Reading yet another article (Peretti’s â€œOral Histories of Jazz Musicians: the NEA transcripts as texts in contextâ€), I found a reference to the Jazz Oral History Project, which is a collection of interviews with jazz musicians. The collection includes both oral and transcript records. The paper is centrally concerned with the challenges of working with oral histories (which of course is related to the idea of the ‘history’ and telling the history of jazz).
The JOHP was begun in 1968 by the National Endowment for the Arts, run by the Smithsonian, and after 1979 by the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University-Newark. Many of the musicians were not applying for or receiving financial support from the NEA, so it developed the interview project as a way of ensuring older jazz performers received money. Each subject was paid $2000 for a minimum of five hours speaking. The project’s funding was cut by two thirds by the Reagan government in 1983. Musicians were chosen from a range of groups, and were both big names and smaller sidemen(and women). Elderly or unwell musicians were targeted in particular. Almost fifty of the 123 subjects had died by the end of 1991.
The JOHP’s main goal was to capture the reminiscences of older jazz musicians in substantial and serious interviews (Peretti 120)
I’m particularly interested in this process of interviewing older musicians because of the importance of older dancers in the swing dance community. Dancers such as Frankie Manning (who passed away a couple of weeks ago, and who is deeply mourned by thousands of dancers) have been an essential part of contemporary swing dance culture. Not only as a source of story and recollection, but as a dance teacher and as a cross-generational mentor and role model for younger dancers.
But back to the JOHP. As soon as I read that there were audio records, I thought ‘Oh baby, this has to be on the internet! How fully sick would that be?!’ So I gave it a good google, and found the Institute of Jazz Studies’ JOHP site. If you follow the links, you can listen to some sample audio files or read some transcripts. My initial reaction is: where are the rest of them?! There are heaps, according to the Peretti article. The site says:
The condition of the original reel-to-reel and cassette tapes and some of the service copies had deteriorated to the point where the Institute could no longer offer access to large parts of the collection. With recent funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, all 120 interviews have now been preserved in digital format. The digital versions of the interviews are currently stored in various media forms, including multiple sets of CD’s for archival purposes as well as for client access at the Institute. The digital versions of the interviews are also being ingested into a new digital library repository (RUCORE) under development as part of the Rutgers University Libraries new digital library initiative, which will provide another form of archiving as well as enhanced means for access by users.
I’ll investigate and see what I can find.
*This institute was founded in 1950 by Marshall Stearns, John Hammond George Avakian. Stearns was the author of Jazz Dance (which he cowrote with his wife Jean), and he also conducted some very famous interviews with Al and Leon. John Hammond was, of course, the famous jazz promoter (who was also involved with the Newport Jazz Festival) and George Avakian was a promoter and music producer. His son is a lindy hopper and DJ.
Peretti, Burton W. â€œOral Histories of Jazz Musicians: the NEA transcripts as texts in contextâ€ Jazz Among the Discourses. Duke U Press, Durham and London 1995. 117-133.