Remembering Jack Kaufman and the Harmony Record shop
I had the honor to speak over the phone with Jack Kaufman, a New York transplant, who migrated to Denver, Colorado in the 1950’s and eventually gained a reputation on the streets of Denver as “the trumpet playing cab driver”.
But before Jack ever took the wheel of his Yellow Cab, and took up a trumpet to entertain his passengers, Kaufman would enjoy a nice run as the proprietor of the Harmony Record Shop located in downtown Denver. Prior to assuming ownership of the record shop, Jack had worked as a record distributor and promoter for the national record label, King Records. Promotion was something that was right up Jack’s alley, and during his 14-year-run at Harmony, he would continue to double as a promoter for King and other record labels, including Philips Records.
As Philips’ distributor in the Colorado front range area, Kaufman would come into contact with the University of Colorado’s Serendipity Singers who had signed to the Philips label. He would book them into local venues in Denver and Boulder. Kaufman was also employed by KIMN radio as a DJ and promotional operative, and helped to bring the mega-recording Philips’ group, The Four Seasons, to play at the Trocadero Ballroom at the old Elitch Gardens in North Denver. (This was probably the same appearance in which the Seasons were backed by Colorado’s Astronauts.
The “Troc” Ballroom
In it’s glory days, the “Troc” was a major venue for America’s big bands. I remember tagging along with my parents and some of their friends in the early 1950’s to watch them all dance to big bands. And I have to say, they all could really dance! My wife’s mother and father actually met at the “Troc”, fell in love, and married.
Jack Kaufman was a jack of many trades, supplementing his promotional duties, and record shop ownership with a job for a time at Denver’s famed “Brown Palace Hotel” (where the Beatles stayed during their first tour of America when they played the Red Rocks Amphitheater outside of the foothill town of Morrison, Colorado. Harmony Record Shop had previously served as an outlet for jazz and classical music. Kaufman would continue to sell jazz and would bring his love of R&B and Doo Wop to his enterprise which was located next to Denver’s Orpheum Theater – at the time a motion picture venue located on Welton Street (both the Harmony building along with the Orpheum are long-since gone making way for a new lower downtown Denver.
No 45 RPM’s Sold Here
My close friend, Ken Aldrich, had what I consider to be a dream job back in the mid 1960’s, working at Harmony and selling records. “Jack didn’t sell 45’s as a general rule,” Ken recalled. He would sell R&B 78 rpm’s and along with long plays Ken recollects. I remember visiting the store from time-to-time and marveling at a “All Time Top Ten” listing of Kaufman’s favorite songs of all time. The one I can still remember was a song called “I” which was performed by The Velvets, the R&B group from the early 1950’s and not the Velvets of later “Tonight (Could be the Night)” fame from 1961. As I remember it, all 10 of Jack’s ‘hall-of-fame’ list were totally unknown to me. Ken states that Jack’s store was frequented by many black customers and musicians who knew they could find exactly the kind of music they were looking for.
So if you are a record collector in Denver (and elsewhere), you undoubtedly have come across a 45 or two or more bearing the “Harmony” record store ink stamp across the label. Why, when Jack did not sell 45’s? Because he was a promoter, 45’s promotional records would arrive at the store constantly, and so Kaufman would offer ‘one free record’ with a vinyl purchase. Ken remembers, “Boy, we had some rare stuff come across our counters back in the mid 1960’s. I remember we were giving away promotional label Beatle 45’s, and among them was one copy of the impossible to find Vee Jay sleeve.” Ken is speaking of the nearly impossible-to-find Vee Jay 581 graphic sleeve and promotional white label record which list for well into the five figures. “Our clientele just didn’t care about the Beatles much, so they mostly sat on the front counter, totally ignored.”
Judy and Jimi and Yellow Cab
In my phone conversation with Jack, he recounted employing Denver’s Judy Collins as a teenager in his store, and he told me that a particularly extra ordinary guitar player came into the shop and was hired for a very short time. Kaufman had trouble recalling his name due to his bought with dementia, but finally came up with the name – Jimi Hendrix! Hard to verify this one – but who knows?
Another side job for Kaufman was serving as a chauffeur for entertainment personalities flying into the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport in Broomfield, Colorado, arriving from Colorado’s swanky ski resort town of Aspen. He would take them either to their hotels in downtown Denver or on to then operational Stapleton International in east Denver.
Harmony Records would eventually give way to progress, and Kaufman would assume his character role as Denver’s “trumpet playing cab driver”, drawing both local and national press attention. Jack had a very difficult time recalling his past due to his mental state, but insisted on continuing the phone call laying out what I have reported here. Neither Ken or I know of his state of health today. Hopefully this character from Denver’s musical past is doing as well as could be expected and maybe someone is playing him that top 10 favorite of his from back in the day “I” by the Velvets.