John R.T. - One of a kind
I will never forget my first visit to John R.T.'s home, when Colin Bray and I spent 4 days there in 1997. Jazz Oracle had been operating for 3 years, and we were determined to release 2 compilations of rare Gennett material; this ultimately came to fruition with the release of BDW8008 and BDW8009. John, ever hopeful of finding the best possible copies of rare discs from which to make transfers, implored us to borrow what we could from Toronto-area collectors and bring the discs to him. So, with 2 boxes of rare discs from the collections of Keith Miller, Gene Miller, Grant Cairns and Dan Allen in hand, Colin and I travelled to John and Sue's charming cottage. After perusing the contents of the boxes we brought, Ristic enthusiastically remarked, "You've done well!" The next few days were an absolute delight, with days spent watching John at work in his studio, affectionately dubbed "Mecca." Sue's hospitality towards us was wonderful, and I had the feeling that she was used to providing food and shelter for a continual parade of record collectors from around the world!
During that visit, and two others that followed, I realized that this was a very special man. I've known many knowledgeable record collectors, but John was different, possessing an astonishing variety of talents: musician, audio engineer, mechanical genius, inventor, 78 repairman, musicologist. His knowledge of the records and the music was vast, and his enthusiasm for it was infectious. He repaired cracks and digs in vintage phonograph records with the ease of someone who has spent years inventing how to do it and then perfecting the craft. He imagined the tools he needed to do his work, and then created them with his own hands. A request to hear one of his treasured records was met with a "Right!" and John on his hands and knees searching a shelf for the requested item. Even when he was ill, as he was when my friend James K. Williams and I visited him in September 2003, his energy and enthusiasm seemed as abundant as ever.
His knowledge and use of the English language was something to behold: there were times when I asked him things simply to hear him express himself perfectly in clear and elegant English, something which is regrettably a dying art in today's world. He delighted in proofreading the booklets for our CDs, and each of them benefited from his corrections.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about John was that, despite his own immense talents, he welcomed anyone with an interest in classic jazz music or audio engineering, and never made them feel inadequate in his presence. He encouraged me to pursue many of the offbeat productions which now form part of Jazz Oracle's catalogue. After each conversation, or green-inked letter or, later, email, I found myself even more excited about projects than I had been when they were originally conceived. To be able to collaborate with John on these initiatives was tremendously rewarding.
I will miss John R.T. Davies and give thanks for the time I have had to enjoy his friendship, and for the chance to work with him in the preservation of this wonderful music. - John Wilby