Friday, July 07, 2006

Listen Here: Aunt Katherine, NOLA & the black wax survivors

by Ronnie Reese

I went to New Orleans back in February of this year.
If you haven’t been there, everything you’ve heard about the city has been grossly understated.

Hurricane Katrina displaced all of my relatives, but they’re in pretty good shape. They have money. The worst part for some is living so far outside of the city limits. My Aunt Katherine is the closest to town, in a single-bedroom apartment out by the New Orleans Saints headquarters and practice facility in Metairie. We stopped by her old crib, and I recognized the neighborhood before we even reached the house. It’s
barren, but the landscape, at least in that area, really hadn’t changed too much.

The inside of the house was a fucking mess. There were no walls, so the outer brick and wooden framework were exposed, and a mildew-y, sewage funk hung in the damp air. The first-floor bathroom was a toilet in the middle of the floor.

When I entered in front, I could see clear through the house to the back door. I made the stairs a point of reference, and things started coming back to me, like where the kitchen used to be. It was crazy. This was the first damage I had seen done to someone’s home that I knew personally. “Be careful,” Aunt Kat kept telling me, but there wasn’t really anything around to get me in trouble. I couldn’t have been anywhere less fun than where I was.

I wandered around, heading up the stairs, as if things were going to get any better on the second floor. “Better,” things definitely got. There were three crates of vinyl and random record stacks sitting in a corner at the top of the landing, looking much like a cowering puppy that had been the victim of abuse and neglect for the past five months.

My natural instinct was to freak the fuck out, so I did, and got down to digger business like it was Christmastime in Hollis. I can’t recall exact titles, but my sixty-something aunt had been buying original jazz pressings since she was in her twenties (“I’ve been collecting records all my life”), so needless to say, she had the ill na na. There were some comedy joints in there, too, and 45s that I really didn’t peep too hard (but probably should have). She told me I wouldn’t be interested in the 78s, and she was right. Those were garbage, but much of what I saw in those crates was far from trash. I had a decision to make.

How was I going to hustle this woman I loved out of these records?

I wasn’t. Katherine was an O.G. To her credit, that music was still a big part of her life. The storm damage had disabled the turntable, but she still had the wax, and it was just a matter of time before the operation was up and running once again. “They’re so soothing,” she would later tell me about the effect her collection has on the soul. “I like to listen to them in the mornings. Anytime the feeling hits me, I like to listen to them. Sometimes, I would listen to them while I was sewing. It was really great.”

Favorites are Maynard Ferguson and Sonny Stitt, and Miles Davis, of course. Aunt Kat looks a little like third Davis wife Cicely Tyson. She is also fond of Yusef Lateef, Betty Carter, a Cannonball Adderly and Nancy Wilson collabo on Capitol, and “this white flute player I can’t think of” (who turns out to be Herbie Mann). “I love Coltrane,” she gushes. Ray Charles and Al Green are soul mainstays.

My aunt is far too attached to have allowed a scavenging, post-Katrina raid on her collection. She’s also in pretty good health (God bless her). She did agree, however, to break me off a few every now and then, and I’ll be damned if I ever turn down free vinyl. Here’s a sample from the first batch. Peep hurricane cleanup…

Grover Washington, Jr.
In a Secret Place
(Kudu) 1976

There are Grover Washington, Jr. Kudu LPs that are absolutely essential, and there are Grover Washington, Jr. Kudu LPs that are excruciatingly boring. This is one of the latter. Sold!


Harry Belafonte
Belafonte Sings of the Caribbean
(RCA Victor) 1957

Belafonte has a long and storied career as a social activist and ardent supporter of civil rights, but that doesn’t mean this album isn’t absolutely worthless to me. I’m keeping it for prosperity’s sake, whatever that means.


The Isley Brothers
Harvest for the World
(T-Neck) 1976

Classic mid-‘70s Isley jawn. I would have been happy to get this if I didn’t already own a copy. “(At Your Best) You Are Love” has gotten more than a few pair of panties wet, I’m sure.


Stan Getz
Big Band Bossa Nova
(Verve) 1962






Coleman Hawkins
Hawk Eyes
(Swingville) 1962

I have a gaping hole in my collection where classic jazz needs to be, so provided these records weren’t too tormented, they were going to be welcome additions no matter what. The Getz, in particular, with arrangements by Gary McFarland, is superb.

The Jackson Five
Get It Together
(Motown) 1973

Never mind a hurricane. This joint looked like it had been in a dog’s mouth. It would have been worth it for the title track and “Dancing Machine” alone. Get It Together marked a shift from soul-gripping Corporation production (Motown head Berry Gordy, Deke Richards, and the pioneering Fonce Mizell and Freddie Perren) to slightly better than average work with Hal Davis, so I wasn’t tripping too much, but damn. Seeing a record in this condition just hurts.

Ronnie Laws
Fever
(Blue Note) 1976

No Pressure Sensitive, but Fever still gots that heat. I wish I could listen to Pressure Sensitive for a more recent comparison, but my mooch boy Frankie has had that one for damn near a year. Fever seems like another attempt by Blue Note to cash in on the success of the fusion trend and Donald Byrd and Bobbi Humphrey projects from Sky High Productions, but I ain’t mad at ‘em. This one’s a keeper.

Virgil Griffin & the Rhythm Kings
“My Heart Remembers”/”Trying to Reach My Goal”
(G-R-M) 19??

Oh schnapperoonie! Soul deep! I’m not a record collector in earnest, and definitely no expert on 45s, but it’s always nice when you get a self-produced, artist-autographed 7” on something called G-R-M Records out of Philadelphia, Mississippi. “Trying to Reach My Goal” is the kind of happy-go-lucky, horn-drenched rave-up that knocks those Ground Lift kids off of their feet. Very welcome, and already played out. Thanks, Aunt Kat.

With love,
Ronnie

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