A collage of records. Christopher Toothman/NPR
I'm old, so my earliest experiences buying music involve going to record stores in the Washington, D.C., area to pick up LPs. I frequented The Turntable near my home and the Soul Shack downtown. But, more often than not, I found myself browsing the bins in a store just south of Dupont Circle called Discount Records and Books.
I was buying folk, blues and rock, mostly. I'll never forget standing at the register, proudly holding my copy of The Mothers of Invention's We're Only in It for the Money — the one with the inside-out parody cover of Sgt. Pepper's with the Mothers in dresses. I looked over my shoulder to meet the gaze of an older patron, whose scornful glare could have peeled paint.
The store had a great staff; they were the best teachers for a young music fan like me. I talked regularly with all of them, especially Rusty Bogart, who would discuss the latest country blues reissues from Yazoo and Biograph. Then, one day, I decided I needed to learn about jazz, so I approached Thomas Paul, whom everyone called TP. He was a big guy with a medium 'fro. As I recall, when I asked to be enlightened, he thought for just a moment before he started pulling records. He had a sense of what I liked in other music, and he knew what I should hear.
These were not academic choices intended to educate me about the history of the music. There was no Louis Armstrong or Duke Ellington — these were TP's personal choices. This was the music that leaped first to his mind, the stuff he really wanted me to hear: Bird and Diz, Two Hours With Thelonious, Charles Mingus' Better Get It in Your Soul and Live at the Five Spot, Vol. 1 by Eric Dolphy and Booker Little.
There were five LPs in all. You may notice that there are just four titles above. I'm ashamed to say that I don't remember the fifth. My addled brain thinks it could have been Jazz at Massey Hall, the legendary collaboration featuring Charlie Parker (playing a plastic saxophone), Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Max Roach. But I'm not sure. So I've subbed a disc I know I bought at Discount Records, and which may have been among that first five: Les Stances a Sophie by the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
So here are five jazz records, in no particular order — TP's First Five, if you will. They're not all easy listening, but they worked for me: I've been a fan of the music ever since.