Buying Strategies

(This is the first page of an 8-page Appendix of buying strategies.)

One key to being a happy jazz fan is finding the right albums. This section of the book provides guidelines and short cuts to help you.


  1. Beware of endorsements in newspapers and magazines. They represent knowledge and understanding no greater than that of one individual. The reviewer might not be knowledgeable or perceptive. Moreover, his tastes might differ from yours. For instance, staples in the record collections of musicians are sometimes unknown by many critics, and some of these masterpieces were given only lukewarm reviews by the critics who did notice them. Albums that win Grammy awards are not necessarily outstanding, either. Over a thousand albums are issued each year in the U.S. (Only a few of which are heard by the Grammy nominating members, and most are never heard by the voting members.) A parallel might be helpful. You probably remember a few Academy Award winning movies you did not find enjoyable. Conversely, you might have also found yourself liking a few movies that received bad reviews. You may have been impressed by a few movies that no one was talking about, too. Similarly, albums receiving the most press and airplay are not necessarily the highest quality. Extent of press and airplay is determined largely by the record company’s promotional budget, luck and persistence, plus the tastes of disc jockeys and journalists. Some of the best albums never get publicized.
  2. Listen to the music before you buy it. Try to avoid album buying as an impulse purchase. Unless you want a record for purely academic reasons or historical perspective, you might realize too late that you spent your money on something you don’t enjoy. This is worth keeping in mind unless you can afford to experiment expensively. Friends, libraries, jazz courses, and radio programs can often expose you to new albums. If there is a jazz radio station near you, don’t hesitate to phone and ask them to play a particular album. (College radio stations not only broadcast more jazz than commercial stations, but they are also more likely to be interested in your requests.) And when you hear something you like, you could also phone the station and ask for its album title and record company name.

    Duke Ellington and his band

  3. Use a broad sampling of recordings before forming your opinion of a particular player. One good reason is that few jazz improvisers are extremely consistent in producing inspired recordings. Some of even the greatest jazz musicians have had whole strings of unexciting albums. This means that, if the only recording you hear is from an off day for that player, you derive a nonrepresentative view of his talent. You are not fair to him.
  4. Don’t accept substitutions. The quality and character of improvised music can vary drastically from album to album, even if made by the same band during the same period as the music you seek. So once you decide which albums you really want, don’t get others first, merely because they are available and look similar.
  5. Don’t wait for your desired albums to appear in stores. They probably won’t appear. Quality of music and availability often seem inversely related. Try mail-order sources, and stick to what you really want. See page 399 for such mail order firms as Cadence Record Sales, Tower, and J and R.

Excerpted from page 1 of the 8 page “Album Buying Strategies” Appendix to Jazz Styles.