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Various Artists: The Complete H.R.S. Sessions

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Back in the mid 1930s, when jazz itself was as young as most of the musicians playing it, a handful of devoted fans banded together to share their love for this music with others. They were all record collectors who believed that jazz was more than just a passing fad and that its performers were more than mere entertainers. Modeled after discographer Charles Delaunay and critic Hugues Panassie’s Hot Club of France, the Chicago Rhythm Club, begun in 1935 by Helen Oakley and Squirrel Ashcraft, was the first to produce racially mixed jam sessions, including the first public performance of the Benny Goodman Trio. Meanwhile, at the same time in New York, Milt Gabler of the Commodore Music Shop and Stephen W. Smith founded the United Hot Clubs of America (U.H.C.A.). Two years later, in 1937, with an advisory board consisting of, among others, John Hammond, Marshall Stearns, Charles Edward Smith, Wilder Hobson, William Russell, Delaunay, Panassie, and Sinclair Traill (later founder of the British magazine Jazz Journal), Steve Smith initiated the Hot Record Society.

While U.H.C.A. specialized in the reissue of long unavailable jazz classics, H.R.S. concentrated on mail order auctions and sales of original jazz and blues 78s. In 1938, when both Columbia and Victor (on its 35-cent subsidiary, Bluebird) began their highly successful series of classic jazz reissues, Gabler and Smith decided to get into the business of making new records, with Commodore becoming the first and most prolific of the independents. (It was soon followed by Blue Note, Keynote, Signature, and dozens of others.) In 1939, the same year that the influential book Jazzmen was published, Smith, one of its major contributors, opened the H.R.S. Record Shop in midtown Manhattan, where he sold both new and used jazz recordings, and, of course, copies of Jazzmen, The H.R.S. Society Rag, and the few other jazz books and magazines that were then available. The complete Commodore catalog has already been reissued in three mammoth LP sets by Mosaic, and the present collection represents their efforts on behalf of H.R.S.

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