digital resources… mostly

This post is really just to track a range of online sources I’ve used today. I’m really interested in the relationship between different tools, and between online and face to face tools. I want to frame this post/discussion by pointing out that swing DJs are interested in music primarily as dancers and as DJs for dancers. So their interest in music and dance and history is almost always tied to the physical experience of dancing. And dancing is ALL about the body, no matter how intertubed you are. Dancers also tend to have quite extensive online networks, networks of friends and acquaintances which crisscross their country and the world. I just know that if Peter wasn’t actually playing music as I type, he’d be chiming in with useful tweeted comments and links.
The body pwns the intertubes any day.

I read this thread on SwingDJs this morning, which directed us to: this story about hot jazz in a full-text issue of Life on Google books.

I replied in the thread on swingdjs, but also in a post on my own blog, here.

Reading the list and thinking about hot jazz as I wrote that post, I was reminded of things I’d read in books (!), one of which is also available in full text on google books here.

I have also found full text versions online, but I can’t remember where. If you start with The Jazz Study Group @ Columbia and Jazz Studies Online you’ll probably eventually find them all.

But while I was reading these things in books, I came across references to a series of photographs and films which are very popular with dances – by Gjon Mili. Mili is best known amongst dancers for his short film Jammin’ the Blues which is available on youtube along with other films he made featuring jazz musicians (I link them here.)

There’re some iconic photos of dancers in Life magazine in their ‘Life goes to…’ series. These are available in Google/Life’s online collection. Gjon Mili also did some very interesting photos as part of a photo shoot for Esquire in a Jam Session series.
I’ve already written about magazines and jazz ad nauseum.
Meanwhile, that original Life article listed ’30 good hot records’. Which made me think about canons. And discographies as canons. There are various online versions of discographies, but the good ones aren’t freely available online. Boo. Hiss.

Canons and discographies made me think about following particular musicians, and all this talk about ‘essential’ lists of jazz musicians and songs made me think about the Great Day In Jazz photo, which has a documentary film attached, and which Rayned used to structure his Yehoodi Radio show, which you could stream online.

After I’d written that post earlier today, I was still thinking about these issues. And I remembered seeing a note attached to an Australian photo from the 20s in an online collection. I eventually found the photo on flickr.com in their flickr commons (with which I am obsessed) by typing ‘bands jazz sydney’ into the search box, getting this list. This is the photo. I was particularly interested in the comment that black American bands were banned in Australia from the date of this photo (1928) until 1955 (when Louis Armstrong visited Australia). I wondered if it was true.

So I asked twitter. This led to a discussion between (mostly) The SwingDJ, DJRussellTurner, a discussion witnessed by all the people who followed one or all of us on Twitter.

TheSwingDJ was sceptical.

DJRussellTurner tweeted clarified the Rex Stewart thing.

DJRussellTurner suggested a distinction between ‘band’ and ‘musicians’, and then linked to an an article by Alec Morgan in the journal Scan which used the original photo and added

But, not all musical imports were welcomed by Sydney’s moral guardians. Sonny Clay’s renowned Jazz band, The Colored Idea, arrived here from the USA in 1928 to play the burgeoning nightclubs. After a couple of white women were found in a hotel room with the Afro-American musicians, the band was escorted back to the ship and told never to grace our shores again. While the occasional black musician was allowed in after careful scrutiny for a limited period, Afro-American bands were not permitted back until the mid 1950’s when Louis Armstrong and his band pushed the colour-bar down.

I suddenly decided I needed to know more, and I certainly needed to verify this idea that ‘black bands were banned in Australia’ during this period. The important question here is why? Why did I want to be sure? Partly because this would indicate interesting things about:

  • race and racism in Australia (White Australia Policy)
  • jazz and jazz culture in Australia (jam sessions, playing with and listening to other musicians is central to the exchange and cultural transmission of creative, ideological and discursive forms. A lack of African American musicians in Australia would go some way to supporting my continuing suspicions about the whiteness of Australian jazz. And, consequently, white jazz dance.
  • the music and entertainment industry in Australia.

I had a bit of a squizz in various online sources, but eventually decided I needed to look at some more newspapers from the day. These sorts of (albeit somewhat unreliable) primary sources can be helpful.

So I started simple, and followed this link from the flickr page. Not a whole lot of help right now, but it would be worth following up the original photographer.

Then I remembered someone on twitter mentioning an online tool which allowed you to search online Australian primary sources. I couldn’t remember who it was who put me onto it (I still can’t), so I just followed a bunch of links from likely sources.

Until I saw a name I recognised: Trove. And started searching for “Sonny Clay”.

I found this newspaper article on Trove which outlined accusations about the musicians’ union from the ‘banned band”s representatives.

Meanwhile, TheSwingDJ confirmed our suspicions but also noted that Rex Stewart wasn’t black, according to the musicians’ union (I wish I had his reference for this, actually).

He also tweeted other interesting tidbits including one about ‘good reputations’ and ‘paying’ to be allowed to play.

And then there were various comments on twitter from peeps ‘listening in’ to our 3-way chat, including comments about the photos as resources for fashion, Trove’s value for private research projects and so on. I asked for help RE Trove’s browser-compatability as I wanted to edit the scanned text of the article, but couldn’t log in. Various tweeps offered tips and feedback.

Then I revisited DJRussellTurner’s link to the Scan article and the original flickr photo page and discovered that the author of the Scan article had a blog where she discussed this photo and issue. Her thinking about this issue led to her discussion of flappers and gender here and here.

I then checked our her blog’s ‘about’ page and discovered she’s at the Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies at UQ where I did my BA and MA and where I still have friends working.

In one of those blog posts she notes in a caption for (a repro of that original photo from flickr):

(Members of Sonny Clay’s Coloured Idea (including the singer Ivie Anderson) on deck as they pull into Sydney, 1928)

And this made me think: Ivie Anderson! Best known (in my world) as a singer with Duke Ellington’s band. So I did a crappy search of my music (using the wrong date) to see if she recorded with Ellington during this period. I also scanned the photo carefully to see if I recognised her. I was, pretty much, guessing. But I was using photos of Anderson I found online to try and compare them with the women in those two original photos.

TheSwingDJ beat me to it with this link to a source many Swing DJs use quite often. That entry for Anderson includes:

Born in California, young Ivie received vocal training at her local St. Mary’s Convent and later spent two years studying with Sara Ritt in Washington, DC. Returning home she found work with Curtis Mosby, Paul Howard, Sonny Clay, and briefly with Anson Weeks at the Mark Hopkins Hotel in Los Angeles. She also found work in vaudeville, touring the country as a dancer and vocalist in the Fanchon and Marco revue, starring Mamie Smith, and with the Shuffle Along revue. She was featured vocalist at the Culver City Cotton Club before leaving to tour Australia in 1928 with Sonny Clay. Returning after five months down under she organized her own show and toured the U.S. In 1930 she found work with Earl Hines.It was while appearing with Hines that Ellington first heard her sing. He hired her in February 1931, and she quickly became a fixture of the orchestra’s sound.

(I’ve bolded the important bits.)

At this point, we’re still thinking about and looking up sources. Meanwhile, colleagues from the CCC at UQ have chimed in about the author of that blog, discussions about archiving this sort of research are happening, I’m listening to 1930s Ellington featuring Ivie Anderson and I’m just about to look up youtube for some clips of Anderson to see if I can check her out more thoroughly.
But first, I think I’ll go dancing.
(srsly)

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