Brampton man’s passion for jazz music fuels his hobby for collecting records
BRAMPTON—When it comes to music, Brampton’s Ken McPherson would rather be stuck in the ‘20s.
McPherson, 60, is a collector of 78 rpm (revolutions per minute) records, mainly from jazz and dance bands from early ‘20s to late ‘30s, and says the organic sound a vintage record produces has to be heard with the heart, not merely through the ears.
“It’s the preservation of music that makes me want to be its keeper,” he said. “The hiss and pop that you hear in the records to me add character because that’s the way they sounded then and that’s how they’re meant to sound now.”
He demonstrates by playing a recording by American jazz musician Clarence Williams from 1929, where Williams can be heard scat singing. The vocals punctuate the air with astounding clarity.
On most days, after clocking in an eight-hour shift in the customer service department of a GTA municipality, McPherson unwinds by soaking in the acoustic recordings of jazz masters such as Jack Teagarden, Fletcher Henderson, Williams, James Johnson and others.
“To me, collecting these jazz records is a passion,” he said. “This type of music is timeless.”
But whatever you do, don’t call them vinyl. From their introduction in 1898 to the late ‘50s, 78s were made with a shellac-based material known commercially as Bakelite. The vinyl records didn’t come on the scene until the ‘60s.
Unlike LP (long playing) records, 78s have just one track of music recorded on each side, so there’s a lot of switching back and forth, which he said doesn’t bother him. The antique records, he said, are also surprisingly compatible with his modern
record player – an Audio-Technica turntable armed with a ceramic stylus.
The Brampton man reckons his collection of more than 3,000 jazz and dance band records is worth thousands of dollars.
The records, neatly categorized and tucked inside beige sleeves, are housed in McPherson’s basement man cave, aptly named St. Louis Blues Ave. The shelves of the room are dotted with statues of jazz musicians.
He says the 78s are pretty resilient and don't require any special storage conditions.
In addition to his jazz collection, which isn’t for sale, McPherson is also a record dealer of 78s and 45s. The more than 50,000 discs stacked in every available corner of his tool shed, sell for anywhere $1 per disc to $400 for an entire collection of a particular genre.
McPherson began collecting jazz records some three decades ago, when he lived in a rented apartment in Toronto. The man who lived in the unit above him would blast jazz songs through his record player and the sounds grew McPherson. He soon struck up a friendship with the upstairs neighbor, who introduced him to jazz and blues.
McPherson wants schools to teach the evolution of music, with records as part of the curriculum, before the timeless melodies and their medium fade into oblivion.
“Digital sound filters out all the noise–the hisses and the pops of the records – whereas the original records play the way they were meant to be played,” he said. “If anybody wants to hear the music of these jazz giants, I would strongly recommend they hear it the original way.”
Correction: August 10, 2015
An earlier version of this article misstated the year of Clarence Williams' record. The record was from 1929.