Jazz Collectors of Instagram: Interview with @jazz_peasant

Well folks, based on feedback I have recently received about the Heavyweights of Instagram series, I’ve decided to rename the series simply “Jazz Collectors of Instagram”. The series is intended to provide insight into some of the jazz collectors I follow on IG, not to make an outrageous claim about the “greatest” collectors in the universe. These collectors do have impressive collections no doubt, they all have interesting stories behind how they built their collections, and they also have some great advice for other collectors.

Now that that’s out of the way, may I introduce the esteemed Gregory the Fish a.k.a. @jazz_peasant! I’ve been shooting the shit with Greg in the comments section of London Jazz Collector since 2012 and we have developed a great repoire over the years through communication on numerous electronic channels. Greg mixes things up in the community. He’s unapologetically opinionated (thankfully I usually agree with him!) but he has the knowledge and experience to back it up. A fan of both hard bop and free jazz, Greg gives us yet another unique take on the hobby. His standout acquisitions include a first pressing of Eric Dolphy’s Out There, a white label promo of A Love Supreme, a Dutch private press of Trio Treiter’s Syndrome of Influence, The Descendants of Mike and Phoebe on Strata-East, and Grachan Moncur’s Other Stuff. He also plays the double bass and has a master’s in mathematics, so there’s not much that gets by this cat. Greg brings a refreshing honesty to our interview series, so by all means, read on for a healthy dose of his patented wit, charm, and collecting insight.

DGM: How did you get started collecting jazz records?

Greg: I’ve been extremely interested in having a collection of music I enjoy in some form for as long as I can remember. Cassettes were the thing when I was very young, then CDs of course. It was digital that held my fancy for a long time, and for convenience and volume it still can’t be beaten. In college I bought a record by a hardcore punk band (Heavier Than Heaven, Lonelier Than God by Blacklisted) just for the hell of it, and it felt cool to have and hold and look at. I still have it, actually. I was already decently into jazz as a listener, and so I would occasionally buy a new reissue on vinyl here and there because I liked having a record.

I slowly built up a small collection of unimpressive but musically fun stuff that I happened across. So I’ve been collecting records in general for about ten years now. But in late 2011, I found what I later determined was a repress of a record I knew was considered ‘rare’ in some sense at a rummage sale for a dollar. It was Marion Brown’s Three for Shepp on Impulse. The process of finding out what was known about whether or not it was a valuable copy led me down this really fun rabbit hole. I started to think that it would be fun to have original pressings of some of the jazz albums I enjoyed. So I started actively seeking them out, and since 2013 or so the floodgates have been wide open.

DGM: How did you amass your collection and what’s your process for finding new records?

Greg: It started, and to some extent still is, a pseudo-random process. At first I’d find something I knew of, but before I bought it I would do some research, see if it was a good deal, if it was worth digging into the budget to own a physical copy of, etc. Nowadays, the process is essentially the same. There are sources both physical and online that I occasionally check. Of course, like all collectors, there are a few records I’m always searching for, but I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been after a specific rare record and found it while looking for that record specifically. You can’t have blinders on in any sense or you miss out big time. If you have preconceptions about what you want to buy, or what artists are good or bad, or what cover art should look like, or what labels will get you the most street cred, you stand to miss amazing things.

I’ve definitely gone into a store knowing they had something I was looking for, found it, and then decided to get something else because I thought it was a better choice in the long run. For example, I found a rare ten-inch George Wallington LP on Norgran randomly while digging around looking for something else. If I had been too blind to my goals, I’d have some dumb thing that’s way more common instead of being willing to put it back and hold up the Wallington and say to myself, “This is a real treasure. I might have come for something else, but I’ll see that again…might never see a near mint Wallington 10” again.” And then I have to decide if I can afford the damn thing. But my main process is to just pay attention, know where to look, look there and anywhere else that seems promising, and to build connections. It has become an insanely amorphous and non-linear process.

DGM: How many jazz records do you have in your collection?

Greg: Most of my collection is jazz, and I have stopped buying other records entirely within the last two years, for no reason other than that I find jazz to be the most fun to collect. I get way more excited about jazz than I do about anything else. I don’t know why. I’d estimate I have roughly 1,000 jazz records specifically. Within the last few months, I’ve tried really hard to be a little more selective about what I buy, just because I want to have a collection that I think is high-quality, and because after a certain point, the volume becomes unmanageable. I’m nowhere near the unmanageable stage yet, but I figure I ought to work on forming good habits now before the floor gives out. The size of my collection actually embarrasses me a little, because no one needs that many records. I know it isn’t SUPER crazy, and I know there are people out there with 10 or 50 or 1,000 times as many records as I have, and that’s cool and I can’t say I’m not jealous. But I know it looks really silly to some people. One of the main reasons I collect, though, is because I really love the idea of having a carefully curated collection of what I think awesome jazz is. It’s why I almost never get rid of something if it’s my only copy. Even if I dislike something, I treat my collection like a jazz library, and I like knowing that the record is there should I ever want to reference or revisit it.

Greg’s collection

DGM: Do you collect originals, reissues, or both?

Greg: Original, first pressings all the way. The only exceptions are if I am completing a discography (there are a few reissues on Impulse, for example) or if I think the label is just so cool that I want their version of an album previously released by another label (such as the George Russell on Strata-East that was first released on Flying Dutchman). And even in that second case, I still seek out the original. It’s idiotic to have both versions when the only difference is a paper label and cover art, I know; but for whatever reason I feel compelled to do it.

Sticking strictly to originals also helps me temper my spending and buying. It also helps me worry less about hearing everything there is to hear. I know I never will, and sticking to originals makes me feel better about it. Also, originals have some sort of hard-to-pin-down cool factor for me.

DGM: Do you prefer mono, stereo, or neither?

Greg: I prefer mono, but at the end of the day, that is for stupid reasons, too. A lot of labels would release mono records in stately, normal jackets, and then fuck up those jackets by pasting STEREO in huge letters somewhere as an afterthought that just destroys everything visually. I find that if labels were more modest about it, it bothers me less. Impulse is a great example. They were very understated with the distinctions between their mono and stereo jackets, and so I really don’t mind which version I have of an Impulse album. ESP-Disk’ was great about that, too. Prestige was right at the line of obnoxious stereo packaging. Riverside was unforgivable. Bethlehem was pretty bad, too.

Blue Note actually did a fine job after they ditched those awful gold stickers, but I stick to mono for Blue Note, too, because one of my many insane quirks is that I hate numbers that start with 8… and of course they put the number 8 ahead of the mono number on every stereo jacket. So I stick to mono Blue Notes when I can, also because mono just feels cool for whatever reason, and if I am paying Blue Note money, I want to feel as cool as I can! But after roughly catalog number 4250, I don’t care about mono/stereo on Blue Note either. And of course, as much as I love labels like Muse, Strata-East, India Navigation, Black Jazz, etc., the choice doesn’t even exist after the late ‘60s. I will also say that early stereo panning, as you’ve covered extensively on your site, is insufferable to my ears. I have weird quirks about symmetry and having each instrument crammed into one corner is torture for me.

DGM: What equipment do you use for playback?

Greg: I recently did some nice upgrades. My old setup had some issues with static, low-end response, etc. that were evident just by listening, without comparing to anything else. I’m not an audiophile, but I can feel my ears becoming more judgemental as time goes on.

I have a Rega P1 with the included cartridge. I see no reason to change the cart, and the reasons I am aware of that some choose to swap out the cart do not outweigh the headache for me personally. Plus, the P1 is a nice mid-range turntable for moderate home listening, and the cart matches that. I always keep a spare on hand, though. Another member of our little online collecting community (@gstvinyl) recently hooked me up with a nice pair of NHT SB3 speakers that are really excellent for the price point. The combo of those speakers and the P1 is like a whole new audio world for me. I’m sure some think it’s a laughable setup, and I know that things can always be improved, but I also am very pleased with the current setup, especially given how not-wealthy I am! I have an Onkyo TX-8050 amp, and it basically just does the job. Nothing to write home about, but it doesn’t muck anything up either, and it was very convenient since my wife and I also use it for the TV, N64 (yes I still have one shut up), HDMI, etc.

Honestly, though, gear really doesn’t interest me at all. Perhaps it’s somewhat immature of me, but I view gear as an annoying hurdle that has to be jumped to enjoy music. Others seem to really enjoy the specs and such, which is cool, but dangit, I hate the idea of always worrying about my gear. It is always possible to improve sound quality and the listening experience but even when listening to a shit-quality MP3 file you can tell if music is good or not. Perhaps you don’t hear or appreciate all the subtlety and nuance but you can tell if you enjoy it or not. There’s definitely a quality floor wherein you can’t enjoy music anymore because it’s reproduced so poorly, but I don’t think it’s as high as some people claim it is.

As far as playing mono records, I just use a stereo cart. I know some will be aghast at this, and I will freely admit I have never done any A:B testing, but I do not have any complaints whatsoever about the quality of sound reproduction on my end, so I am trying to avoid finding out what I’m missing, and trying to avoid the headaches that hi-fi life presents as one gets more and more invested. Some might call that view naive, but I think the setup I have now is decent enough that I’m getting a lot of real joy out of listening to my records, and I don’t hear anything that I want to improve in general, so I am happy. I get an involuntary smile while listening sometimes. That’s good enough for me. People don’t realize enough when things are just fine the way they are… either in record collecting or in life!

DGM: Who are some of your favorite artists and labels?

Greg: No one in history has ever been able to answer this question to their own satisfaction. It’s impossible! I will do my best, though, as we all do. I have a weird fascination with tiny labels that released very few records, like Mode, Black Jazz, or in the extreme cases, labels like Trident, Kharma, and Tribe. Of course, every serious collector of jazz has to enjoy some Blue Note, Prestige, Riverside, and Impulse. I particularly love Impulse, so much so that I collected the entire discography. I did that with Beehive and Trident, too, and I’m working on Mode and Black Jazz. I’d love to do India Navigation, BYG-Actuel, Kharma, etc. I might. I am utterly obsessed with ESP-Disk’ and Strata-East, but I doubt I could ever collect the discographies. ESP because it’s a freaking circus and Strata-East because two or three of the albums are in the $1,000 bin consistently, and I just don’t have the money for that sort of thing. Muse is also a great label on a pretty regular basis, though they released 600+ albums in about 20 years, varying greatly in style and sometimes musical quality..

Greg’s Impulse library

Artists? I love John Coltrane. There aren’t too many other artists that I love so fanatically. Coltrane started out great and just got greater and greater throughout his career in my opinion. No artist was so consistently good in so many ways. I have very soft spots in my heart for Horace Silver and Art Blakey. Their brand of hard bop is the brand, if you ask me. There are a few artists that I enjoy so much that I buy almost anything involving them that I find: Woody Shaw, Sunny Murray, Charles McPherson, Gato Barbieri, Pepper Adams, Ray Brown, Freddie Green, Charles Mingus, Bill Hardman, Beaver Harris, Roswell Rudd, Patty Waters, Grachan Moncur III…that’s just off the top of my head. I also am weirdly interested in sessions led by bassists and drummers. I have no idea why this is. I play the double bass, so maybe that has something to do with it.

DGM: What’s your favorite jazz record in your collection?

Greg: This is also an impossible question! But I do have a few that I treasure not only because they are rare and good, but because the other half (which is what I call my wife) either got them for me, or facilitated me getting them, which is a really cool affirmation of my hobby in my mind. She has always been encouraging and supportive about my collecting, which I know is not the usual wife reaction for some of the gents in our community. So the one record that sticks out the most in my mind is Wheelin’ & Dealin’ on Prestige. It’s a superb NM/NM original copy, and the story of how she got it for me is adorable and really cool, and it involves her recognizing all the dumb details we obsess over, like the glossy cover and the NYC address, which of course she would only know about through actually listening to me be a geek. There are a few other records in my collection like that, and those are the ones I treasure the most.

DGM: What is one of your most memorable acquisition stories?

Greg: I always get super excited when I find something I’m interested in, so every score feels amazing to me. I do have one in particular, though, and to top it off I didn’t even realize it at the time. Super early in my collecting days, like right around the time I was becoming aware that a Prestige with NYC labels was a cool thing worth seeking out, I went into a local bookstore and on the wall they had a copy of PRLP 7075, Thelonious Monk & Sonny Rollins. RVG, deep groove, flat-edge, near mint all around, glossy cover, the works. At the time I knew to check the address, the presence of the RVG etch, deep groove (which is going to be on an NYC Prestige anyway), and glossy cover. I thought it was worth more than they wanted, plus I didn’t have any original Prestiges at the time, so I bought it. I know sometimes it’s tacky to disclose prices, but I am particularly proud of having paid just $50 for that record. Probably my biggest score I’ll ever have. I didn’t realize what a score it was at the time. That shop is still open and I’ve been there many times since, but there’s never been anything like that again.

Greg’s copies of Wheelin’ and Dealin’ and Thelonious Monk & Sonny Rollins

DGM: How do you feel about eBay’s influence on the collecting experience?

Greg: I’m super new to the game compared to most of the people you have interviewed, and also I think compared to most collectors in general. (In fact, Rich, you and I are the two youngest serious jazz collectors I am aware of!) So eBay has been a present and necessary part of my collecting experience from the beginning. I can see the positives and negatives of eBay’s far reach on collecting jazz vinyl, but I try not to focus on it so much. It isn’t going away any time soon, and the reality is that some of the records I have are records I only have because of eBay (and Discogs, Reverb, etc.). eBay has made some rare stuff so much more easily available (if you have patience and money) that I can’t ever think of it as negative, even though a lot of the top stuff is out of reach to me — but it would be out of reach to me anyway. At least now I am aware of it and can watch it and get a handle on it.

eBay’s only negative is the absolute plague of sellers who overgrade like they think I’m not going to look at the record once I receive it. That’s annoying, but the reality is that maybe 3% of my eBay experiences are ever not great, and I figured out who the scoundrels are pretty fast. Has it inflated prices a bit? Sure, but so has time. And no matter how out of reach Mobley’s 1568 or Re:Percussion on Strata-East get, there will always be records under $40 that contain great, high-quality music that people are flat out sleeping on. Call me a filthy hipster, but I like having a collection of somewhat lesser-known jazz, too. I like discovering artists for myself as much as I like finding things I already know I’ll dig.

In short, eBay has made it so easy to find information (such as lots of different pictures of one record’s labels, details on weird anachronistic pressings, etc.) and, if you can afford it, get otherwise rare records, that I don’t mind it. But there’s still numerous ways to get records outside of eBay. And no matter how annoying eBay eventually gets, I can always use it as a knowledge source. So I am pro-eBay overall. I get the frustration, but I like it.

Mr. Fish himself

DGM: What are your thoughts on the past, present, and future of the jazz record market?

Greg: The past is horrifying: the story of how Dixieland music used to be very collectible, and the bubble just sort of burst one day and all those dudes that had poured tons of money into their collections now couldn’t give them away if they wanted to. Of course, I think Dixieland music is crap, but those dudes didn’t, and plenty of people think the music I love is crap, too. Nothing is really protecting us as ‘modern’ jazz collectors, and the fact that I see literally no people younger than myself getting into the hobby is scary vis-a-vis what my collection will be worth monetarily someday.

So that’s why it’s important to me to never ever ever look at my collection as an investment of any sort other than in my future enjoyment of the music. If suddenly the records become worthless, I’d be happy to scoop up more, but maybe I’d be bummed that my collection wasn’t seen as such a fancy thing anymore. Collecting anything comes with a certain amount of idiotic vanity, no matter how much any one of us might pretend we are above all of that.

Currently, the jazz record market is beyond bizarre. Not scary, but bizarre. I was just in Europe recently, and the prices for collectible records over there are absurd. For the top-tier collectibles that I saw, the prices are almost double what you’d expect. Even a label like BYG-Actuel, which is from France, or Timeless from Holland — those records sell for way more money over there than they do here, so it isn’t as simple as them just having less of it. I don’t know why that happens, but I worry that it’s starting to work its way over here to the states, too.

Right now, I have a low-tier want list record that I would value at about $20 on a good day in NM shape, and I’m watching two copies on eBay and a few on Discogs that range in price from $8 to $60, with no correlation at all with condition. So currently I have no idea what is going on in our market other than in-store prices rising for the “mid-range” stuff I like, and online prices seem to spazzing out all over the place. I think, though, that you have to enjoy and love the music, in vinyl form specifically, for reasons mostly unrelated to their trophy or monetary status. Only then are you free from any weird fluctuations in the market. I like to think I am like that, but who really knows? If I could get any record I wanted for a dollar, I doubt it would be as fun when I found one, but I bet I would still do it. And if I want a record, I know what I might have to pay for it, and I just have to decide if it’s worth that to me. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.

DGM: Do you have any advice for other collectors?

Greg: Don’t buy any records. Ever. That way I can buy them! Nah, but seriously, the only advice I have is a little self-righteous, but I stand by it. You have to be aware of the market and of trends and what’s popular — but you can’t be consumed by it. If you want to collect jazz vinyl, you have to have a very good understanding of why you want to do it, what you want to collect, and what you don’t want to collect. I think a collection of treasured music is worth more than a collection of rare or valuable music…maybe not in dollars, but in terms of collecting satisfaction and enjoyment. And the day I think of my collection as a burden rather than a hobby that really makes me excited and proud is the day I sell it all. But I doubt that day will ever come.

Further advice: it’s really easy to see someone else’s collecting ideas as snobby or wrong just because they aren’t yours. As an example, tons of collectors aren’t interested in first pressings like I am. They aren’t wrong, they just do things differently, and the music is the truly good stuff. Everything else is bookkeeping and minutiae. Similarly, the people who think record collectors who like rare originals are snobs are equally insufferable. Just let people live, man. Who cares why others collect or how they do it? If you’re grumpy about how others collect, it means you aren’t happy with how you collect. I guess my general advice is: open your ears, open your mind, and chill.