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How Did I Not Really Know About Kenny Dorham Before Record Store Day This Year?

Mark Smotroff gets his eyes and ears opened…

How does a recording this nice and beautiful completely elude me, a fairly serious jazz fan? I’ll tell you how. One, I admit I am guilty of not listening to radio for the most part these days and I have not gotten on board with the whole podcast thing yet in any serious manner. 

What has usually worked best for me over the years has been getting turned on to new music from friends or at music stores or venues where music is being played such as coffeehouses, concerts, even restaurants and stores. That is where I learned about The Cure, The Smiths, Built To Spill,  Solomon Burke, Betty Lavette, Elvis Costello, Fleet Foxes, Ra Ra Riot and so many others. 

And this year it was in fact Record Store Day which hepped me to an artist I completely missed along the way: Kenny Dorham.  I’d certainly heard his playing as a session player over the years. For gawds sakes this quote from the wiki says most of what you need to know: “He played in the big bands of Lionel Hampton, Billy Eckstine, Dizzy Gillespie, and Mercer Ellington and the quintet of Charlie Parker. He joined Parker’s band in December 1948.[2] He was a charter member of the original cooperative Jazz Messengers. He also recorded as a sideman with Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins, and he replaced Clifford Brown in the Max Roach Quintet after Brown’s death in 1956.”

The guy had cred. Yet even there they acknowledge he was a classic case of a very underrated musician flying under the radar of many (like me!). So I never really knew about his own albums…

Thankfully, on Record Store Day many people were buzzing about trying to get a copy of quiet kenny (yes, it is intentionally spelled in lower case letters) reissued in its original Mono mix and cover design. And then the owner of Tunnel Records, knowing my tastes pretty well by this point, urged me to grab a copy of the album. 

I’m glad I did as it is a fabulous, swinging hard bop recording from 1959 which presents the trumpeter backed by greats like Paul Chambers on bass and Tommy Flanagan on piano.  It is one of those generally really nice sounding Rudy Van Gelder albums too (save for the boxy sounding piano). The vinyl is thick, dark and perfectly centered, pressed at RTI so there are no issues.  I have no idea how this compares to an original pressing but Kevin Gray’s mastering seems very pleasant with a likely brighter high end  (as has been the case with other RVG remasters in the Blue Note Tone Poet series).

So there are no issues there. 

But how did I miss an album like this?  Well, in part it comes down to the circles one keeps — unfortunately I don’t know a lot of deep jazz fans in my immediate area and circle of friends. I have not been seeing people posting Kenny’s albums on the many jazz enthusiast groups on Facebook and other social media. 

With that in mind, I started asking why was this particular album was being reissued in the first place and why it was such an in demand item for Record Store Day.  Well… a quick look at Discogs provided a simple answer: it seems that the Mono originals are about as rare as hen’s teeth (if you’ll pardon the cliche). There are two original copies up there and they begin at $3600, asking price. You can see how the selling prices for original albums rose over time on Popsike, getting into the $1000 range by around 2006. Analogue Productions did a reissue in 2017 and those are going for some coin as well.  Heck, the current Craft Records reissues are commanding prices upwards of $100 already on Discogs!

So this is clearly one of those highly desired albums many wanted but couldn’t reach outside of lesser reissues. 

Whatever the case, I’m glad I’ve been turned on to it because quiet kenny is indeed a beautiful recording. If you want to preview this album on Tidal, click here to jump to it in Master Quality (MQA) audio and Qobuz Hi Res (click here).  

And now I need to track down more of Kenny Dorham’s records… The treasure hunt continues ever onward!

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