Recently I decided to unearth a pile of delicate, glass 78rpm records that I’ve been dragging around with me from one house to another over the years, each move threatening the life of these beauties. I hadn’t played them for many years–most were acquired when I was a kid and became interested in vintage jazz (and briefly enthused by the idea of collecting records, which proved too expensive and fussy a hobby for me to continue with). To my surprise only one of the roughly fifty or so discs had cracked…which led me to start thinking about the miraculous nature of the 78 record. Music from decades past is embedded in those grooves and has been waiting patiently and faithfully for me to retrieve it and let it sing once more. I’ve acquired a horse hair brush for cleaning them properly and plan on spending part of the summer happily immersed in the rediscovery of my long-dormant collection of shellac. In order to understand the bizarre, elaborate and Rube Goldberg-esque way in which 78rpm records were created, one could do worse than to watch this short informational film from 1938, ‘Record Making With Duke Ellington’. The film is a miraculous document– one can only marvel at its resilience for having survived over the years, given its complete obscurity and non-utility to any present day viewers. Who was this short film made for and why was it made? Don’t know. But its survival–like my 78s–is proof that the seemingly fragile remnants of the past may be sturdier than all the JPEGS, downloads, MP3s etc. that we now count on to survive us into the future…


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2 Responses

  1. John and I really enjoyed this! He’s a huge Ellington fan… and we loved both the recording session (“It’s an express train, not a freight train”) and the extraordinary amount of science, mechanics and and ingenuity that went into making one 78 record… Thanks for putting all this stuff online.
    All best, Mary

    1. So glad you guys enjoyed the video Mary. (I have a feeling from Duke’s performance that wasn’t quite the way he talked to his band.) Who could possibly have thought up the insanely complex process of making and duplicating those records? The 78 has become quite a fascination of mine and buying and cleaning them up is becoming a problem in my house.

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