Jazz at the Denver Public Library Used Book Sale by Peter Furlong


The annual Denver Public Library (DPL) Used Book Sale is held under multiple tents on the grounds of DPL Central Library at the corner of 14th Avenue and Broadway.  The dates are June 6-9, 2013, and browsing and buying begins daily at 10am. In addition to books on all subjects, you can find audio books, DVDs, compact discs (CDs) and even some sheet music.  Bring a bag to carry your treasures home; you are sure to find something of interest in this huge sale of used books and music.

All used materials for sale are placed in categories for easier shopping.  The biographies of music personalities should be found in the “Biography” category—all genres of biography are here.  To find “How to Play Jazz Piano” or other books for students of music, look in the “Art” category.  Written music in sheet or book form is  also found in “Art.”  Music guides and music history works are in the “Art” category.  The fun of book shopping is to find the unexpected prize—sounds of Aha! may be heard in the background.

For the best selection of jazz and classical CDs, look in the “Better Books” section. To find pop and world music and lesser quality jazz and blues discs, you will have to explore the general media CD category. Whenever buying a used CD, open the case and make sure there is a CD inside and it matches the title on the case.  Many of the available CDs have come from the DPL circulating collection; although the cases are worn and include replacement cases, the library staff does a good job of maintaining the actual discs and my experience has been very good with playing their discs.  Note that there is some donated music here in excellent condition—maybe played once.  Also, The Denver Post has recently donated to DPL a large amount of CDs they received as review copies; these will be in “like new” condition.  Find these gems at the sale. CDs will be priced for about a dollar during the sale; CDs found in Better Books will be sold at a slight premium.

The price you will pay for books in the general sale section will be two to three dollars for a hardback book.  Trade paperbacks are a lower price and mass market paperbacks are even less.  All books classified as “Better Books” will be priced at a premium—average price $5.  Good deals abound.  You may wonder how these books have arrived at this place and time.  DPL catalogued books are removed from the library shelves due to inactivity, or there are excess copies of that item.  Room must be made on the shelf for new book arrivals.  The branch libraries, upon determination that a book is no longer needed, will ship it to the Central Library where volunteer book sorters will prepare the item for the next sale.  When shopping at the sale, let staff know of any suggestions you may have to improve your book-buying experience.

Recently, there have been a lot of autobiographies written by aging rockers.  The Library has been purchasing these new titles in large volume, distributing them to all the branches around the metro area, and designating some of them as “featured titles.”  When the public’s need to read the new releases wears off and the “hold” list for these books dwindles to zero, these excess books will find their way to the used book sale.  Look for hardback titles in the “Biography” section written by Keith Richards, Neil Young, Carole King, Patti Smith, and Pete Townsend priced at $3 each at the June sale.

Here is a sampling of used materials I have acquired over the years from DPL and a brief description of each.  The featured musical artist here is Ben Webster (1909-1973).

Music GuideMusic Hound Jazz: The Essential Album Guide. Visible Ink Press. Detroit, MI. 1998.

From the profile on Ben Webster: “One of the ‘Big Three’ tenor saxophone players of the ‘30s and ‘40s, along with Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, Ben Webster carved a unique niche for himself.”  However, Webster was initially told he needed to quit attempts to emulate Hawkins.  He shed this mantle and built his reputation working with several different big bands in the ‘30s—Fletcher Henderson, Benny Carter, Cab Calloway, etc.  Following his three years of work with Duke Ellington and his Famous Orchestra, he played with smaller ensembles on New York’s 52nd Street and on the West Coast, where he was associated with Art Tatum, Coleman Hawkins, Oscar Peterson, and Billie Holiday.  He was then off to Europe in 1965 where he continued to record and add to his global fandom.

I like to have one or more jazz and blues guides within arm’s length as I listen to KUVO Jazz radio.  The on-air hosts are great in providing their historical perspective, but this only whets my appetite for more information.  An objective of KUVO is to educate as well as entertain our listeners.

Used Book. Ben Webster: His Life and Music. Jeroen de Valk. Berkeley Hills Books. Berkeley, CA. 2001.

Webster became an expatriate in 1964.  He played a four-week gig in London at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club and then he went to Scandinavia.  He soon settled in Copenhagen.  For the next nine years he played and lived there and in Amsterdam.  He never returned to the United States and rarely went into the studio to record.  Often when he left town for a club engagement, he played with local musicians.  The author writes, “…he had to play with mediocre, downright pitiful musicians.  In these years (1964 to 1974), American musicians used the expression ‘a European rhythm section’ for an accompanying group that let the tempo slow down or hurried it on, and made it impossible to swing.” (p. 137) However, in Copenhagen, Webster had a regular rhythm section consisting of pianist Kenny Drew, 18-year old bass player Niels-Henning Orsted-Pedersen, and 24-year old drummer Alex Riel.  Amsterdam hosted a trio of pianist Cees Slinger, bass player Jacques Schols and drummer John Engels.  “Unfortunately, these musicians were not always available, so on tour Webster often had to make do with local talent.”  (p. 138) There is an extended discussion by the author of this music accompaniment problem.

When things were going badly on stage and he was lonely, Webster battled an alcohol problem.  He seemed to be surrounded with people and admirers, but never had a close friend.  There were cultural differences.  The drinking and scandals that arose spoiled many of his club tours.  However, the people in Copenhagen and Amsterdam loved the American jazz musicians and acknowledged the artfulness of their music.  When not playing his horn, Webster shot outstanding pool and, throughout his life, entertained his friends with his piano playing.

CD reissue.  Cotton Tail.  Ben Webster.  Various recording locations and dates. RCA Victor.

From the CD notes written by Loren Schoenberg: “This collection traces Webster’s ascent to the pantheon of jazz: from his brusque beginnings in the Kansas City band of Bennie Moten, through the journeyman years of the ‘30s, … (follows his) sterling four-year stint as one of the most elegant voices in the Duke Ellington Orchestra, and finally touches on his status as an icon on New York’s fabled 52nd Street.”

Joining the Ellington group in 1940 along with Webster were pianist and composer Billy Strayhorn and bassist Jimmy Blanton, marking the beginning of major changes to the band’s writing and sound.  Fourteen of the twenty-two selections are from the Ellington recordings; each of the numbers has been chosen for including a solo contribution by Webster’s tenor saxophone.  Included in this collection of Ellington tunes are “Cotton Tail”, “Just A-Sittin’ and A-Rockin’”, and  ”Chelsea Bridge”.   Included among other tunes on the CD is a rousing rendition of “Cadillac Slim” from Benny Carter and his Chocolate Dandies.

More on the Sale: This year there will be an estimated 80,000 used books for you to choose from.  You should find that the quality of the selections has improved.  I can  cite two reasons for this: first, approximately 75% of the titles have been donated by individuals and businesses and only 25% are former library holdings; and second, during the sort process, books have been subject to a higher standard of condition test for inclusion.  Books with some damage or in excessive supply are more readily subject to recycling.  The result is an improved book-buying experience.



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2 responses to “Jazz at the Denver Public Library Used Book Sale by Peter Furlong

  1. Noreen Jackson

    Most interesting about the Denver Public Library sale. Re: Ben Webster, there is an American pianist named Irvin Rochlin, aged 87, who recently moved back to the States after 43 years of living abroad, primarily in Amsterdam and who worked with Ben Webster and Dexter and many other jazz stalwarts throughout those decades abroad. He was also a jazz paino professor at both Royal Conservatories of Music in Holland. His credentials are impeccable and his playing as well. He has his own interesting story. If you want to reach him, contact me via email, Peter. I live in the building where you do and I can put you in touch. Best regards,

  2. Peter Furlong

    Reblogged this on Peter on Music.

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