I took five trains to see Dan Morgenstern on Friday. As everyone reading this blog knows, Dan is director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University. He also is winner of six Grammy Awards for Best Album Liner Notes and author of numerous essential jazz books and essays. [photo by Jim Cummins, NYT]
Dan also is a great guy. He and I had planned an afternoon together for some time, and Friday was the big day. So I boarded the #1 subway, transferred at Times Square for the R, connected to the PATH train, took it to Journal Square in Jersey City, transferred for the Newark train and then caught the Newark Light Rail for two stops.
Fortunately Dan had provided me with step-by-step directions, right down to a warning about making sure I had my 65-cent Newark Light Rail ticket validated ("If they check your ticket on the train and it hasn't been stamped by one of those machines on the wall, you'll owe a $100 fine," he warned).
Clearly, without Dan's meticulous guidance, I surely would have wound up in Ohio somewhere. When I arrived on the fourth floor of Rutgers' John Cotton Dana Library, there it was—the largest and most comprehensive library and archive of jazz and jazz-related material in the world. For someone like me who lives and breathes this music, the Institute is the research equivalent of Cooperstown.
For the next four hours, Dan gave me a personal tour of the stacks. We went aisle by aisle, section by section, looking at shelf after shelf of complete collections of jazz magazines from around the world, file cabinets of clippings arranged by artist, and 6,000 rare books dating back to the 1920s. Dan and I swapped information about different artists and looked over fabulous jazz periodicals, rare books and discography volumes. Dan is passionate about the Institute and all it has to offer, and his joy was evident. He guided me through the Benny Carter [pictured] exhibit, complete with Carter's passports, alto saxophones and trumpets, sheet music and other artifacts.
After touring the public space, Dan took out his keys and we went into what can only be described as a humidor for jazz albums. A massive, temperature-controlled, chilled environment held metal racks of 12-inch LPs, 10-inch LPs, 78-rpm discs and pizza-pie sized radio transcription discs. Just the smell of old records gets me worked up, and there were rare records and CDs as far as the eye could see.
Dan showed me the transcriptions and tapes from The Jazz Oral History Project of the National Endowment for the Arts, which was transferred to Rutgers in 1979 and features interviews with 120 jazz legends, all of them now deceased. He also showed me instruments that were donated by the estates of jazz greats, including Lester Young's tenor saxophone [pictured] and one of Miles Davis' green trumpets [pictured]. "Do researchers come to the Institute and never leave?" I asked in jest. "Actually, you're not too far off," Dan said. "People do tend to stay until the very last minute. Some would move in if they could." If you love jazz and research, the place grows on you fast.
Dan had questions about my master's thesis on the American Federation of Musicians strike of 1942-1944. Dan said virtually nothing scholarly had been written about the labor action that halted commercial recording and asked if I would be willing to provide the Institute with a copy for its archives. By all means, I said. We also exchanged stories about our early days working in New York City record stores.
Dan recalled his months at the Colony Music Store in the late 1950s, when it was located a bit north of its current location on Broadway. Dan recalled working with a salesman who could sell anyone anything. "Not in a bad way," Dan said. "He just knew everyone's tastes and could recommend albums that customers had to have. Wealthy South Americans would come in to spend a few hundred dollars and leave with a thousand dollars' worth of records."
One customer Dan recalled with a smile was Erroll Garner, who was the only non-employee allowed behind the counter to pick what he wanted, unassisted. "He'd favor Percy Faith, Andre Kostelanetz and other mood music recordings," Dan said. "Since Erroll couldn't read music, he always wanted clear, correct renditions of pop songs so he could hear how they were supposed to sound before interpreting them himself." Dan also fondly recalled working late nights as tipsy couples danced through the doors from the Palladium up the block looking for records of Latin artists they had just heard.
Fud Livingston was another frequent store customer, Dan said. The 1920s clarinetist, who played on many Bix Beiderbecke recording and wrote I'm Through With Love, was a heavy drinker and close to being homeless by the late 1950s. "It was so sad," Dan said. "He'd come in and go to the massive yellow book that listed all the songs and who recorded them. He'd open the book's pages to I'm Through With Love and say to anyone who'd listen, 'Here's the song I wrote and all the people who recorded it.' "
Dan and I then moved on to roughly 10 green metal file cabinets that had belonged to someone who recently died and had donated them to the Institute. Each cabinet was brimming with jazz magazine and newspaper clippings. "Someone will go through these soon to determine which of the materials we need to fill holes in our own clipping files."
Perhaps the biggest mind-blower of the day were boxes of 30 or more aluminum film cans. Here were the donated reels from the Francis Paudras estate, with some of the tins marked "Bud." Paudras had a close, three-year relationship with Bud Powell when the pianist lived in Paris and often filmed him with a hand-held camera. The cans were waiting patiently for review as soon as a grant came in to pay for an archivist to run the reels and digitally catalog the material on each one of them.
If you're a fabulously wealthy jazz fan and want to do a world of good, call the Institute to make a donation. If you want to learn more about the Institute, go here.
All I can say is thank goodness for Dan, Ed Berger (head of research services), Vincent Pelote (head of technical services and sound archivist), Tad Hershorn (an archivist who is completing a book on producer Norman Granz), Annie Kuebler (an archivist who recently organized a Mary Lou Williams collection) and John Clement (collection specialist).
Finally, if you're ever out Newark way, it's worth a visit to the Institute. But you should know in advance that the Institute offers no sleepover accommodations in the stacks.