Friday, December 23, 2011

A labour of love

My new favourite barman - Jeff, at the dangerously nearby hutong cocktail haunt Mai - asked me if I could give him some jazz to play at the bar.

Could I?! Well, I wasn't all that sure. Jazz has always been something of a minority interest in my music collection; I'm certainly not any sort of expert. And the majority of my music collection - very nearly all of my jazz - is on vinyl, and back home in the UK in a friend's barn. I have just about nothing on my computer. But I said I'd see what I could do.

And as I progressed with my unpacking, I discovered that I did in fact have a surprisingly large number of jazz records on CD. So, at the beginning of last week, I set to ripping them all on to my computer, so that I could copy them to a USB for Jeff. And it took me about two days.

There are nearly 1,200 tracks (and I took some trouble to weed out duplicates; of course, there are various versions of classic songs by different artists, and a few different versions - or 'alternate takes' - of a song by the same artist, but no two tracks are identical). That's around 70 hours of music. Most of it is very trad and mellow, although there's quite a bit of variety. Billie Holiday probably takes the largest share, although Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, and the majestic Cape Verdean moma singer Cesária Évora are running her close. Sinatra, Miles Davis, Fats Waller, and, of course, Louis Armstrong are also heavily featured. Those seven or eight artists probably account for nearly half of the total. But there are twenty or so others who contribute an album or two each, and another four or five dozen who crop up just for an occasional song.

There's an Edith Piaf anthology, and a double album of other great French chansons of the '30s and '40s: Charles Trenet, Maurice Chevalier, Arletty, and so on. There's an album of Argentinean tango classics. There's quite a lot of Cuban music: old school stuff from the 1950s and the 'Buena Vista Social Club' revival of more recent times. There are also a few more modern things: Thomas Dolby's mellow cover of Dan Hicks's I Scare Myself, the reinvented cocktail jazz of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, the irresistible bossa nova of Suzanne Vega's Caramel, and the gorgeous folk/jazz ballads of the short-lived Eddi Reader/Mark E. Nevin collaboration Fairground Attraction.

Jeff, though, isn't sure if he'll use any of this. He seems to think modern punters prefer 'chillout lounge' stuff with their cocktails - and he may be right. Oh dear.

But if, next time you're in there, you should happen to hear... Coleman Hawkins, Julie London, Stan Getz, Dinah Washington, Chet Baker, John Coltrane, Etta James, Eva Cassidy... that was me. Enjoy.

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