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Listen to "Sing Hallelujah"

The Folk-Type Swinger, by Jeannie Hoffman
Capitol Records ST 2021, 1964

I can thank my record vacuum for this album. About a dozen years ago, I made the biggest audio investment of my life (so far) and bought a VPI record vacuum. These mechanically-simple gadgets are hugely over-priced simply by virtue of the miniscule market of hardcore vinyl addicts who would even consider buying one. But once you make the plunge, whole vistas of grunged-up records you might otherwise think unplayable become possibilities.

That was definitely the case with this record, which I found in junk store. Not a thrift store. A junk store. A place that sold stuff the thrift stores turned away. Off to one side, the owner had piled up twenty to thirty cartons of albums. Aside from the piece of notebook paper with "Records" written in red marker taped on the wall above the boxes, nothing had been done to encourage potential buyers. To a veteran thrifter, however, it was impossible not to think, "Goldmine!" at the sight.

I hauled down one carton, thumbed through it, and came up with a fairly clean album by Mark Murphy, a clean-cut beatnik jazz singer. I didn't have time to explore further that first visit, but I soon returned and worked through a dozen or so boxes, finding a few interesting things if no eye-popping wonders. It appeared, however, that a fair number of the records had been recovered from a fire, since every few inches I ran into cover with a singed top seam. In addition, many of the albums were really dirty. Filthy. As in, coated with crusty brown dust. I began to suspect that the owner had some buddies in the insurance business.

Having a professional-class record cleaner at home, though, I was willing to experiment on a couple of these flood victims, particular at the low price of 25 cents a pop.

This album was one of those test cases. I pulled it primarily because the names of two of my space age pop heroes, Howard Roberts and Jack Marshall appeared on the back, along with that of the great jazz drummer, Shelly Manne. Resale value was certainly not the attraction. Not only was the record covered in muck, but a previous owner had tastefully repaired a ripped seam with a tasteful swatch of brown packaging tape.

Once home, I got out the record vacuum. I hesistated for a moment--this was, after all, the dirtiest record I'd ever tried cleaning. I didn't want to wreck the VPI. I remembered the claims made of the machine's capacity, though, and went ahead. I gave each side three cleanings back to back, and then gave it a spin.

As any audio snob out there can tell, the VPI didn't turn dust into diamonds, but it did make a piece of trash turntable-worthy. In fact, over the years, this album has become one of my private prizes.

Jeannie Hoffman, it turns out, was a terrific jazz singer, a female equivalent of a Mose Allison or Dave Frishberg, with a light, playful, and swinging touch with this set of traditional folk songs. Accompanying herself on piano with two of Hollywood's first-call session players behind her, occasionally supplemented with a small woodwind section, Hoffman produced one of the most pleasant vocal jazz albums ever to survive a flood. It's the kind of record you put on when your non-music-geek friends visit, and before long, they're asking about it and commenting that it's much better than the usual bizarro crap you insist on playing.

This was Hoffman's only album for Capitol. From what I can tell, she headed back to northern California and the Lake Tahoe area and appeared regularly at clubs around the area. She cut several albums with innovative jazz bassist Dave Friesen and probably a few others on minor labels. She and Friesen have performed a series of Christmas concerts in the Pacific Northwest for the over 30 years running.

I do have to note that Hoffman's style bears a striking resemblance to that of Stacey Kent, an American jazz vocalist who's cut about a half-dozen albums. Could just be a coincidence. At least you know that you can find a fix if this track hooks you and you're unable to find your own fire sale copy of Hoffman's LP.

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