Sucker for buried treasure that I am, the story of Boris Rose, jazz bootlegger supreme caught my attention as I perused Syncopated: An Anthology of Nonfiction Picto-Essays [preview]
Around 1940, Boris began dubbing 78RPM records to 10-inch red vinyl disks with hand-written white labels. He would sell these dubs of Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, and other great early jazz musicians to anyone interested in buying them….
Over the years Boris captured thousands of hours of recordings that likely did not exist anywhere else — his was easily the largest private collection of its kind anywhere in the world. Eventually Boris began recording every sort of broadcast imaginable — he even recorded the soundtracks of entire movies as they were broadcast over television.
What Rose became known for is the bootleg LPs of these recordings from old 78s and live jazz radio broadcasts. He sold these records commercially, complete with liner notes and illustrated covers, under the names of invented “foreign” record labels like Alto and Radiex. Despite being fairly prolific for a unauthorized distributor, the vast majority of his recordings have never been released.
Boris Rose died on the last day of the 20th century, leaving his collection to his daughter Elaine. The recordings remain in storage, largely unheard by anyone other than Rose himself an presently unavailable anywhere else. That’s thousands of hours of unheard sounds sitting in a storage shed in the Bronx, an archive that’s hard to fathom.
illustration by Brendan Burford