Guernsey's Jazz Auction

Andrey Henkin By

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The items available ran the gamut of styles and eras and represented some of the upper echelon of the jazz pantheon.
Much has been made in the popular press of the once-in-a-lifetimeness of this auction. More coverage was given to the event, held Sunday, Feb. 20th at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Rose Theater, than jazz usually gets in a year. The son of Thelonious Monk, T.S., made the opening remarks and spoke optimistically about history and what this flood of memorabilia would say about the history of jazz. After the first 50 lots were spoken for, more was said about jazz' present.

The items available ran the gamut of styles and eras and represented some of the upper echelon of the jazz pantheon. Clothings, notebooks, contracts, photos and, most impressively, instruments, were to be had, donated by the relevant families for either personal gain or donation to various charities. The display was impressive and was open to the public for the weekend, the first and last time sadly these relics will be viewed en masse.

But for all the history, the results, at least for the first 50 lots (organized in order of presumed desirability) were underwhelming taken as a whole. Unlike, say, the Jackie O auction, the items remained relatively affordable. Monk's smoking jacket was a steal at $4,750. A Benny Goodman speech draft went for a mere $1,400. Two letters written by Louis Armstrong to Decca Records in 1935 had only one $500 bid. Of course instruments went for more but still paled in comparison to their counterparts in a rock n' roll auction (For comparison, Gene Simmons' custom electric bass sold for $22,850 at a recent KISS auction). Goodman's clarinet from 1974 fetched $26,000. Dizzy Gillespie's custom-made bent trumpet yielded only $26,000. Of course, Charlie Parker's alto saxophone was the biggest ticket but, with a winning bid of $225,000, was no Eric Clapton's guitar. The expectant hush before the Coltrane's tenor saxophone (following $60,000 for his soprano and $28,000 for his alto) was for naught as the item was removed for not having attracted a minimum $500,000 bid.

Of the first 50 items, some neat pieces did get bought for their worth: a 32-page Armstrong letter sold for $25,000; Monk's high school notebook netted $60,000; Coltrane's original score for A Love Supreme topped both those at a cool $110,000. Of note was the feel good win of a signed limited edition of To Bird With Love for $1,600 by everyone's favorite ornithologist, Phil Schaap.

But initial speculations of millions flying around were quickly grounded. Given that jazz is 3% of the music market, collectible items like these just don't carry the weight they should. The bidding was muted, except for some heated exchanges and was evenly split between room, phone and internet. One caller alone spent over $100,000 in the first 50 lots. While this sounds impressive, it just shows that jazz is the enclave a crazy few and for all its history, isn't a Micky Mantle rookie card or a date with Britney Spears.


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