I consider myself a pretty equal opportunity archives lover: I eat it all up. Experiencing first-hand the documents that form the history and underpinning of a person, institution, place, or event; hearing the back story of how crucial and rare – or seemingly minor but actually the real deal – materials have been carefully kept and treasured, or arbitrarily lost and serendipitously found, or lost and found and tragically lost again and then finally treasured and kept. It’s all a thrill to me.
But the opportunity to mesh a great love with getting a professional’s inside view of its current life, past history, and varied stewardship? Priceless, as they say.
MARAC Newark’s Thursday April 20 tour to both the Institute of Jazz Studies (IJS) at Rutgers University-Newark’s Dana Library and public radio station WBGO was such a chance for this deeply amateur jazz lover. Talk about being a kid in a [n archival] candy store!
As someone who learned everything I know about jazz from WBGO, it was a special thrill to see the collections that document the rich history of this truly American art format housed at the world renowned IJS. And then to follow that by seeing – and hearing – where the music and DJs I listen to and learn from every day have enlightened and delighted jazz lovers worldwide for decades.
AT IJS, archivist Tad Hershorn shared with us his passion for and dedication to the depth and breadth of the collection, started by Dan Morgenstern and Marshall Stern at a time when jazz and its African and African American roots were little studied. The collection includes materials of every type: discographies that form the catalogue raisonee of jazz performance, scores, printed books, ephemera, recordings on vinyl and tape, photographs, clippings, instruments, and audio equipment. The Institute’s collections encompass the history of this uniquely American musical form, and make this rich and varied documentary evidence available to researchers, scholars, and students.
This year marks the Institute’s 50th anniversary. To celebrate, it has opened at Rutgers-Newark’s impressive new Express Newark location the expansive exhibition “Records at Play”. Its title riffs on the method by which jazz was long promulgated, and the plethora of historical materials: yes, they are both records. Designed especially for visitors who may not be familiar with jazz, including the many Rutgers students who frequent the print shop, studios, and coffee house also located in this new extra-campus “third space,” the exhibition includes iconic objects, photographs, costumes, and audio recordings from the Institute’s deep holdings to tell a chronological story of the art form’s history.
What a thrill to conclude this jazz archives morning with a visit to WBGO’s studios, located steps away from the conference hotel on Newark’s beautiful Military Park. Station co-founder Dorthaan Kirk introduced us to the studio’s current exhibition in its hallway gallery: works of visual art by painters and sculptors who are also musicians, including a portrait of Duke Ellington painted by Tony Bennett.
VP of Operations and Engineering David Tallacksen took us through the station’s studio level including both public and broadcasting spaces. Their large all-purpose room might house a staff meeting today, a live concert by a 10-piece band tomorrow, and after that: the volunteer-staffed on-air drives to raise the funds that keep the station functioning. Peeking into the station’s audio library, we could see just a part of the enormous LP and CD collection that the station’s DJs select from to program its 24 hour jazz broadcasts. On the speakers in the hallway, we could hear MidDay Jazz host Rhonda Hamilton – a familiar voice to me – and there she was in person, broadcasting from her compact studio location.
It was an amazing and impressive day, full of the history of a truly American art form: thank you to the stewards of its history, as well as the promulgators of its present and future, at these two Newark institutions for a thrilling and enjoyable pair of tours.
Senior Associate for Archival Processing, Museum Archives, The Metropolitan Museum of Art