New LibGuides highlight the Music Division’s Jazz collections

The following is a guest post by Music Reference Specialist James Wintle.

Jazz for the bears. [Between 1920 and 1932]. National Photo Company Collection, Prints and Photographs Division.

The Library of Congress has recently published two LibGuides related to jazz music. They are “Jazz Stock Arrangements: A Resource Guide” and “Jazz Research at the Library of Congress.” After the initial excitement of this news wears off, you may find yourself asking, “What’s a LibGuide anyway?” It is a content management system that allows librarians to curate and create subject-specific web pages through which patrons can find relevant information related to their chosen research topic.

Facing a vast collection that numbers in the tens of millions, it can be a daunting task to find absolutely everything the Library of Congress holds on any given subject, but “jazz” is especially elusive. What does “jazz” mean? Is music the only medium to consider or can a photograph, a poem, or a painting be “jazz?” For example, there is a famous Artists’ book by Henri Matisse titled “Jazz” and, yes, the Library owns one of the original prints of that book (number 208 to be exact) in the Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection, which is housed in the Rare Books and Special Collections Reading Room. However, the images in that book are, for the most part, related to the circus and theater, and they are not explicitly musical. So, is it “jazz?” If you are like me, you may have been introduced to Matisse’s book through the cover art of Wynton Marsalis’s 1988 album “The Majesty of the Blues.” That album is jazz by any definition, but what does that say about the cover art? Ultimately that is for the researcher to decide. As I previously stated, the subject of “jazz” is elusive. Taking that into account, the LibGuides created by the Library for jazz research do not try to explore every possible angle of research. The creativity of our patrons, who tirelessly work to make scholarly connections between seemingly disparate collection items, is not something that we would want to second-guess. So, the guides in question have been created to be the first step on their journey and not the destination.

Gordon Parks, photographer. Duke Ellington’s trumpet section. 1943 Apr. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Prints and Photographs Division.

Jazz Stock Arrangements: A Resource Guide” is the simple reformatting of a document that was created many years ago by Music Division librarians as a means to guide researchers to a section of the Library’s collection that was not under strict bibliographic control; published arrangements of music for jazz ensemble. The guide does not link to the digitized music scores, since many were written in the 1930s and 40s and therefore are still protected by U.S. Copyright Law, nor does it include every piece of published music for jazz ensemble that the Library holds. It is simply a series of curated lists of published pieces that can be accessed in the Performing Arts Reading Room, written by many of the most well-known jazz performers and arrangers of the first half of the twentieth century, such as Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Waller, Scott Joplin, King Oliver, Count Basie, Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, and Benny Goodman. One section of particular interest is “Theater Orchestra arrangements by African-American Composers.” It is a treasure trove of largely forgotten compositions from the turn of the twentieth century by many of the most important African-American composers of the time, including James Reese Europe, Will Marion Cook, Will Accooe, and J. Rosamond Johnson.

William P. Gottlieb, photographer. [Portrait of Charlie Parker, Tommy Potter, Miles Davis, Duke Jordan, and Max Roach, Three Deuces, New York, N.Y., ca. Aug. 1947]. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Music Division.

If you are looking for a broader view of the Library’s “jazz” collections, you may want to consult “Jazz Research at the Library of Congress” which focuses on the multi-media offerings of the Library. This includes links to concert videos, fascinating lectures, essays, and finding aids for a number of the Library’s special collections holding the original manuscripts of Charles Mingus, Max Roach, Gerry Mulligan, Billy Strayhorn and many others. In addition, the guide has lists of databases, printed material, and digitized collection items that are fascinating to explore. The extraordinary William P. Gottlieb Collection of more than 1,000 jazz photographs is just one example of a resource that can be of equal interest to the layman or scholar.

Whether you prefer the term “jazz” or as Max Roach, who vehemently disliked the term jazz, wrote “music in the tradition of Fletcher Henderson or Duke Ellington,” it is a broad and complex subject that can lead the researcher down a variety of pathways. It is the hope of the Library that these new LibGuides can act as a trailhead at the beginning of that journey with an equal opportunity for those who simply wish to dip their toes in the stream and those who plan to travel further into unexplored terrain.

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