Rob Chalfen came by recently to listen through some more of the Lexington 78 haul. Along with the Brian Rust book, he brought some recently discovered pictures of his original Wax Vallhala – Cuz Faulkner’s Books Bibles and Records on Columbus Ave in Boston, MA. (Close inspection of the picture of the facade makes me think it was 979 Columbus).
As any reader of this blog knows, Rob is both a good friend and a walking encyclopedia of early music of the African diaspora. By the age of 12 he had absorbed his family’s pretty extensive 78 collection and was taking trips from the family home in Newton down to the South End to dig for old jazz and blues records in the prodigious piles at Cuz Faulkner’s.
I was particularly struck by the confluence of pictures and dates here. All these shots are from a trip Rob made in March, 1965 with his dad (who brought the family camera). He was 12 1/2 and already knew more about early jazz than most of us will absorb in a lifetime. Rob pointed out the MLK calendar above the desk and noted that it was jut one month before he was to arrive in Boston to lead a march of 50,000 on Boston Common.
Sitting here this MLK day 2010, with with images of Hati and Cuz Faulkner’s crossing paths on the internet, it feels like the world is simultaneously imploding on itself and launching new technoutopic
wonders distractions by the moment. I stare into these old photos longing for a simpler place and time. Of course, that moment was no less horror filled (Kennedy was killed in ’63 and the cascades of calamities in ’68 were a mere three years hence). But somehow, the notion of a white pre-teen record geek from Newton taking the trolley down to sift through Cuz Faulkner’s 78s in search of the origins of jazz provides some strange solace. I guess it just makes me long for a dusty room full of records, the optimism of youth and the sense that the future was yet to be written. For whatever reason, sitting here at the end of history, this little window into a not so distant past feels comforting. Like its not so far away after all.
Anyway, I have been so fascinated with these shots and struck by the timing that I e-mailed Chalfen asking for more detail. Who told you about this place? How did you wind up with a Nat Hentoff curated record collection as a 12 year old? What do you remember about Cuz Faulkner and his place. Here’s his reply.
Lessee…. I think Henry Schwartz, the great Boston Expressionist painter & pal of my dad’s hepped me to it. He was a classical 78 collector & prob discovered it trawling around for Columbia Vivatonals…My dad dropped me off / picked me up on the occasion when he took these shots, but often I would just schlepp in there from Newton Corner on the trolley, hauling my portable phonograph…The owner had a helper who lived nearby on an upper floor, who’s name I think was Milton or Mr Milton, a thin, hangdog older black man – i would yell up at his window & I even tossed gravel up to his window to wake him up, no doorbell…after a spell he would slowly make his way down & open the place up for me…I could easily spend 5 hours in there without any consciousness of time whatever…Next door was a black barbershop – I wandered in there once on a break from my record trance, looking for small talk, and all conversation ground to a halt upon the the intrusion of the white boy. I only met Cuz on a few occasions…I recall him in a 3 piece suit, cigar, of somewhat florid speech, a neighborhood pontificator; or that could just be an artifact of my reconstruction. He always had a few friends hanging out in the front of the shop, shooting the shit; what they made of me I can’t imagine. On the date shown in the photos he regaled my father about how unusual I was, most kids today have no appreciation etc etc, while I clutched the bag of that day’s gleanings, one of my best hauls ever. When I got it home I found I had taken the wrong bag, or it had been switched on me, I never found out which. I got a bunch of Nat King Cole records of no interest to me whatever. Calls back to the place discovered nothing, or so they said. Evidently it had been sold to someone else. I was devastated. I can still remember some of the records I lost. Curiously, Nat King Cole died almost immediately therafter.
My mom was a typical hit parade/big band swing fan bobbysoxer of the late ’30s…she got the discarded records from the jukebox at her dad’s resort in Gloucester when the were changed over by the distributor, at least once a summer, mostly white big band stuff, Goodman, Miller, Dorsey. (Though I think her copy of “South” by Benny Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra (1928) came from it too). Her girlfriend dated Nat Hentoff when they lived in Dorchester, c ’39/’40, while he was at Boston Latin, see Hentoff’s excellent “Boston Boy – a memoir”, Knopf 1986. Hentoff was already doing radio in Boston at WMEX and wrote jazz reviews while at Northeastern. He was the jazz guru of their set, leading forays to the Savoy Ballroom and other live jazz venues, making sure they were steered away from Commercial Crap and towards the Real Thing. He would lead expeditions to Boston Music Company, Kreys and other downtown record outlets and recommend what was hep amongst the new releases, mostly the 4-record sets then being reissued of classic ’20s jazz for fans of ‘real’ (small combo) jazz, jazz record collectors and other unfortunates: King Oliver, Armstrong Hot 5, Bessie Smith, Frank Teschemacher, Ellington’s Cotton Club band, no Bix for some reason. Sets of early New Orleans Revival stuff like Bunk Johnson. Also misc stuff like pre-war Chicago blues (Big Maceo, Art Hodes), and then-current 52nd St small combo jazz (Cozy Cole, Jerry Jerome & his Cats & Jammers, Chu Berry/Roy Eldridge, Big Joe Turner, Basie, Ellington, Billie Holliday, Eddie Condon, Teddy Wilson, Art Tatum, Muggsy Spanier, Boogie Woogie (Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, Meade Lux Lewis), Capitol’s 1943 New American Jazz set, Coleman Hawkins. This constituted the bulk of her collection, prob @ 200 records, which I discovered in waves at various points growing up. So to a great extent my formative musical consciousness was curated by Nat Hentoff. Plus my dad’s classical piano playing & records. Plus the jukebox.
My folks would stack them up on the changer when I was bored on rainy days, age about 4, and I would watch them spin with hypnotic fascination. ( I could go on in this mode but that’s prob another essay, this is only part of the tale of my wax obsessions)
Peace on this MLK day 2010 and thanks to all the people trying to bridge the false divisions among us. Keep the dream alive.