Andrew Cartmel is a screenwriter and script editor. His work on television includes Midsomer Murders and Torchwood. He enjoys looking for rare records in charity shops.
The thing you have to try and remember is that it’s all about the music, not the money. I say, “try” because it isn’t always easy… The two things tend to get pretty tangled up, pretty quickly.
I guess the first question someone would ask is why would anyone want an expensive — sometimes eye-wateringly expensive — rare original slab of vinyl for several thousand pounds when you can buy walk into a record store and buy a modern day replica of exactly the same album for less than twenty quid?
Well, it’s the same reason you wouldn’t want to buy this music on CD or download it for free. The original is going to sound better. Sometimes so much better that it’s scary.
If you can get hold of an undamaged first pressing of a record and hear it on a state of the art sound system, it’s going to sound like you’re in the same room with the guys who are playing those instruments. But that state of the art sound system isn’t going to come cheap, and the first pressing sure as hell won’t either…
Which brings us to five great, rare jazz records…
© Blue Note
Hank Mobley by Hank Mobley (Blue Note 1568): Mobley was a great tenor sax player — so great he even gets name-checked in a David Sedaris comedy routine. Also featuring Sonny Clark on piano, this 1957 release is musically a terrific album and the first edition was manufactured (“pressed”) in tiny numbers, so an original copy will cost a small fortune. Copies are currently changing hands for north of $5,000.
Cool Struttin’ by Sonny Clark (Blue Note 1588): Pianist Sonny Clark died terribly young, in 1963, just five years after the release of this classic. All of Clark’s albums are sought after, but this one is the Holy Grail. Japanese enthusiasts with deep pockets have pushed up the price of Sonny Clark originals, and you certainly won’t get any change out of $4,000 for a fine specimen of this one. The second most valuable Blue Note release, after the Mobley.
Saxophone Colossus by Sonny Rollins (Prestige 7079): On the appropriately prestigious Prestige label, this is a 1956 classic featuring another towering tenor sax master — although unlike the other greats discussed so far, Rollins is, thankfully, still alive and playing. Judged by many to be his masterpiece, a first American pressing of this is a snip at just under $3,000.
Dexter Blows Hot and Cool by Dexter Gordon (Dootone 207): Weighing in at just over $3,000 this was an early milestone by yet another world-class tenor saxophone player. Released on the obscure Dootone label in 1955, it features a wonderful black and white cover photo which did a disservice to an entire generation of young people by making smoking a cigarette look so damned sexy. There are numerous variant editions of this record. Personally I’m after the original one on red vinyl.
After Lights Out by Tubby Hayes (Temp TAP 6). Yup, another tenor sax player, but unlike the American luminaries detailed above, this guy was a Brit. And once upon a time that would have been enough to keep the price of his records down. But xenophobia and snobbery couldn’t prevail against the brilliance of Tubby’s playing. An original 1956 copy of this little beauty on the super rare Tempo label will currently cost you close to $3,000.
Now, I don’t think any record is worth killing — or dying — for. But with the sums of money changing hand for these discs, you can see why some people are drawn to larceny, or perhaps even homicide.
You certainly might consider murder if you were swindled out of your life savings, or if you lost way more money than you could afford when what was supposed to be a blue-chip investment turned out to be a ruthless fraud…
And this is what happened in 2009 when a previously reputable record seller on eBay went rogue… Or maybe the “reputable” thing was all just a careful build up to a meticulously planned crime — in other words, the long con.
The culprit was apparently a German national use the pseudonym “Nautiluso”. Pretending to be operating out of Brazil he launched a gala auction of the most amazing collection of rare jazz records ever witnessed. It seemed too good to be true.
It was. This crook got away with over $130,000 of money from bidders, for records that never existed. This was by no means a victimless crime back in those days, because eBay and PayPal didn’t have all the safeguards and guarantees for customers that are in place now. For a while it looked that the poor buyers had lost every penny.
Eventually eBay refunded them, and tightened up its regulations. But the police are still looking for the slippery Nautiluso. (The name is an anagram for “Nail us out”, which must be what his customers felt he did.)
Hmm… A six-figure scam? Phantom records? A vengeful victim? An ingenious, meticulous, faceless criminal?
It sounds like a case for the Vinyl Detective…
The Vinyl Detective: Written in Dead Wax by Andrew Cartmel is published by Titan Books (£7.99)
He is a record collector - a connoisseur of vinyl, hunting out rare and elusive LPs. His business card describes him as the "Vinyl Detective" and some people take this more literally than others. Like the beautiful, mysterious woman who wants to pay him a large sum of money to find a priceless lost recording on behalf of an extremely wealthy, yet shadowy, client. So begins a painful and dangerous odyssey in search of the rarest jazz record of them all...
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