Jazz Record Mart collection is now in distinguished company

Jazz Record Mart has been completely emptied. (Josef Siebert/MEDILL)

By Josef Siebert

The entire contents of Chicago’s iconic Jazz Record Mart now sits in a warehouse in Reno, Nevada. Over 50 years of history were piled onto 25 pallets and shipped to Wolfgang’s Vault, an online music memorabilia seller, after JRM closed for business Feb. 15

The items will be sorted, priced and listed on Wolfgang’s website over the next few months. All that remains in Chicago is an empty store at 27 E Illinois St. and decades of memories.

Owner Bob Koester wasn’t just a retailer but also a promoter, producer and guide to jazz and blues to anyone who asked. As outlined on Jazzrecordmart.com, the store’s history began when Koester purchased Seymour’s Jazz Record Mart in 1959. In 1963, he moved the store to 7 W. Grand Ave. and shortened the name to Jazz Record Mart. Another move to 11 W. Grand Ave. came in the 1980s, then later to 27 E. Illinois where rising rent was cited as a reason for the closing.

“Our CEO Bill Sagan had been talking with [JRM] over a number of years,” said Wolfgang’s Vault Director of Ecommerce Operations Grant Feichtmeir. “But it hadn’t really gone anywhere until the past month or two. It really happened quickly towards the end of February.”

Wolfgang’s purchased everything: tens of thousands of records dating back to the 1920s, tens of thousands of CDs, VHS cassettes and even the store’s URLs, according to Feichtmeir.

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The interior of Jazz Record Mart is now devoid of all music. (Josef Siebert/MEDILL)

“As we packed up all the contents, it felt like more and more than we expected,” said Feichtmeir. “We hope to have it all up [on the website] in a couple of months, anywhere from four to six months. We’ll be posting items to the site as we go.”

Wolfgang’s has six employees involved in their merchandise operation. According to www.wolfgangsvault.com, over 26,000 different types of individual products are offered with 30 million items in stock.

Reno may be a far distance from Chicago, but JRM’s stock is residing with very distinguished company. Wolfgang’s Vault gets its name from Wolfgang Grajonca, also known as Bill Graham, the legendary San Francisco concert promoter of the 1960s and 1970s. Graham booked the greatest acts of that storied era, including Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead. He owned the iconic Fillmore East and Fillmore West concert venues and was at the center of the Bay area music scene.

“He was kind of a mastermind,” said Feichtmeir. “He saw back in the ’60s that people were tearing down posters that he was advertising these shows on, to keep. He printed up thousands that he would keep after the show. He would print a surplus of them. He eventually got into the business of selling them.”

Graham came to an untimely end, dying in a helicopter crash in 1991 at the age of 60, leaving behind a vast collection of recordings and memorabilia. Sagan acquired the collection in 2003 and Wolfgangsvault.com was launched later that year.

In addition to selling memorabilia, Wolfgang’s handles concert recordings and master tapes, which are preserved, digitized and archived. Copies are sold on Wolfgang’s main site, or through a membership on their sister site, concertvault.com.

Feichtmeir estimates that Wolfgang’s has made 20 to 25 acquisitions since the Graham collection. These include the Newport Jazz and Newport Folk Festival archives, and the blues archives from the Ash Grove in LA, a 1960s folk and blues hot spot, in addition to the material from Jazz Record Mart.

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The front door of Jazz Record Mart after the sale. (Josef Siebert/MEDILL)

“I think people are just bummed a little bit that they lost a piece of history,” said Feitchmeir, regarding the reaction to JRM closing. “Some of the customers that I talked to said they used to have three or four jazz record stores to go to, but now that’s not the case.

Photo at top: The remains of a once-great record store sit in the old Jazz Record Mart. (Josef Siebert/MEDILL)