The following is a guest post by Library of Congress Jazz Scholar Aaron Diehl
My visit to the Library of Congress in March was not my first introduction to its collections. In late 2016, jazz curator Larry Appelbaum kindly welcomed me to the Library in advance of a program I was creating featuring the music of George Gershwin and Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton. “The Complete Library of Congress Recordings” of Jelly Roll with Alan Lomax was my first introduction to the self-proclaimed “Inventor of Jazz.” These records were often in my regular listening rotation when I was a teenager. It was only fitting that I go straight to the source in researching Jelly’s music, and my initial afternoon with Larry gave a broad overview of the performing arts collections as well as the specific archives of Gershwin and Morton. Despite his great efforts in arranging for me to view as much as possible during one afternoon visit, Larry suggested that I return in the future to experience more of what the Library had to offer.
My recent residency, primarily hosted by senior music specialist Anne McLean, included tours in parts of the Library beyond performing arts, but also allowed for more time with the Gershwin collection that I did not have initially. Ray White generously showed me the original manuscripts of Rhapsody in Blue, and Concerto in F, and also included a bonus of Beethoven’s piano sonata in E-Major, Op. 109. These were the absolute highlights of the visit. Gershwin had a three-week deadline to complete Rhapsody in Blue, which one cannot tell with his crisp, neat penmanship in the manuscript. Beethoven, by contrast, is known to have had illegible handwriting, and I could make out about eight measures of the sonata. These tangible experiences give a greater insight into the composer and his/her music. There is also the famous story regarding Rhapsody when Gershwin indicates in the score that he wants Paul Whiteman (the conductor/bandleader for whom the piece was commissioned) to look at Gershwin for the cue to bring the orchestra back in. Gershwin improvised the cadenzas during this premiere performance, and the indication to cue is indeed in the original score. Finally, after a concerted effort by several curators to shut off the alarm sensor and ambient music in the Gershwin Room, I finally had the opportunity to play his Steinway B.
Rather than satisfying my curiosity for the vast resources of the Library it left me with a greater sense of curiosity and ideas for utilizing the treasure trove of information. What is more astonishing than the Library itself is how few jazz musicians are aware of its resources. I spoke to no fewer than a dozen colleagues about the collections, and the majority did not know they even existed. If they did, it was assumed that only certain researchers and scholars could view these archives. Thanks to the Reva and David Logan Foundation, hopefully the Jazz Scholar residency will help create more awareness among musicians and scholars in the genre. Thank you to all of the staff at Library of Congress for making this accessible to the public.