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A search for bagpipe jazz leads to old treasures

Recordings of old 78s in a variety of genres available on many sites

Posted: Thursday, November 13, 2008

T here's some search phrases, such as "guys who look good in skirts," that Google ought to vomit right back at you. My latest atrocity: "bagpipes" and "jazz."

Having spent a wee bit o' time in Scotland, the land where the national delicacy requires a sheep's stomach (another egregious word combination), I can report that the only bagpiper I actually saw was playing on the main tourist drag in Edinburgh. It was extreme-low tourist season, with weather to match, and I'm guessing Scots really don't like inflicting further punishment on themselves. I was willing for the cause of seeking out Earth's most unlikely and remote jazz - at least until Google for some reason came across The Unique Quartet's 1893 recording of "Mama's Black Baby Boy," and that was all she wrote.

So consider yourselves to have dodged a bullet. "Mama's" is horribly scratchy and hissy, and the volume really has to be cranked to hear it, but ... it's 1893. How can it not be cool?

It's part of the Internet Archive's massive 78 rpm and cylinder collection (www.archive.org/details/78rpm).

There's old jazz, spirituals, country, Broadway and folk music from home and abroad - including plenty of bagpipes from Scotland.

I've written about one or two similar collections, available free because the copyrights have long expired. But this re-encouter led to a simple Googling of "78rpm" and "mp3," and the results are impressive.

• Turtle's "78rpm" Jukebox (http://turtleservices.com/jukebox.htm): A "William Tell Overture" from 1914, "Pastafazoola" from 1927 and a megapile of everything else solemn to silly in what the site claims is a unique collection. No point matching songs to see if it's true - there's too many.

• Reproduction Of 78rpm Records (http://home.clara.net/rfwilmut/repro78/repro.html): Remember that scene in "The Shawshank Redemption" where Tim Robbins plays an old opera record that mesmerizes the inmates? That's the sort of thing you can get to from this site. It's mostly about how to transfer 78s to digital, but there's an "examples" link that features some classical music, plus a link to another site with operatic stuff. Andrew Lloyd Webber it's not.

• List Of Recorded 78rpm Records (http://78records.cdbpdx.com): Links to a bunch of jazz and French discs. There's another collection behind a password wall, except the password provided doesn't work. But the site appears to be updated regularly, so hopefully it'll be fixed quickly.

• Folktunes.org (http://folktunes.org/tags/78rpm): Not a ton of stuff, but enough fun oldies to fill a CD, and that's just from the first few pages of search results. Refine the search to your particular tastes, as long as it isn't hip-hop or electronica, and plenty is likely to turn up.

Albums I'm listening to now: Eddie Gomez's "Outlaws," a staggeringly creative and intense acoustic bass/flute discourse (couple bucks at eMusic.com); Liv Mari Schei's "Sol??de," some worshipful and emotionally musical poetry about my new home in the Svalbard archipelago of Norway (three of the songs are free at www.livmarischei.no/musikk.html).

• Mark Sabbatini is a professional music reviewer living in Longyearbyen, Norway, where open mikes backed by an electronic piano take place around bonfires while a few whole reindeer roast on spits.



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