The Record Changer magazine epitomized jazz fans, then and now: obsessive, contentious, prone to overstatement and hyperbole. In other words, the things that make being a geek both fun and tiring. The magazine began as a simple way for record collectors in the early 1940s to find the rare sides they had coveted (this is the 78 era, after all, and those fragile, shellacked suckers didn’t have perfect sound forever). But The Record Changer grew steadily throughout the 1940s, and by 1945 it was a true magazine with high-profile contributors. Orrin Keepnews joined the staff in 1948, where he stayed as managing editor until 1956, when he left to run Riverside Records full time. The Record Changer closed in 1957, and it’s been left to the dustbin of jazz history and the humidity-controlled vaults of collectors around the world.
One of the most popular and distinctive features about The Record Changer was Gene Deitch’s artwork. His idiosyncratic cover designs, incorporating the hip styles of the time, from surrealism and cubism to 1950s-style graphics, were gorgeous, and his regular cartoon feature, “The Cat,” was a loving and mocking take on fanatical jazz fans—of which Deitch was one, and he based the character on himself.
In the new book The CAT on a Hot Thin Groove, published by Fantagraphics and available in bookstores everywhere, Deitch’s talent is put on gorgeous display in this large, landscape-format book, which collects all his work for The Record Changer. The book is a fascinating look not only at Deitch’s art but also the attitudes of what were deemed “moldy figs”—aka New Orleans hot jazz and hard-swing fanatics—toward bebop and its supporters (i.e., Leonard Feather, who is hilariously skewered in a 1946 cartoon as “Braynard Leather,” a “huckster” for modern jazz and all his writing about it in “Monotone” magazine).
The 160-page The CAT on a Hot Thin Groove is a steep $39.95, but it’s a swanky book, with no production cost spared. Dig it.