stations at place like Borders and Virgin megastore. But also (main TIP.), don't discount the jazz cd and LP selections in our public libraries, as well as college libraries. These are a very undersung resource for jazz fans trying to check out new artists. Now, public libraries in large Metropolitan areas are going to tend to have significantly larger catalogs for jazz than other areas, and colleges that have an active jazz studies program will typically have better jazz catalogs than those that don't. But, if you've never really checked out public libraries for what they have in the way of jazz, chances are you should be surprised by what's there unless that is, you live in Palookaville. True enough, the writer has actually discovered many relatively obscure artists through the service of the public library (I knew those tax dollars were good for something!). And sure, you may have to wade through some smooth jazz and some other crap, but there's usually some good stuff in there. NOTE: Libraries are where a lot of out-of-print CDs, e.g. Blue Notes from the first Connoisseur series, or Blue Notes from the 80s for that matter, may be heard. Of course it goes without saying that while using libraries is theoretically free, there can be some mean, ugly fines if you don't get those puppies in on time. At which point it's hardly a bargain anymore. So find out what the fines are first if you have trouble getting stuff back on time, like I obviously do.

Get in the habit of "haunting" your local used stores.

If you live in a college town or a major city, there's more than likely going to be some jazz residing on the shelves of these joints. Even the more corporate used stores like "CD Warehouse" often have some interesting things. But if you're building a record collection on a budget, there's no more economical way to do so than skimming these stores for the best they've got. We're talking 5, 6, 7, 8 dollars a disc and in some cases even less. Some used stores don't necessarily carry only used stuff in their bins either-music critics regularly "dump" review copies of new release jazz CDs in local stores. There's a legend here in fact a guy who comes down from Cleveland and sells around 30 new, promo copies of jazz CDs each time. He comes out with some dough, and the local jazz junkies then reap the dividends of 7 to 9 dollar new releases. Of course there are only so many of these "dumped" promo copies, which is better for the artist in any event.

Keep your eyes open for sales.

This goes without saying, but I'll go on record of saying that several major retailers have good sales on jazz each year, and at different points in the year too. Borders Books & Music has sales on Blue Notes and Prestige/OJC records typically three times a year. Right now in fact they have a sale on "classic jazz" records-at $8.99 for Ben Webster's Swingsville, you can't beat it. Tower Records at the time this was written also had a hip sale on the Blue Note series of 1995 that has since gone out of print-including McCoy Tyner Time for Tyner, Stanley T's Joyride, etc. And the Jazz Record Mart in Chicago, which has a monthly mailorder newsletter (Rhythm and News) is good for liquidation and closeout sales on jazz CDs they had overstocked for their store. No crap or filler either-some good stuff there. So go to their website and sign up for the newsletter. It's something every jazz collector should be getting in his mailbox.

In line with the general second-hand track, consider joining a jazz trading group online. These are informal communities where people trade CDs and LPs and there is the possibility for "one person's junk" to become "another person's treasure. The best such Trading group available is called the Jazz Trading Post. You can find some choice stuff on these lists, but be prepared to have something decent to trade also.

Like the guy in the commercial says: "Never, never, never pay full price." What I mean is, just be aware how easy it is to get ripped off on buying new CDs. If you're going to buy a new jazz cd, there's only a few places, online AND physical stores, where you're going to get some semblance of value for money. For online stores, Tower and DustyGroove have decent prices. For physical stores, Media Play is okay price-wise, and Tower is as well. Borders and Barnes and Noble are generally outlandish-charging 18 dollars on discs Tower might charge 14 or 15 for. Indeed, their sales are an anachronism to their overall pricing scheme. Ditto Virgin Mega Store.

Finally, as an exception to the rule against "buying high," if you go to a show and the artist/band has CDs for sale, buy from them even if it's a little expensive. Why? Because the artist will see the dividends right away, whereas when sold through retailers, the artist has to wait for a royalties statement to come through, which in Jazz are infamous for being paltry after all of the various excises imposed upon the retail product. Buy direct then and so enable artists trying to sell their music independently; you can support their music and help their bottom line in the process.

Cool? Well, I hope this helps. Collecting for around ten years, it's advice that I've earned in some ways through resourcefulness, and in some ways through simply having to learn the hard way. Take all of my advice here and avoid any hard lessons. The writer has bought far too many discs not having first heard them only to be rudely disappointed and out of 15 bucks that could have bought something worthwhile.

Good luck in trying to build a hip little jazz collection. As you will find or may already know, the process is enjoyable in itself. Take it from here, anything to help a young cat (or just your average aging cheapskate) get some good sounds in his head.

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