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Interview: David Lewis of Elizabeth’s Records

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by Andrew Patton on May 16, 2018

Located at 3037 Indianola Avenue near Studio 35, Clintonville’s Elizabeth’s Records is one of Columbus’ finest record stores. And while they stock used records to suit many tastes, one thing the store is becoming known for is its strong selection of jazz records, and its interest in buying used jazz records. With Thelonious Monk’s Underground playing in the background, I sat down with store owner David Lewis last week in order to share info about the store, its appeal to jazz fans, and Lewis’ history with jazz. Keep reading to learn more about a great Columbus destination for classic jazz records.

For those who have yet to visit the store, how would you describe Elizabeth’s Records? What are the store’s specialties?

David Lewis (DL): I would describe it as being genre-centric. We’re primarily a used record store. We do venture into carrying some new product, but it’s basically stuff that you don’t ever get in used, like Velvet Underground, or certain jazz titles, or things like that. So we do order in some things new, but it’s not new releases that just came out yesterday. We specialize in deep catalog, [and the selection] is highly curated. We have probably one of the best jazz sections in the whole state, maybe, definitely in town. I worked really hard on that.

Other categories – It’s easy to have a halfway-decent rock section because of all that stuff comes in pretty regularly. But I also try to have a really nice selection of classic country records, 50’s 60’s 70’s type stuff, stuff that has longevity to it. Same in other categories, like R&B – Folk is another category we recently got deep into. Then we have another section called “WTF,” which actually means “Where to File,” and that’s come along here recently. We have probably the best, most curated selection of Frank Sinatra anywhere around. Carefully in chronological order – there’s major periods from Dorsey through Columbia through Capitol through Reprise.

While the collection is always changing, what can jazz fans expect to find in your jazz section?

DL: A ton of Brubeck. And I’d like people to know that there’s more than one great Dave Brubeck record. Because every time I get in Take Five it sells almost immediately, and there’s good reason for that, but there’s a ton of good stuff that never gets touched. Deep stock in Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie. Not enough deep stock in Miles Davis and John Coltrane, but nobody can keep that stuff in. Whenever I can get Thelonious Monk and Rahsaan Roland Kirk – there’s a lot of artists I’m really passionate about, and I always go out of my way to try to bring in as much of that stuff in as possible.

What do you look for when buying jazz records and how do you find jazz records?

DL: Well, the easiest jazz records to get, and the ones we get tons of, are big band records. And some of that finally has started selling. Some younger people started figuring out, “Wow, Duke Ellington is pretty cool,” though it’s kind of big band. Benny Goodman – I’m still having trouble with a lot of the white big band artists. A lot of them are too dopey. But, that kind of stuff has come along.

The secret to finding great jazz records is to not turn things down based on what you think you’re going to get. Because, I’ve gotten tons of collections where they were prefaced with, “Well, my grandmother died and I’ve got some records here that she left behind,” or “My grandfather died,” or “My dad died” or whatever. And they name a few off, Guy Lombardo and whatever, and I usually say “Bring them in, and if there’s anything there, I’ll buy it.” And every now and then, you’ll get a bunch of boring records and you’ll get Herb Alpert records, but in there somewhere is a perfect copy of Sketches of Spain, in 6 Eye Mono. And all of a sudden you’re in heaven. Or, Dave Brubeck comes up all the time in many collections. So, never turn away an “old lady collection” without looking through it, because you’re going to miss something.

What’s your personal background with jazz?

DL: I just had a really eye-opening discussion about this last week with [guitarist] Stan Smith. Because we were talking about what our beginning records were, and when we first understood jazz. Because I tried earlier than most people to get into it, because I had an older friend that said, “Jazz is this, jazz is that,” and started getting me into it. And I got into certain things that weren’t quite jazz, like Soft Machine, and things that were kinda jazz but not jazz. But, for myself it wasn’t really an understanding and a revelation until about ’82 when I heard Sketches of Spain, and it just spoke to me in a way that no other record ever had. From there, all of a sudden I got it, and I could listen to all of the Miles Davis records and start to understand it. It was kind of like putting in a key and turning it. All of a sudden I’m there and I’m getting it.

From there, I got into John Coltrane, became obsessed with his work. Got into Charles Mingus, kinda partway through Joni Mitchell because I thought, “Well, she did this weird record named after him, what inspired that?” It’s one of her best albums, and one of my favorite artists. The other thing that inspired me is that you get an old record on Atlantic and it has all of these pictures of other records on it! It was kind of like getting a Sears catalog for music to check out. And before I knew it, I had a whole bunch of jazz records with my punk rock records, and my hard rock and prog rock records.

Do you have any particular favorite jazz albums?

DL: For Miles, it’s probably Live-Evil. As I got into his work, I became aware of how important having a good produced/editor is. So Teo Macero’s cut-up work on [Davis’] 70’s [material] – Three keyboardists, two guitars, all of that stuff. It’s interesting, but it’s made magical by Teo Macero’s production work. Anything from that period. Any Coltrane on Impulse! or Atlantic, I’m especially fond of My Favorite Things.

Do you have any favorite Columbus jazz albums?

DL: I need to get Stan [Smith’s] record that he put out recently. He’s definitely my favorite artist in town. I got introduced to his work through Descendre and through my friend Lisa Bella Donna. Aside from that, I don’t think any of the records have done him justice but I love Tony Monaco. I could listen to him play for hours. Oddly enough, I have, and I’m quite fond of, the Bob Allen Trio stuff, that stuff is awesome! But heads and skyscrapers above it is Rahsaan Roland Kirk. He is a god to me. To hear “The Inflated Tear,” that’s one of the most emotional moments I could have in any day, to hear that song. Literally puts me in a different world, just to hear him play that. And to be honest, when I moved to Columbus almost twenty years ago, part of the reason I moved here was because of the number of musical acts that were from here that I loved already. I was a big fan of Scrawl, I was a huge fan of Gaunt. I loved Great Plains and Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments. But on top of that, how could I not live in a place where Rahsaan Roland Kirk lived? It’s great.

For more information on Elizabeth’s Records, visit the store’s website, Facebook page or call (614) 569-6009.

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