RUSTBOOKS PUBLISHING – IN PRAISE OF BRIAN
Brian Rust needs no introduction to users of discographical works. Rustbooks Publishing is named to honor him and with AMERICAN DANCE BANDS ON RECORD AND FILM, 1915 – 1942, its first imprint, we both complement and compliment the many pioneering works of his, upon which modern discography is based. In 2002, after I co-published Jazz and Ragtime Records as a joint venture with Mainspring Press, I asked Brian if I might have the honor of incorporating his name into a website and a future publishing endeavor, using the name Rustbooks. He, in turn, declared the honor to be his. It’s typical of Brian’s unassuming humility of soul. Richard Johnson and Bernard Shirley have acknowledged his pioneer work in documenting all aspects of pre-war popular entertainment, in the introduction to the book. For my part, I am proud to have had Brian as a friend for almost half a century. My thanks go to him, publicly now in print, as they have many times before, privately in person, for being the extremely fine, generous and unique man he is.
As the originator of present-day jazz, dance band and label discography, his works are revered world-wide. He became interested in popular music from the age of 7, listening to broadcasts from radio station 2LO, in London, England. One night a week, Christopher Stone, one of the first disc-jockeys, played the latest selections from the new Parlophone Rhythm-Style record series. The Rhythm-Styles featured music that was a little peppier than the standard dance-band offerings; genuine jazz music from the great bands of the time, with a heavy infusion of black bands; Ellington, Armstrong, Earl Hines, Fats Waller, alongside the Dorseys, Bix Beiderbecke, Red Nichols and Joe Venuti. That got him started.
A second factor, depression-era penny-pinching, deepened his interest. On February 18th, 1936, the future of critical listening and discography in the jazz world changed. 14-year old Brian found his first early jazz record, in a junkshop. He still remembers the exact date. That tells you something about Brian Rust. It was an unusual disc with curious titles, made before he was born, by an orchestra he had never heard of. The band was the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, playing “Ostrich Walk,” from 1918. In 1936, a new record cost half-a-crown, in the old Sterling currency of pounds, shillings and pence. For an average pre-war youngster in the U.K., that was more than a month’s pocket-money. But the same amount would buy fifteen to twenty old, used platters. So young Brian developed a taste for the music from the prior decade, while the contemporary world was listening to Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller.
Come the beginning of World War II in 1939, Brian started a banking career. After a couple of years of frustrating confinement behind a desk, he got a job at the BBC Gramophone Library. In the immediate post-war period, jazz discography was in its infancy. Charles Delaunay and Hugues Pannassié were the pioneers, but the work was sketchy and anecdotal, and heavily white-jazz biased. Brian saw the need to talk to original performers and recording personnel, especially pioneers of the overlooked race recording industry, before the knowledge died away.
In October of 1951, he visited the USA, talked with important artists, and made himself known to the major record companies. It was done on a shoestring. Brian traveled by Greyhound bus across the continent. He subsidized his journey by selling British band records out of his suitcase to American collectors. His contacts with musicians from the golden age, black and white, were in the dozens of dozens, and he went back to the United Kingdom armed with sufficient knowledge to publish a slim “Jazz Records” as a one-volume loose-leaf discography spanning the years from 1897 to 1931, with recording dates and personnels, the first of its kind.
The book immediately became and has remained the Delphic Oracle of prewar jazz discography for enthusiasts, both in Europe and the USA. It took ten years and another trip to the USA, to publish an expanded, this time, bound edition, with a follow-on volume covering the years 1932-42. 1972 brought a third edition, which established the present, two-volume 1897-1942 format. By 2002, with a new title, Jazz and Ragtime Records, to reflect the increased amount of new ragtime research, the book appeared in its sixth edition.
With the continuing work built on Brian’s seminal research since 1952, “JR” (as many call it) is still, within the context Brian originated, the most thoroughgoing account of who created America’s own music, from its beginnings to the recording hiatus of 1942 with the Petrillo ban. The American Association of Recorded Sound Collections saw fit to confirm this sentiment with a Lifetime Award, eight years ago.
Apart from “JR,” his best-known and most widely-used work, Brian has also compiled other pioneering discographical works like: “The American Dance Band Discography,” (which is now superseded by Rustbooks Publishing’s five-volume work by Shirley and Johnson;) “American and British Labels;” “The Complete Entertainment Discography;” “British Music Hall on Record;” “British Dance Bands on Record;” discographies of Victor, Columbia (with Tim Brooks) and OKeh (with Ross Laird) recordings; and biographies of famous jazz musicians, as well as a variety of works on discography itself. Even the listing format regarded as standard in discographical works, adapted and used by other authors for works in other genres such as blues and gospel, country music and postwar jazz, originated with Brian’s early work. To cap it all, consonant with the origin of this publishing house’s name, a popular cataloging and discography software program is appositely yclept “Brian.”
No, Brian, I insist; the honor absolutely is mine.