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