The CAT on a Hot Thin Groove

Kyle Simpler BY

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The CAT on a Hot Thin Groove
Gene Deitch
Fantagraphics Books

Surely everyone knows the old joke 'How do you get to Carnegie Hall?' 'Practice, practice, practice.' This may not be all that funny but it does have a couple of important points. The obvious message, of course, is that it takes a lot of hard work to achieve success. Another, as evidenced in the Carnegie Hall part, shows the importance of an audience. Without fans, musicians would never be able to make it. In his latest book, The CAT on a Hot Thin Groove, Oscar-winning cartoonist Gene Deitch presents an excellent, not to mention hilarious look at jazz from the listener's point of view.

Deitch worked as the creative director for Terrytoons animation, where he created the now classic Tom Terrific. His drawings influenced countless artists to follow, including his son, Kim Deitch, a noted underground cartoonist. Before all of this success, however, Deitch provided illustrations for The Record Changer, a small magazine for jazz collectors. The CAT on a Hot Thin Groove, showcases this work.

During the 1940s and early 1950s, this magazine featured jazz experts such as Orrin Keepnews, Nesuhi Ertegun, and Bill Grauer. While The Record Changer offered in-depth information and provided a marketplace for serious jazz record collectors, Deitch's work added a perfect humorous touch. His creation, an overly-enthusiastic jazz fan known as The CAT, poked fun at the obsessive nature of many record collectors.

While jazz collectors still thrive in today's digital world, The CAT provides a glimpse into substantially different times. For starters, the records of the 1940s were predominantly 78 RPM. Unlike CDs, which stand up to multiple playings with relatively few problems, 78s had to be handled with care. This was a challenging task, considering how easily these records could be scratched or even break. Many of Deitch's jokes center on these facts alone. The CAT often finds himself in a fit after a family member breaks one of his precious jazz records.

Of course, The CAT, a thinly-disguised version of Deitch himself, appears to be in a continuous euphoric state over jazz music. In one cartoon, for example, The CAT seems to be spoiling his date with a particularly fetching young woman as he pontificates about the resurgence of the New Orleans style. In another, a couple who had invited him over for the evening is shown pushing him out of the door at 2:00 a.m. The seemingly oblivious CAT continues ''and now that brings us to the social and economic aspects of jazz''

Besides the CAT, Deitch also illustrated many of The Record Changer covers. Some of these are quite humorous, but many illustrate serious social issues. The July 1947 cover, for example, shows a stoic-looking white record collector, holding a blues record as he rides silently in a bus. Sitting directly behind him in the 'Colored' section is the musician who made the recording.

Even though The Record Changer and 78 RPMs are a thing of the past, The CAT on a Hot Thin Groove still speaks to contemporary jazz fans. Modern day collectors may not be as obsessive over scratches but they still share the CAT's passion. Even someone who's never seen a 78 can appreciate this worthwhile collection.

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