Rare Finds at Top Five Records

I’ve been looking for this one record. Not that this search consumes every fiber of my being or anything. It’s just that I saw it once, made a partial recording of five tracks and returned it to its owner.

That was in 1974. The owner was a guy named Leonce (Leon) Picot, owner of The DownUnder, a great restaurant (recently razed) located on the Intracoastal Waterway in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

What happened was, one night while visiting the restaurant with my parents, I was smitten by the music being played over the house sound system. So, I asked who was picking out the music.

Meeting Mr. Picot–who, it turned out was an ex-jazz DJ–I asked him about the records that he was spinning.

In the early 1970s, cassette tape technology had improved, particularly with the addition of noise reduction technologies like Dolby. Around 1974, I had invested in my first tape recorder (a Yamaha) and for several months had been busy creating mix tapes of my records, which I liked to play in the car.

What I was after were records I didn’t have–rare jazz, swing, vocal groups, big band stuff–music that was slightly foreign, but worthwhile exploring. When I asked if I could take home some records to tape, Mr. Picot was open to the idea, suggesting  that we schedule a more convenient time during the next several days to come back and pick out the records.

Heading back a few days later,  I selected a bunch of 45s, 78s, several 10-inch records and numerous LPs to bring home. These were records by all sorts of great players, like saxophonist Flip Phillips–someone my Dad knew a lot about. Other artists included Nat “King” Cole, Woody Herman, Illinois Jacquet, Mildred Bailey, Jelly Roll Morton, Earl “Fatha” Hines, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis.

Over the years, I’ve listened repeatedly to a lot of the music that I taped during that period. But there were five particular tracks that I often marveled over: “Bird’s Blues”, “Get Happy”, “Moose Mooch”, “Yardbird Suite” and “Ornithology”.(On my mix tape, I had followed those five tracks from that as-yet-unrecognised-and-unnamed record with Miles’s Steamin’ and Thelonius Monks’ Monk’s  Dream, among others).

About a year ago, I started playing that tape in the car again–wondering all the while what record the first five “lost” tracks appeared on.

In December of 2009, I heard about a new record store–Top Five Records–opening up in downtown Lake Worth, about a half an hours drive north and went to check it out. Owner John O’Keefe hadn’t officially opened yet, but I knocked on the front door and he motioned for me to come in.

It was quickly apparent that Top Five’s owner was that special combination of astute record collector and small business owner. The interior of the shop looked clean and modern, although most of the bins were only partially full. Some of the face-out display racks featured early rockabilly, soul and rock LPs. O’Keefe explained that his product mix would soon include 45s, and 78s, as well as posters and different types of memorabilia (signed guitars, antique radios, even a prized leather jacket) on display.

On a couple of my return trips to Top Five, I picked up some great early psychedelic rock (a copy of Ten Year After’s first album) and a bunch of great 45s: The Diamonds, Sam the Sham and The Pharoahs, Lowell Fulson, Joe Turner; and a Hank Williams 78–something that I’ve been trying to locate a reasonably priced copy of for a long, long time–his 1948 smash, “Move it on Over”.

A couple of months ago, I visited again and headed for the jazz bins.

Picking up an unfamiliar album, I looked past the cover and was instantly glued to the personnel listed on the back: Dizzy, Bird, Miles, Flip Phillips, Teddy Wilson, Al Hague, J.J. Johnson, Milt Jackson, Slam Stewart, Ray Brown, Max Roach…I recognised that lineup. But for some reason, I completely overlooked the track listings!

Low on funds, I asked John to hold the record for awhile. Then on Memorial Day weekend, I headed back to Top Five to retrieve the album: A Handful of Modern Jazz.

The odd thing was, I had brought along my old cassette with my handwritten listings of personnel and songs, explaining that I was still trying to find the album that contained those five tracks. Here I was with the album right in front of me! (To preserve the covers, many albums at the store are packaged with the disc and paper sleeve outside the actual cover, placed over the liner notes and inside another clear plastic sleeve).

It wasn’t until I got home and actually dropped the needle on “Bird’s Blues” that it finally hit me: I had, at long last, found the mystery record–a complete classic, featuring a who’s who of early bop stylists in their prime!

Top Five  rules!!!–it’s a heckuva store.  O’Keefe is there 5 days a week, Wednesday through Saturday, from 12noon to 8pm; Sundays from 12noon to 6pm. But don’t try to find the store on the web–Top Five doesn’t have a website, or an Ebay store either.

For owner John O’Keefe, business is “perfect”–he is completely content to have a locally based record store, with business driven by word of mouth. He enjoys marketing his well curated merchandise to young people and to serious (and also laid back) collectors and music lovers. Visit Top Five Records at 10 “J” Street, in Lake Worth, Florida; or, you can reach John O’Keefe on his cell phone: (561) 313-9387.

Published in: on May 30, 2010 at 2:02 pm  Leave a Comment