Crate Diving with Ethan Iverson

In this intermittent series we learn the whys & wherefores of the crate divers among us; those intrepid souls whose music loving and thirst for new/old recordings leads them to garage sales, estate sales, thrift shops, and those bastions of yesteryear — the beloved record store.  And just what are these aural detectives seeking — precious vinyl or acetate recordings, of course!  Digital be damned, there’s gold within the grooves of those large, round discs.  Our first correspondent is pianistcomposer Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus and an increasing number of intriguing bandstands and affiliations.  You can read his various exploits, interests and penetrating interviews that range from Ron Carter and Jason Moran to Charlie Haden and Tim Berne at (and don’t miss the Questionnaires section quizzing various musicians).    



Back in the mid-1980s when CDs began their market domination, some hasty music lovers liquidated their vinyl collections.  I’m sure you know such misguided individuals.  Considering that you’ve likely been the happy beneficiary of that haste, was that folly or prescient move on the part of those vinyl dumpers?


I myself eliminated 500 records from my Wisconsin collection a few years ago after going to college – my Mom moved and insisted that I needed to deal with them.  I’ve probably purchased at least 50 of them again — giving up vinyl is always a bad move as long as you have the space.


What is it about vinyl recordings that continue to hold such fascination for you?


The whole experience is sensuously satisfying: the way it looks, sounds, and even the way it degrades over time.  Also, I like listening to music at home in 20 minute segments.  The Lp was the most perfect music delivery system yet.


Now that MP3 is a reality — not to mention whatever formats the technocrats may cook up in the future — has vinyl receded even further in the rearview mirror, ala the 78 RPM format?


We put the last Bad Plus out on vinyl, and it sold out.  I think people like having something that you need to coddle.  An Lp is so much closer to an art object than anything digital.


As you go about merrily crate diving for vinyl recordings what kinds of things attract your attention?


I skip anything by the major labels.  While I treasure my original recordings of "Dear John C" and "Let Freedom Ring" I’m honestly not in the market for that kind of collectable.  I admit that certain commonplace albums that have something "extra" about them on vinyl — the gatefold cover for [Joe] Henderson’s "Power to the People" is gorgeous, and I would get that if I could afford one.  [Julius] Hemphill’s Mbari discs are so rare that I suppose I’d pay any ransom, especially for "Dogon AD".  This is a backwards answer!  What I mean is that I look for things that haven’t been reissued on CD or are simply bargains.


Bluebook and other ratings systems in terms of rarities aside, what in your gaze truly constitutes a "rare" vinyl record find, particularly since you don’t appear to be a mercenary type purely looking for resale value?


I bet John Corbett {DownBeat magazine’s regular crate diver and a hotly anticipated future participant in this series] has heard of just about everything!  I haven’t yet, and am occasionally floored by discovering something I had no idea existed.  Not long ago at the Jazz Record Center [a treasure trove on W. 26th St. in Manhattan that no vinyl crate diver should miss] I found Tommy Flanagan‘s 1977 solo piano album for Denon "Alone Too Long."  I had recently specifically asked a couple people if Flanagan had ever recorded solo and they didn’t think so.  (The bullish market in Japan for straight-ahead jazz in the ’70s and ’80s financied countless blowing dates that have always been hard to find in America.)


Besides such rarities, when you hit the stacks do you generally have a "wish list" in mind or are you so intrepid that you simply delight in the process purely in hopes of uncovering some useful nugget or other?


Well, on my most recent binge in Toronto I was looking for anything by Dick Wellstood and Stanley Cowell.  Other specific albums I looked for included Cedar Walton/Ron Carter "Heart and Soul", Kenny Barron "One+One+One", John Lewis’ soundtrack to "Odds Against Tomorrow" w/Bill Evans on piano, Albert Dailey’s "Renaissance", Ronnie Mathews’ "Roots, Branches, and Dances", Hod O’Brien’s "Bits and Pieces".  (The linking theme here is obviously straight-ahead piano mastery.)  I didn’t find any of those, but I did find plenty of piano action; see this blog post: http//


Talk about some of your recent vinyl "finds" and what it is about that/those record(s) that attracted your interest sufficiently enough to cop a purchase.


I’ve noticed that the more avant-garde styles have been well-serviced on CD.  Some of the hardest to find records ever are now easily available in a digital form, and for some reason I prefer them that way.  I just got the 2009 Nessa reissue of Charles Tyler’s "Saga of The Outlaws" on CD.  Chuck Nessa knows exactly how to get me to open my wallet.  (It must be because I know how much he cares about presenting the music as well as possible.)  Likewise last year’s Anthony Braxton Mosaic box made those old Arista Lps obsolete.  I’m waiting for the best Henry Threadgill and Oliver Lake from the 70s and 80s on Arista, Novus, and Gramavision to be buffed up and boxed too.


However I don’t feel that way about straight-ahead jazz.  I’m not sure why, but the swinging mainstream Lp just seems "right."  There’s plenty of MOR stuff even a pretty box set won’t make me feel like a need a digital version for.  I’m thrilled with my recent acquisition of Charlie Rouse/Benny Bailey/Albert Dailey/Buster Williams/Keith Copeland "Upper Manhattan Jazz Society", and now I’m looking for Benny Bailey’s "Grand Slam" because of it.  Yes, I know I can buy MP3s off Amazon, but I want the Lp.


What have been your favorite sources or outlets for vinyl record crate diving — whether that be a store(s), private collection(s), garage sale(s), record convention, or some other source?


In terms of my personal history, I remember an astounding trip to Chicago to the Jazz Record Mart in high school.  Early on in my time in New York I went to a WKCR record sale at Columbia and got Charlie Parker’s "One Night at Birdland" and Lester Young’s 1943 Keynotes with Sid Catlett.  Those were two of the most important records I ever got!  These days my hang is the Jazz Record Center, and one of the Academy locations (off 4th Ave.) has jazz Lps.


What would you recommend to those with an interest in seeking out rare vinyl recordings?


Have fun and don’t spend too much money!  If you see it once, you’ll see it again.  Everything comes around again (except maybe [Julius Hemphill] "Dogon AD").


Any further thoughts?


If you have a chance to compare a CD and Lp of the same album, check it out.  You might listen a little differently from then on.  Not all Lps sound better than CDs, but plenty of them do.

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