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Book Fair Blog

Every book has a story

Every book has a story.

Check in frequently to read the behind-the-scenes scoop on the Newberry’s popular Book Fair. The blog is maintained by “Uncle Blogsy,” otherwise known as Dan Crawford, Book Fair Manager.

Musical Notes

We’re having something of a surge in donations this week. For those of you who are new to this column, a Surge is when I can barely finish emptying one car trunk before the next car pulls up. I don’t know if it’s because Spring has started, but if you must observe something seasonal, how about giving up book donations for Lent? We’ve had seventy boxes and eighty bags since Friday. (People ask why I let things pile up the way I do. I have no idea. It all happens while I’m out of the room unloading banana boxes.)

Still, if these donors didn’t come around, I’d miss the fun. Just yesterday I found myself in possession of two boxes’ worth of books in French by Boris Vian, whose masquerade as American Crime Novelist Vernon Sullivan I blogged about a while back. I now have his mysteries, his science fiction, his film criticism (barring the movie where he dropped dead), his jazz studies, his screenplays, and his pornographic poetry…all in French. Anyone wishing to specialize in Boris Vian should plan to drop by in July.

People have also brought me more videocassettes and DVDS. At one time I thought we were going to get every boxed set of Sex and the City and 24 ever sold, but this year it’s The Office. Does anyone who buys these sets ever watch them? Anyway, you can buy them new in shrinkwrap at the Book Fair and let them sit around YOUR place for a while.

And there are records, more wonderful nonsense from the days when people put plugs in their ears so they DIDN’T hear the music. For collectors of Chicagoana, we have a couple of 45s from Windy C Records, two copies of a flexi-disc given away by Kentucky Fried Chicken featuring songs by Walter Payton, and a 78 starring Jack Chapman and His Drake Hotel Orchestra.

For collectors of even more ephemeral material, we have four 78 rpm records from about 1931 pressed on cardboard. This was the work of an outfit called Hit Of the Week, which produced one of these, well, every week. Two discs are by groups I never heard of (one being the Hit Of the Week Orchestra) but the other two feature the music of Phil Spitalny, famous for his All-Girl Orchestra. These things are thin and fragile, so if you want to hear these particular dance numbers, you must come and buy them from the Book Fair.

(Or, um, go online and buy the set of CDs some busybody has made reproducing all of the Hit Of the Week recordings. But aren’t you missing something if you don’t own the original cardboard?)

But the record that really interested me is this one, which the Internet tells me turned 100 just this last Valentine’s Day. It is the first recording made by Borbee’s “Jass” Orchestra. The quotation marks are theirs, but this does point up that in 1917 we hadn’t yet decided to spell the word with two z’s. In fact, says the World Wide Web, Ernest Borbee’s outfit was only the third orchestra in America to record with the word jass” in its name. (Yes, there are people who keep track, month by month, of who recorded what. Folks who do things like this often wind up quarantined in places like the Newberry.)

What I like best about this, though, is that Mr. Borbee and his boys did not, in fact, play jazz, or even jass. They recorded these two songs–plain ordinary dance music of the nineteen-teens–and the record company decided that since the Original Dixieland Jass Band was selling so well, they’d release THESE sings with “jass” added to the name of the orchestra.

I don’t say it’s the oldest example of marketing through misrepresentation in the world–or even at the Book Fair–but I’m glad somebody brought me this hundred year old phony. Gives me something else to think about when someone brings me a station wagon full of garbage bags of books.

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