“This is the real jazz!”
Just her name alone – Marili Morden – evoked in me an image of a Disney femme fatale, sexy and distant… When I first entered the sacred shrine of the Jazz Man Record Shop, perhaps guided by a pulsing star, it was with the timid steps of a freshly minted acolyte. I had been told that there alone was the source of all knowledge pertaining to jazz, and thus to all that mattered in the world. And right there, coolly present in the glow of soft light through the venetian blinds, was the foretold high priestess of jazz, Marili Morden!
I myself had been pulsing with the excitement of discovery. I had heard the true jazz, and craved deeper knowledge. I realized that I had been led astray by the polished big band performances of Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, but had at last been awakened to Dixieland, the 2-beat revelations of Bob Crosby’s Bob Cats!
“But that is NOT true jazz,” intoned the High Priestess, coolly dousing my exultation with cold holy water. “Just a mere pop imitation!” And with her delicate fingers she flipped across a row of file folders protecting the collection of rare shellac phonograph records filed in the shelves behind her. She deftly pulled out one treasured disc from its protective cardboard sleeve, and gently placed it upon the turntable built into her counter.
“This is the true jazz,” she murmured quietly as she carefully lowered the record player’s tone arm and needle onto the outer lead-in groove of the 1923 Gennet labeled 78-RPM black shellac phonograph recording of “Mabel’s Dream,” by King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band. The sound was strangely thin and distant. It was an “acoustic“ recording, made without a microphone, but with the band playing into a huge horn.
An acoustic recording was one made before there were microphones. The horn piped the sound directly to a recording needle, cutting a groove into a revolving soft wax disc. The resulting sound, after the wax master disc was electroplated into a stamping master and molded to black shellac discs, was thin, scratchy, and lacking in bass tones…. Yet it was amazingly hypnotic, as if from another world, and Marili Morden’s look of transcendence convinced me. This was indeed the real jazz! It was a moment of true epiphany for me. The discovery of New Orleans jazz became my religion.
If I would draw a new cartoon of myself, the 20-year-old enthusiast, inside the Jazz Man Record Shop in late 1944, it would show me leaning forward over the shop’s counter, wide-eyed, addressing the rather bored Marili Morden, and gasping, “OK…I get it. The Meaning of Life in encapsulated in the Blues and New Orleans jazz!”
At the time I stumbled onto it, the shop was within walking distance from where I lived in Hollywood. I had recently been medically discharged from the U.S. Army in 1944, a year before the end of WW2, and two years before television began experimental broadcasting. It was an entirely different world! The Jazz Man Record shop would one day fade into legend. It was already a living legend when I first entered the shop as if it were a holy shrine, presided over by an exotic goddess.
But don’t think I’m sneering. Time, and many careful listenings have borne out Marili’s benediction. I play these same recordings with joy and appreciation today, 65 years later. King Oliver’s recordings were indeed masterworks of collectively improvised jazz, with the very young Louis Armstrong playing second cornet to Joe “King” Oliver.
Marili Morden, not only knew what she was talking about, she was also beautiful, extremely sexy and sophisticated. I’d just returned from the army, already married, and with my son Kim at home. Even if this hadn’t been so, I never thought of her in a personal way. She was older and way out of my league. To me she was the Jazz Goddess. She just barely tolerated me, because I wanted to learn, and because I became a good customer.
Besides “my new religion,” I also discovered copies of The Record Changer magazine on Marili’s counter – what developed from that discovery is in the next chapter – so walking into that tiny shop in my Hollywood home town, was a step that led directly to other steps, to my career in animation. The first step was to become absorbed with collecting traditional jazz records, and hanging around the Jazz Man record shop. OK, some young men hang out in bars! To Marili Morden I was just a boring customer, so naïve as to be only marginally tolerated, and if that had been all, she would not likely remember me if she were alive today. But today she would know me because I later created “The CAT.” The “CATtoons” and illustrations I drew for the Record Changer magazine established my reputation as a published cartoonist, and led to my being hired as a production designer at the budding UPA Hollywood animation studio. So it was not only King Oliver and New Orleans Jazz I found in that shop, but also the key to my animation career!
The Record Changer magazine was the record collector’s guide and trading compendium. I eventually became co-editor with Nesuhi Ertugen, a leading jazz music expert and record producer. He arrived at the shop and married Marili. By that time I was already a regular contributor of drawings to the magazine, and soon began to draw a series of full-page ads promoting the shop. featuring caricatures of both Marili and Nesuhi. One is shown here. Others are in the book, “Hot Jazz For Sale,” by Cary Ginell, the full story of the 44-year history of the Jazz Man Record Shop. My work on the Record Changer magazine is told and fully shown in my book, “The CAT On A Hot Thin Groove,” published by Fantagraphics.
Thus I was accepted enough to be invited by this dazzling duo to their upstairs apartment ashram, and was hypnotized by its exotic atmosphere, with what then would be called pornographic artwork on the walls… more properly, erotic graphics. In those days they could have been arrested for that stuff! Those two were my first encounter with sophistication…