Through the summer of 1974, Rutgers University’s Institute of Jazz Studies sponsored annual discographical conferences. A prime force in establishing those conferences was Walter C. Allen, who died in December of that year at the age of 54.
Allen was author of “Hendersonia,” the comprehensive bio-discography of Fletcher Henderson that set the standard against which all future jazz bio-discographies would be measured. At the time of his death, Allen was working on an expanded version of his biography of King Oliver.
The discographical conferences, or Discons as they were familiarly referred to, were events at which collectors and researchers of jazz recordings from all over the country would gather for a weekend of lectures and socializing. With Walt’s passing, the conferences ceased taking place.
Enter Ken Crawford, Jr. of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Ken was a researcher, host of a radio program on which he played vintage jazz recordings, jazz film collector and archivist, and a founding member and one-time president of the International Association of Jazz Record Collectors [IAJRC]. Wanting to have a place where jazz record collectors could annually gather, as they had done at the Discons, Ken established what he informally referred to as a “collector’s bash.”
Here, in part, is how he described the first bash in an advertisement in the spring 1975 IAJRC Journal.
As a tribute to the memory of our good friend, Walt Allen, we are holding what we hope to be a genuine jazz record collector’s bash [sic], featuring the playing, trading, buying & selling of jazz records, along with just plain listening to our kind of music. Aside from this, we may or may not have a speaker, on Saturday afternoon, to be decided later, however, there will definitely be a jazz-film show, on Saturday evening from 7:30 PM until 10:30 PM.
This bash is not in any way to be compared to Walt Allen’s great “Discons” of past years, but merely a get-to-gether [sic] for collectors, in memory of Walt. If this sounds like your bag, we hope to see you there.
So began what has become an annual tradition.
The initial bashes were one-day (Saturday) affairs with a gathering of collectors on Friday evenings. Collectors brought records to sell, trade, and play and discuss. Ken also showed selections from his vast rare jazz film archives.
The first bash, in 1975, was held at the Ramada Inn in New Brunswick, but the following year moved to the Holiday Inn on Route 1 South in neighboring North Brunswick. As the years passed, the Friday hours were extended, starting at 1:00 PM and both days were advertised as ending at 3:00 AM.
As an added attraction, Ken engaged Ed Hutto, an engineer by profession, who had created a series of historical presentations utilizing three slide projectors with as many screens, along with a prerecorded synchronized soundtrack. Simultaneously projected on the screens were images of bands, individual musicians and 78 rpm record labels with Ed’s narration and musical excerpts from recordings. Among the presentations made by Ed were those about Fletcher Henderson, Bunny Berigan, two on Duke Ellington (early & late years), bands and singers of the 1930s and 1940s, the Dorsey Brothers and the history of RCA Victor. The one about the Dorsey Brothers was advertised in advance by Ken Crawford as being a two-hour presentation. Some of the presentations had become so popular that bash attendees had requested to see them a second time.
By 1992, the bash had outgrown the North Brunswick venue. The Holiday Inn, by then, had been purchased by and converted to a Quality Inn. In that year, the bash moved to another Quality Inn in Somerset, about 10 miles (15 km) away.
In 1994, Ken Crawford advertised the bash as Our 20th! Approaching his 70th birthday, the effort of organizing the bash was showing on its founder. For 1995, Rod Baum — owner of Rare Records, a used LP store in Teaneck, New Jersey — volunteered to host the bash. Unfortunately for Rod, that involved neglecting his business for two business days. The following year, he advertised The Annual Coillector’s Bash #22 to take place on June 29th & 30th, a Saturday and Sunday. As the record store was closed on Sunday, it meant Rod would miss only Saturday at his place of business. It was also the first year at which jazz musicians were hired for entertainment. Despite the Sunday concert, it was not enough to keep the collectors at the bash. The majority of attendees, many of whom had come from 100 or more miles away, had begun to leave in the morning.
In an effort to keep the bash going, the next year, 1997, Russ Shor and Mark Berresford co-hosted the event under the auspices of VJM Jazz and Blues Mart sponsorship. Having outgrown the Somerset hotel (now a Holiday Inn), the bash was moved a few miles east to the Holiday Inn in South Plainfield, on the border with Piscataway. Joe Lauro, who owns a large film library company on Shelter Island, New York, provided the jazz film presentation. The bash was back to its Friday-Saturday schedule and live jazz music was presented for the last time. This was, after all, a collectors’ meeting, not a jazz festival and though enjoyable, the live music didn’t draw a big crowd.
No ads can be found for the 1997 bash, but in 1998, the winter IAJRC Journal had an ad headed VJM Jazz and Blues Mart Presents the 27th Annual Collector’s Fair and Bash. It was, in fact, the 24th Bash, but nobody seemed to have noticed the error until a little more than a decade later.
Russ Shor hosted the bash until 2004. A job related relocation from the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area to California made it difficult for him to continue devoting time to organizing the bash. For a few years, one of the highlights for attendees was seeing and listening to Russ play the original Gennett recording of King Oliver’s “Zulu’s Ball.” The only known 78 rpm copy of the recording, with Louis Armstrong as sideman, was acquired jointly by Russ and Joe Lauro when they purchased one of the world’s premier early jazz and blues collections from a European collector.
It was also during the VJM sponsorship that attendees were afforded the privilege of seeing newly restored Vitaphone and other shorts, courtesy of Ron Hutchison of the Vitaphone Project.
In 2005, another Philadelphia area collector and attendee, Howard Berg, stepped up to host the Bash. He did so for following two years. By then, Henry Schmidt had been providing projection video for Ron’s Vitaphone film and Dave Weiner’s jazz film presentations. Henry is a veteran collector who has provided independent labels with source material for reissue projects. He also is responsible for hosting the so-called record challenge
During the 2007 bash, it became known that the Holiday Inn would undergo renovation that would reduce by two-thirds the size of the banquet room that had been used by the bash for a decade. This forced a search for a new venue in the vicinity of the previous ones. For personal reasons, Howard Berg became unable to host the bash and it looked as if there weren’t going to a meeting in 2008.
In late February 2008, when it was learned that Howard would not be able to host the bash, Jim Eigo, owner of Jazz Promo Services approached Art Zimmerman, owner of Zim Records, asking if the two of them should do so. A search for a new venue was started and, within a month, with the help of Henry Schmidt, the Hilton Woodbrige in Iselin, New Jersey was booked for June.
Reaction to the new venue by attendees was so overwhelmingly positive that the hotel, under new ownership and since renamed Hotel Woodbridge at Metropark, has been booked for the bash ever since.
Bash History written and compiled by Art Zimmerman.