Tributes Pour In For Sally White

Sally White was not an internet person. She much preferred interacting with people, face to face.

But when the longtime, much-loved owner of Sally’s Place — and before that, manager of Klein’s record department, and Melody House worker — died of cancer yesterday at 88, every online platform was filled with memories.

Generations of Fairfield County men and women (and teenagers) were Sally’s customers — and friends. She influenced literally tens of thousands of us. She opened our ears — and our minds and souls — to all kinds of music.

And she opened her heart to us.

Everyone has a Sally White story. Here are 2 of  my favorites. The first is from Drew McKeon. A Staples High School class of 2000 graduate, he’s spent the past several years touring the world with fellow Westporter Michael Bolton. Sally is a big reason why.

So sad to say goodbye to my old friend, Sally White. I’ll never forget the hours spent sitting one on one, listening to her stories of seeing the greats live (Sinatra, Hendrix, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Coltrane, Dylan, Buddy Rich, Miles), and how much our town had changed since she came to Main Street in 1954.

The wonderful Sally White

She sold me the first jazz albums I ever bought (“Kind of Blue”, “Speak No Evil,” “The Real McCoy,” Jarrett Trio “Live at the Blue Note”), and shook her head every time I came in for the latest Zorn Tzadik release.

I bought my first copy of “Purple Rain” there, and Tom Waits’ “Mule Variations,” and “Bright Size Life,” as well as every album Bill Frisell, Alison Krauss and Belá Fleck released from 1995-2014. I got Nirvana “Unplugged” there too.

She told me the same story about the guy offering to buy her Sinatra poster for $1000 (even though she had 2!) every time I came in, and regaled me with childhood tales about a shy and gentle Horace Silver.

She felt so guilty about declining invites to my high school shows that she gave me a gig playing standards with a quartet outside the shop during the Memorial Day parade.

I cringed every time she cut open a CD so haphazardly, the X-acto knife lunging in towards her abdomen. I’d tell her not to rip the cellophane just so I could obsess over the Winter&Winter packaging. “Hey, they don’t call it Sally’s for nothing — my store, my rules!”

Sally doing what she loves most: interacting with one customer. Another browses behind her.

She sold me “Innervisions” and Maceo’s “Life on Planet Groove” and “Babylon By Bus,” and gave me “Appalachia Waltz” for my 15th birthday. She stuffed 2 copies of Downbeat in my bag with every purchase, and tuned in to every episode of the WWPT radio show I hosted with Ted Thompson. My obsessive love for Joni and Edgar Meyer was born and fostered at 190 Main Street.

I, like so many other local musicians, am so thankful to have had Sally recognize and encourage my unquenchable thirst for music of all styles at a young age. I always thought it was so cool that I got my first Miles record from the same badass lady that a young Scofield did, a couple decades before. (I got a shitload of Sco records from her, too.)

Perhaps more than anything, I’ll always remember skimming through her prized postcard collection from the great Adam Nussbaum. He, years prior, was one of “Sally’s Kids” too.

At the time, I couldn’t fathom ever actually going to places like Malta, Cairo or Shanghai — let alone, getting paid to play drums there. But I knew I wanted to more than anything, and she assured me I would “be out there soon enough.”

I hope Blue Eyes is singing one for my gal Sal tonight!

——————————————

And this, from Jim Motavalli. He graduated from Staples in 1970 — 30 years before Drew McKeon — but he too will remember Sally White forever.

With 2partners, I started a record store in Fairfield, circa 1975. It was called Trident, because there were 3 partners — one of whom was my twin brother. The 2 of us had just graduated from the University of Connecticut, where we took not one business course.

We had a plan — we would pioneer the sale of used records in Connecticut — but beyond that we didn’t have a clue how to set up and stock a store. Fortunately, we had a friend, Sally White, then running the record haven at the downtown Westport department store Klein’s. Far from stocking just the hits, Sally made sure that the store was bulging with jazz — including albums from players who lived in the area: Dave Brubeck, Gerry Mulligan (and, later, McCoy Tyner and Max Roach).

We called her, and she came over to talk business. Despite the fact we were planning to compete with her, Sally held forth all evening on all aspects of dealing with suppliers, getting credit, buying a cash register, handling returns, and was endlessly helpful.

I was thought of this episode on learning that Sally White died this week. She had closed her store, Sally’s Place (which succeeded her long stint at Klein’s) in 2013 — a victim of the digital revolution. I’m sure not being able to greet her many friends took something out of her — she’d sold records for 57 years!

After describing the recent revival of vinyl, Jim concludes:

Goodbye Sam Goody’s, Goodbye Tower Records. It’s not likely I’ll mourn the passing of these corporate superstores.

But I will shed a tear not so much for Sally’s Place, but for Sally herself. A real mensch.

(Click here to read Jim Motavalli’s full story, on his music blog Territorial Imperatives.)

5 responses to “Tributes Pour In For Sally White

  1. I was one of the many regulars at Klein’s, back in the sixties…..she was a welcoming, warm and lovely person to each of us……but a lot of us liked to believe we were especially special to her! She made us feel that way. I had forgotten about the Remains record signing at Klein’s that she arranged. Could never forget her. She was so generous to our generation, at a time when a lot of adults tended to write us off, roll their eyes, or worse, at us. She really respected young people.
    Years after I knew her at Klein’s, I stopped in to Sally’s Place for some Frank Sinatra cassettes (!). She was sympathetic and kind when I told her that I needed them for my ailing mom, who was fading but still loved to hear “her” music. She even seemed to remember me from back in the day. What a wonderful person…..no surprise that everyone has a “Sally story.” Love you Sally, Rest In Peace.

  2. Linda Pomerantz Novis

    Dan,

    Thank you So Much for this Beautiful post..
    As all of us here,I,too, am adding (some of) my ‘Sally stories’ here-
    When Sally was closing out her record dept. at Klein’s,years ago, one time I was
    going through the jazz LP bins; I then found ‘Bill Evans Plays Movie Themes
    with Symphony Orchestras’; I then brought it up to pay Sally at cash register-
    she then :’Linda,you Don’t want this Bill Evans LP-it’s Terrible!!’ (she then lent it to me -to hear my own opinion- I took it home-Sally was right, it Was Way too Schmaltzy for Bill Evans!!( she then took the LP back, no problem!)
    In those years,(the Sixties-early Seventies) I,as many other young, local jazz musicians studied with John Mehegan in Westport-he Always sent his students into Sally’s so she could ‘help us all set up our own jazz libraries’.
    Sally once told John :Her absolute favorite jazz pianist :’Red Garland ,circa
    1958,with Miles Davis.’ Sally,generally, often shied away from local night-life jazz clubs-she once told me:’I’m around people, jazz records all day; night time, I’m home with a good book.’ So,Any gig then became that Much More Special -Whenever Sally would venture out at night!(as John always said about Sally)Years ago,Sally & friends. came into Dameon’s,at Westport train station where I was then playing solo piano in the bar there.Sally sat next to piano & of course requested Great songs and I’ll cherish that special memory and her Great Laugh,Always..

    • Sally was right on re Red Garland. she probably liked the subtle way he
      moved the time around, the way he phrased with Paul and Philly Joe.
      i spent nights at Cafe Bohemia listening to all five sets of that great band.

  3. Sally was one of a kind. How lucky Westport was to have her as long as we did!

  4. I had the good fortune of working at Klein’s Records with Sally White between 1978-1982 as the Christmas help during my college years. We all learned so much from Sally regarding music and customer service. Never have I met anyone more upbeat, enthusiastic, personable and able to connect with anyone, any age, every day. Saturdays were always special as people would drive in from as far as Long Island to buy records. Local Westport celebrities would come, talk to Sally and listen to Jazz. In addition to Jazz, I remember Sally loving bands like The Byrds, Moody Blues, Dire Straits, Doobie Brothers, Eric Clapton and of course, The Beatles. In fact, we were there on December 9th, 1980, the day after John Lennon was assassinated. Very somber. We played Beatles and Lennon albums and by the end of the day were sold out. It seemed that whenever we played a record on the store stereo system, we sold many right then and there. All genres. Everyone who worked at Klein’s held such a high esteem, regard and respect for Sally. She introduced Jazz to me on a different level with Miles Davis and John Coltrane. If you spent 5 minutes with Sally, your life was enriched. Later on, I introduced my wife and 3 sons to Sally. Sally was family. I last visited Sally’s Place in 2013 before it closed. We talked family and music like we always did. My last conversation with Sally was around Christmas 2016. I will dearly miss Sally, her warmth and love for people. When Sally spoke to you she made you feel like the most important person in the world. My take-away memory is her laugh and thankfully, she laughed a lot. There is and will only be, one Sally White.

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