It seems like just yesterday that I applied for a part-time job at the Library in 1979 while still a student at the University of Maryland. I thought being a Deck Attendant in what was then called Collections Management would be just the ticket to help with my schoolwork, giving me pre-digital access to the world’s greatest single body of written knowledge. But then I found that working in the Main Reading Room and interacting with scholars from all over the world were stimulating and awoke in me something that had meaning.
Graduation came and I saw a job posting for a full-time Audio-Video Production Specialist Trainee. This one seemed to fit my knowledge, skills and interests, especially in radio. I got that job and spent 25 years working in the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division as a Recording Engineer and ultimately a Supervisor of the Magnetic Recording Lab. We audio- and video-recorded concerts, lectures and symposia throughout the Library. In many respects, the most interesting part of the job was helping to preserve and reformat the Library’s vast collection of film, video and recorded sound.
I began to dive head-first into the extraordinary collections of jazz and spoken word materials in the NBC Radio and Voice of America Collections, not to mention the Archive of Folk Song and the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature. It was a special thrill to discover the previously unknown tapes of the Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane recordings at Carnegie Hall later issued by Blue Note Records in 2005. I also had the opportunity of working on many rare recordings, including the reissue of the historic acetate discs of Jelly Roll Morton in the Coolidge Auditorium talking about how he invented jazz in New Orleans at the turn of the century. I’m especially proud that we were able to correct the playback speed to finally get those songs in the proper keys. The Grammy-nominated box set was issued by Rounder Records in 2006.
I took a year off in 1991 to live in Japan and study music, language and culture. It was endlessly fascinating and stirred my interest in international travel and filled my passport, eventually reviewing many jazz festivals around the world, lecturing at famous conservatories and working as a consultant for a Russian Jazz Archive and Research Center in Yaroslavl.
The zenith of my career came when the Library announced plans to build a new Audio-Visual Conservation Center in Culpeper, Virginia. I chose not to relocate and instead moved over to the Music Division, which needed a Reference Specialist with a strong background in jazz. This was a dream job for me, as it enabled me to help researchers, design programs for educational outreach and acquire collections for the Library, including the papers and scores of Max Roach, Eric Dolphy, Billy Strayhorn, Machito, Bruce Lundvall and many others. In addition, I was able to start writing for the Music Library Association Journal Notes, JazzTimes magazine and various websites around the world. I was also fortunate to contribute to the book Jazz: The First Century (2000), The Encyclopedia of Radio (2003) and Jazz: The Smithsonian Anthology (2011).
Perhaps the most fun was creating a jazz film series for the Mary Pickford Theater which ran for 10 years and for which we brought Artie Shaw, Kenny Burrell, Joe Williams, Reggie Workman and many other special guests.
I was also invited to give lectures and interview musicians for pre-concert presentations and oral histories, moderate panel discussions, and oversee a program of invited jazz scholars including Dan Morgenstern, Ingrid Monson, Andrew White and others. In 2016 we created a wonderful exhibit, “Jazz Singers,” for the gallery outside the Performing Arts Reading Room. Our efforts generated a lot of digital content, much of which is on the Library’s website (see a partial list of links and photos below).
In June of 2017, I suffered a stroke, but was able to telework for a couple of years. Now the time has come for my retirement. It’s been a joy and a blessing to be able to collaborate with and work alongside such distinguished colleagues throughout the Library and do my small part to add to what we think of as The Temple of Knowledge.
For more of my Music Division blog posts, click here.
For my personal blog, Let’s Cool One, click here.
Curator’s picks blog post
Russian-American Jazz Summit with Cyril Moshkow
Roger Kellaway and Eddie Daniels
What a wonderful career you have had. I wish you health & happiness in your retirement. May all your experiences bring you music, joy and fulfillment as you start the next chapter. Thank you for your contributions to the LoC and to all of us.
Oh, what a “gig” you snagged years ago while attending the University of Maryland.
I loved the one with the late Max Roach and you in a chat, I hope, about Jazz.
With thanks and regards to your tenure with the Library of Congress.
Larry, you leave an extraordinary hole in the Library – but an extraordinary legacy as well. We will miss you ferociously.
What a career and a very nice essay about it! Enjoy your well-deserved retirement
Congratulations on a wonderful career, Mr. Appelbaum. Hope to hear you back on WPFW Sound of Surprise (when it is safe for you to do the program!).
Larry Appelbaum and I started working together in the MBRS Recording Laboratory back in May of 1981. It makes me cringe a little when I realize how many years ago that was and that some of you reading this weren’t even born yet!! Anyway, one of the first things we learned about each other was our mutual love of jazz. Larry was doing a radio show, I think on the Maryland University station but not long after that, started his weekly show “The Sound of Surprise” on WPFW which is still going strong.
Larry and I spent those early years working on the NBC radio collection, Voice of America and other audio collections as well as supporting the Music Division by recording concerts. We spent lunch hours and after hours talking about jazz, spinning LP’s at his apartment, and attending a few concerts together. One highlight I’ll always remember is Larry introducing me to DC’s most famous jazz DJ, Felix Grant. We were at the Kennedy Center and Felix was the MC for the “Kool” jazz festival during the time before it would eventually return to Newport, RI. Meeting Felix was a thrill for me, being a DC native who grew up listening to his radio show.
One of the things Larry and I talked a lot about was our desire to include more jazz programming in the Library’s concert series. In the 80’s, there was virtually none but over the years, Larry has played a huge role in reaching out to jazz artists, helping to acquire their collections and even discovering rare recordings like the 1957 Monk/Coltrane Carnegie Hall concert found in an unlabeled tape box among the Library’s audio collections. Another highlight was meeting Mercer Ellington when the Library acquired a major collection of his father’s recordings. Duke’s one and only son made many visits to the Library and I had the opportunity to work with him, going through some of those recordings to create a CD of previously unreleased music. That was an experience that probably wouldn’t have happened without Larry’s input.
As someone who’s known and worked with Larry Appelbaum for almost 40 years, I’m happy for him but also a little sad to see him retire under these circumstances. I’m hoping the Library can, in some way, continue to benefit from his expertise as it will, in turn, benefit all of us who love music.
Larry…thanks for the music, the conversations, the good work we did together and mostly, your friendship. I look forward to the day when we’ll be able to relax this social distancing thing, at least a little, sit down together and, to paraphrase Monk, “cool one”.
Take care of yourself,
you are such a wonderful writer! I hope writing a book is in your future.
Keep jazz vital.
Thanks for your inquiring mind
I was lucky enough a number of times to attend your Jazz Film series and my wife and I also attended the release party for the “Jazz, The Smithsonian Anthology” at the Politics and Prose bookstore years ago. We had a chance to chat with you and even had you autograph p.178 in the booklet were you discuss Martial Solal and Johnny Griffins work on the tune “Neutralisme”. Congratulations on a great career and we look forward to hearing your show on WPFW.
Bravo, Larry! Here’s to a long career and a healthy retirement.
Mike, thanks for your lovely testimonial!
Congratulations Larry! Your work has mad a significant contribution to American music and culture. A long way from the record library at the University of Maryland’s WMUC…or maybe not! Hope to hear you on the radio again as well…
Larry’s work as a teacher, radio host and generous expert in all things Jazz has been beautiful, urgent, inspiring and continuously and increasingly treasured and valuable to literally thousands of people in this country and around the world. He has both discovered and brought priceless talent and musical joy to the initial or greater knowledge of so many, and in that talent and passion has a gift and has given it generously. He is a treasure – in his passion, intellect, curiosity and ability to teach by example. Congratulations on an amazing and deeply valuable career to all you’ve touched and influenced over the years. We look forward to you sharing more now, too, in your radio show at WPFW and in the years to come. Wishing you safe passage and resiliency in these dark days for us all. Thank you for being, and for what you will continue to give. It’s meant the world to us all. LOC won’t be the same without you.
You are a National Treasure! Sorry to hear you are retiring.
You are one of my favorite people, speakers, interviewers, writers, experts, thinkers on jazz and many other subjects Larry. For me, one life changing gift you gave was your discussion with music by Tito Rodríguez that had us dancing in our seats and in the aisles in the Pickford Theater. Sharon Clark’s gorgeous singing during your “Jazz Singers” gallery talk was another. Too many to count. Thank you!
A few years ago Larry gave a presentation for the Library’s Archives Forum on the Sonny Rollins collections. I remember being absolutely enthralled and excited by Larry’s knowledge and his experience. I’ve listened to some of the interviews he’s done and continue to be engaged and excited by his knowledge. May your retirement allow you the opportunity relax, enjoy music and perhaps share more of your knowledge with the world.
Thanks Larry for all you’ve done and all you will continue to do for our favorite music!
We go back so many ways, and proud of them all! congratulations!
I am pleased to say that I met you very early in your career and knew then that you would be a major contributor to the American music scene and jazz in particular. And of course I will never forget your visit to Rio to visit me during Carnaval 1987–voce se lebra das “panteiras?”
It is incredible to read of all what you have done since then, but I am saddened by news of your stroke and need to retire. I truly hope that we will meet again.
I treasured the opportunity too know and work with you, Larry a little bit in the 90s and 00s when I lived there. Sometimes my bass was used for concerts you helped produce. I’m sorry we never found more time just to talk…