Jazz Collectors of Instagram: Interview with @gstvinyl

Wrapping up the second season of Instagram interviews with our fourth and final episode, we turn to a West Coast collector with an early presence in the online jazz community. As a result, I have long had a ton of respect for @gstvinyl or just “GST”, a humble collector with a deep collection full of impressive treasures. GST is a rather diverse jazz collector with taste evenly spread over the idioms of bop and free (in my opinion he demonstrates a rare appreciation of both phases in the music’s development, one that doesn’t seem to lean heavily either way). He also ain’t afraid to post a rock or soul record from time to time. A mysterious collector who, like London Jazz Collector, has long concealed his identity, GST’s story is equal parts entertaining and informative.

DGM: How long have you been collecting records and jazz records specifically?

GST: My first memory of playing a record was in my parent’s basement when I was around 6 years old. My parents had sold most of their albums through various garage sales over the years, but they had and still have five albums that I can remember: The Carpenters’ and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s self-titled albums, Jesus Christ Superstar, an album that featured the school choir where my mother attended high school, and a Disney album with Peter and the Wolf on one side and Fantasia on side two. I remember being fascinated by the mechanics of the turntable.

GST’s original copy of Peter and the Wolf

Fast forward 10 years (1997) and the first record I ever bought was Queen’s News of the World from Half Price Book Store in West Des Moines, Iowa, because I wanted to hang the cover on my wall. Within a year I had bought several more records, although their names escape me now, and a cheap Stanton turntable. I loved that albums were a cheap way to discover music in a time before streaming audio was widely available. If I wanted to hear Jeannie C. Riley’s “Harper Valley P.T.A.” I had to buy one of her albums. The addiction had begun.

My interest in jazz was sparked after seeing The Mingus Big Band play at my college. It was a visceral experience with the band whooping and hollering as they reacted to each other’s solos. I don’t have an academic background in music and I haven’t played an instrument since I was in eighth grade (trombone then saxophone), but I’ve always believed that music doesn’t require a specific degree to enjoy. The band was having fun and so was I.

The first jazz LP I ever bought was Art Blakey’s Moanin’, although it was a modern reissue, around the year 2000. When I first heard Lee Morgan’s trumpet blasting through the speakers I was taken back to the Mingus Big Band concert. To this day Moanin’ is one of my favorite albums, and like every addict I’ve been chasing that feeling I had at the Mingus concert with every new album I buy.

DGM: How did you get started collecting jazz records?

GST: I really started really collecting after I had accumulated enough albums of various genres to create what I felt was a decent library, around 12 years ago. I had no friends with a real interest in jazz or collecting records so most of my information was obtained through dealers and more recently sites like Jazz Collector, London Jazz Collector, and now Instagram.

The first vintage press I sought out was again Moanin’. I ended up buying a second pressing although I didn’t know it at the time.

GST’s copy of Moanin’

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

GST: Originally I was strictly brick and mortar, but late ‘90s Iowa was not exactly a hot bed of vinyl so I quickly moved on to Gemm.com (a now-defunct site similar to Discogs) and eBay.

Nowadays most of my records come from friends (often through Instagram) and a few dealers/stores I trust. There are too many new sellers in the game who don’t know how to properly grade vinyl. It seems like most of the time I try out a new seller I’m disappointed, so it’s simply not worth the effort anymore.

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

GST: Around 2,000 total LPs and out of that probably 800 are jazz. These days I mostly buy jazz records and a few blues albums when I can find them. I might buy a handful of rock/country/classical LPs each year.

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

GST: Both. I’m a recovering audiophile so I still have plenty of reissues and still buy one from time to time when I get caught up in the hype (think Music Matters SRX), but I mostly stick to originals. I’m more lenient when I find something out in the wild. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a true first if the album is really rare or evidence of a first pressing is in doubt (e.g. one sided DG albums in Blue Note’s 4100 series).

DGM: What equipment do you use for playback?

GST: VPI TNT with Graham 2.2 arm/Benz Ruby cart and Pass Labs XONO phono preamp from my audiophile days. I don’t have a dedicated mono set up or anything that plays 78s, but it’s a dream of mine.

GST’s setup

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

GST: I only prefer mono when it was originally recorded in mono (i.e. I try and avoid rechanneled stereo albums). I stay away from A/B-ing mono and stereo versions as that harkens back to my audiophile days (hot stampers anyone?!) and can get expensive. This is a case where I believe ignorance can increase your happiness. (NOTE: To clarify I have never bought a “hot stamper”.)

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

GST: Like most folks I’ve got an ever-changing cast of favorite artists who pop in and out of my top ten, but a few that always remain are Eric Dolphy, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, and Art Blakey. Lately I’ve really been getting into Don Cherry, Barney Wilen, as well as later Jackie McLean.

The digital collecting world has known GST for many years in forums and blog comments sections through this Dolphy moniker

My collection doesn’t run as deep as some folks when it comes to individual artists, with a few exceptions. I can be easily distracted and like to jump around between artists, labels, and styles.

As far as labels are concerned, I like all the major ones (Blue Note, Prestige/New Jazz, Impulse, Riverside, Columbia, etc.) along with ESP Disk and Debut (both the Danish and Mingus owned label). I’m not a completist as there are just too many albums/artists I’d like to explore. It’s hard to concentrate on one musician or label, however, a full run of the Danish Debut label is mighty intriguing.

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

GST: I suppose Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch! simply because he’s one of my favorite artists and it’s one of my favorite albums. Other than that my favorite album is probably whatever I recently bought. I’m sure that’s partly because that album would be spending a lot of time on the table, but also because the hunt is almost as much fun as the capture.

GST has an (understandable) obsession with this classic

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

GST: My favorite “find” was actually through Discogs. The seller had a nice collection of NM records, most of which were jazz. Nothing crazy, but I got some nice copies of albums like Dexter Gordon’s One Flight Up and A Swingin’ Affair, Booker Little’s self-titled and Out Front, Don Cherry’s Complete Communion, Out to Lunch! and a few others. The crown jewel of the seller’s collection was a mono promo The Velvet Underground and Nico that was not listed for sale, but I knew they had after they emailed me several pictures of what they had. It took several weeks of prodding, but eventually I was able to secure the album. I ended up selling (and hand-delivering) the Velvet Underground to a collector in Japan and got a copy of Lightnin’ Hopkin’s Mojo Hand out of the deal as well. Great experience all around and one I’ll never forget.

I never did find out how the seller came across a collection of pristine albums as they didn’t appear to be a collector themselves. I suspect the records may have been from a reviewer as they were from a specific time period and there were quite a few promos.

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

GST: I appreciate the ease of it, but I rarely buy from eBay these days. There seem to be a dozen or so players that control the market due to their reputations so the prices have gotten too high. I sometimes wonder if we inflate the importance of eBay in today’s collecting as it’s not the only player in the game. Specifically, I wonder how Yahoo Auctions in Japan influences the market.

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

GST: I wish I would have bought more in the past, less in the present and I probably won’t be able to afford anything in the future.

For now I assume that some if not all rare sought after albums will continue to increase in value as the world grows in population but gets smaller in terms of connectivity. Although with the current Coronavirus situation we may see a flood of collectable records on the market as folks do what they need to do to pay the rent.

DGM: Do you have any advice for other collectors?

GST: There is no wrong way to collect and often I’m more interested in someone’s collection that doesn’t follow a common path. The big labels are great, but there’s a lot of jazz to explore out there.

Buy records of music you enjoy that’s in good enough condition that you’ll actually play it. Go ahead and buy a vintage reissue or even a modern pressing if you can’t afford a first pressing in playable condition. No need to rush as you may regret buying something of lesser quality and want to upgrade almost immediately. I’m not a big believer in “placeholders” (i.e. records that you won’t/can’t play due to condition).

Do your own research as dealers often don’t know as much as they think they do.

Last but not least, we’re a small community and most of us are friendly so don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or are looking for advice.