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Reflecting on Jazz Archives: Past, Present, and Future

Michael Fitzgerald


In but a brief span of time, jazz archives have evolved dramatically. Where they go in the future will depend, in great part, upon where they have been until now. Users still demand the same kinds of information as they did in the past, so archives must continue to provide those resources and services, but there are now new tools, both available and in development, that will permit researchers to look at the subject from different perspectives or in different levels of detail. Before long, jazz archives will be asked to accommodate these new approaches, but more importantly, they should help to design these tools and to shape the future of jazz research.

In the history of the oldest and largest jazz archives, the Institute of Jazz Studies (IJS), two figures loom large: Marshall Stearns, its founder, and Dan Morgenstern, its director for over thirty-five years. How have the goals that Stearns set for an independent archives been met under Morgenstern’s directorship, as part of a university library system? What can we learn from the past thirty-five years at the Institute for Jazz Studies? How can we study and evaluate the work done by these pioneers and use it to define the next steps? How could the original vision best be achieved or furthered in light of the advent of modern tools? What does the future hold for jazz archives and the researchers who make use of them? This brief essay surveying the past, present, and future of jazz archives introduces many topics, any one of which could — and hopefully will — be pursued in depth in future studies. However, the body of literature (particularly from the library and information science perspective) on the subject of jazz archives is so slight that bringing these topics forward for consideration alone serves a worthy purpose.

Marshall Stearns’s Vision

The history of jazz archives is a short one. There are even some elders still with us who can recall that earlier time when there were just collectors: individuals who amassed personal libraries of recordings and literature as well as recollections from personal experiences. Some of these collectors shared their knowledge by publishing articles, in well distributed newspapers and magazines, in smaller efforts done by the fans for the fans, and in books. Clubs were established for jazz fans to listen to, learn about, and appreciate what was then something of a renegade art form. Gradually, a body of knowledge developed and tools such as the first discographies and histories emerged. [1]

In the early 1950s, the first jazz archives was established, evolving from a personal collection to one that was accessible to the public. In spite of being the first of its kind, the project was remarkably well thought out, addressing virtually everything that the study of jazz would require. In early writings on the subject, Marshall Stearns envisioned the Institute of Jazz Studies as being involved in a wide variety of activities:

In the coming year, the plans of the Institute are fivefold: first, to continue assembling an archive of recordings and literature on jazz and related subjects, available to any qualified student; second, to organize field trips whereby documentary interviews with pioneering musicians may be recorded and fast-disappearing material on the history of jazz preserved; third, to aid in the publication of worthwhile studies on the subject; fourth, to work out a series of courses on jazz at a university level (an introductory course is being instituted at the New School for Social Research in New York next September); and fifth, to continue participation in the Music Inn Roundtables on Jazz. Meanwhile, until it is in a position to publish its own journal, the Institute has accepted an invitation to have its announcements and reports appear in a special section of The Record Changer. [2]

Unprecedented as it was, this ambitious program was no mere pipe dream, and the IJS was able to meet all of its five goals, even without the benefit of institutional support. [3] However, it eventually became clear that what was essentially a one-man operation would need such support to continue. Just before Stearns’s unexpected death in 1966, the IJS was transferred to Rutgers University, where the materials sat in limbo for several years. Steady progress resumed when Dan Morgenstern became director of the Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies in 1976. [4] In the years since, IJS has steadily continued work related to all five of the goals that Stearns identified (though the specifics have changed slightly). Morgenstern’s tenure at IJS, from 1976 to 2011, essentially defined the state of the jazz archives in the United States in the last quarter of the twentieth century. [5] A very solid foundation has been set and the future of IJS will rest on how the accomplishments made during these decades are built upon and refined. Other smaller and newer jazz archives will have the opportunity to learn from IJS and follow in its wake.

How Jazz is Different

Marshall Stearns’s five objectives provide a good starting point for any discussion of jazz archives. These objectives can be grouped into three categories: collection, preservation, and dissemination — all still very valid concerns for a jazz archives. This article will focus primarily on collection — the acquiring of jazz materials and how access is provided to those materials — with some related discussion of preservation and dissemination.

A first consideration is how jazz archives, focusing on IJS as the epitome, are functioning at present. What beliefs influence critical decisions? Where do strengths and weaknesses lie? Much of this was addressed in an earlier study examining five American jazz archives. [6] As mentioned in that study, the combination of a large university and a specialized jazz archives can be an uneasy partnership. While library administrators and hired consultants may wish to fit each component into a neatly standardized box, reality often interferes with such conceptions. As Dan Morgenstern pointed out, a jazz archives is not just another special collection. “We are a sound collection; we are a music collection; we are a photo collection; we have memorabilia; we’re a library. So it’s like a little bit of everything. I think that’s the nature of the beast.” [7] Jazz archives’ patrons, donors, formats, descriptive cataloging, and products of research are also not typical, particularly when compared to those commonly encountered by the university library. The ideal jazz archives would address these differences and would work to meet the challenges that they present. Shoehorning this unique hybrid to fit into another mold and homogenizing these differences serves no one but administrators well. This is not to say that jazz archives should not study and use best practices from other areas (and there are many relevant fields), only that the essence of individuality cannot be overlooked. The jazz archives must borrow what is applicable, adapt what needs adjusting, and create from scratch in situations where no suitable system exists. The real worry is that those making the decisions will not be aware of such subtleties.

Specialized Knowledge Requirements

Preservation and access are considered the two principle concerns of archives. While it is generally accepted that the preservation of resources requires specialist training, providing access to them does as well, but this is not always recognized. [8] Since the 1980s, libraries have considered cataloging and reference together as “access services,” [9] the goal of this combination being improved service for patrons. While much of this discussion in library literature has addressed efficiencies outside the realm of special collections, there is relevance in that area as well. In terms of jazz materials, both the cataloging and reference aspects demand knowledge that is rare and largely untaught in academic or professional programs. One need only look at the various qualifications of Morgenstern’s Institute of Jazz Studies team to appreciate the diversity of knowledge that contributed to such success. What works for other academic disciplines may or may not work in the context of the jazz archives, and recruiting the same kind of librarian as found in other academic libraries is a sure recipe for failure.

To take but one example: cataloging sound recordings according to the standards established and used by ordinary public and academic libraries is inappropriate for a jazz archives, particularly the world’s foremost one. Both popular music (including jazz) and sound recordings have suffered for years from a bias against them in a bibliocentric library world that favors western classical music with its notated scores over all other styles. In describing jazz materials and establishing catalog access points, jazz archives should be leading the way, defining new approaches that better serve the very complex information needs of their patrons, rather than meekly following in paths that have long proven to be insufficient for such purposes. [10] If the work is too much for one archive, then a system of collaboration with other institutions that share the same values must be established. It should be obvious to anyone who examines shared catalog records, however, that all academic and public libraries do not share the values of the jazz archives. Therefore, it is extremely unlikely that those institutions will create access tools that will satisfy the patrons of jazz archives.

Those patrons come from a wide variety of backgrounds and their knowledge of the library can vary dramatically. The fact that Rutgers University is the home of the Institute of Jazz Studies has never meant that the collection and services have been presented as solely or even primarily resources for Rutgers students and faculty. The legacy of IJS as a world-class independent research center has continued on, with its collections being regularly used by patrons of all affiliations and none. The users of jazz archives are not the typical academic scholars, and they need different treatment in reference transactions and instruction. What most of these patrons do know is jazz, and it is on that level that the best communication can occur.

The scope of knowledge required for effective service in a jazz archives is not trivial. In addition to having knowledge of the literature of jazz, including works such as discographies, which have their own arcane vagaries, a number of other areas must be addressed. Because jazz is a musical art, there is specialist knowledge required that includes, but is not limited to: reading musical notation (including transposed full scores in manuscript); understanding how jazz composition and improvisation works; and having a familiarity with artists, styles, instruments, and ensembles. Because recordings (both old and new) are involved, knowledge of various recording, editing, and reproduction technologies is required. And because jazz comes from a culture that has not been traditionally accepted in institutions and because it has its own subculture, jazz archives staff must possess a familiarity with these and must be able to function as “insiders.” In many situations, their role is that of what Everett Rogers called the “change agent” [11] and the staff members are the ones responsible for introducing patrons to new sources, tools, and techniques. According to Rogers, to be successful in this, they must be able to communicate with the patrons as peers. They are working on the same side as the patrons and the trust that is established between staff and patron is a crucial element in the success of the jazz archives.

The Jazz Archives as Place

Academic libraries have historically been “designed first and foremost as places to collect, access, and preserve print collections,” [12] with the emphasis placed on the collection rather than the patron. With Morgenstern as director, the Institute of Jazz Studies never had such a sterile environment. Particularly after its current quarters were unveiled in 1994, the IJS achieved an excellent balance, with climate-controlled closed stacks for the preservation of sound recordings and delicate archival materials but with browsable open stacks for books and periodicals to facilitate discovery and open reading tables that help create a social setting where patrons can converse and collaborate. Frequent patrons were able to work independently, gathering the materials they needed to consult without staff intervention. They could interact informally with other patrons and IJS staff and on numerous occasions, important personal and professional connections have been made through such means. This is quite a contrast from the reading rooms of many other archives, where patrons are kept separate and silent, permitted to request only a limited number of items via written slips to be pulled from the vast closed stacks by technicians whose only requirement is to correctly match call numbers. In many such places, even the reference librarians to whom questions are directed are not experts on the collections because of the diversity of materials gathered together.

Thankfully, what Morgenstern implemented was based on a different philosophy and in this way, he did much to establish the Institute of Jazz Studies as what the Council on Library Resources has more recently termed “the library as place,” stating:

The library is the only centralized location where new and emerging information technologies can be combined with traditional knowledge resources in a user-focused, service-rich environment that supports today’s social and educational patterns of learning, teaching, and research. Whereas the Internet has tended to isolate people, the library, as a physical place, has done just the opposite. [13]

As much as the exceptional collection, it is this atmosphere that has made IJS attractive to scholars. During Morgenstern’s tenure, researchers visiting the Institute were made to feel welcome.

We have been told untold number of times over the years by people who have come here and who have been to other institutions, how much they appreciate the fact that we are accessible; that we don’t bother them with stupid red tape requirements and so on — in other words, that we treat them like respectable human beings. [14]

His view was this was not only a matter of courtesy or respect, but of accessibility as well. This came down to putting the patrons in contact with the materials and information needed. Partly because of this high level of access at IJS, researchers are able to work much more productively than at other archives. It is not the result of an accident, but rather of conscious design.

Planning for Serendipity

Part of this productivity is the result of serendipity. In the largest single collection of jazz and jazz-related materials there is a high concentration of many unusual items (including self-published pamphlets, foreign books, catalogs, and ephemera) that are unlikely to be found in other library collections. Because these are organized and shelved, it is easy for browsing researchers to stumble upon previously unknown items that have relevance to their inquiries. IJS has wisely balanced the preservation and access issues and has provided unobstructed access to as much as possible. Although all the materials are non-circulating, a great portion of the collection is in open stacks. The serendipitous discoveries that occur in collections are well documented and studies show that serendipity is valued by researchers. [15] Unfortunately, not all archives appreciate this value. The special collections library that considers all books to be “rare books” and hides them away does a disservice to its patrons. Closed stacks, where items must be specially requested, tend to inhibit researchers because they are not permitted to grasp the context of the item in which they are interested. In an unmediated open stacks collection, the organization and cataloging create a state of “prevenient grace,” as Daniel Liestman terms it, and this structure encourages serendipitous discoveries to take place, assuming that the patron approaches the collection with a mind that is receptive to such things. [16] When creating a research center, serendipity should be considered, and the facility should promote discoveries beyond specific “known item” searching. The research on serendipity supports the idea that it is within the unknown items that some of the most valuable information will be found. While the exact methods that future researchers will use to find information cannot be known, a thorough understanding of the subject matter and the accompanying culture will aid in devising an environment that will fit the jazz researcher’s needs. This juxtaposition of collection, organization, and accessibility is one of the considerable strengths of the Institute of Jazz Studies, and it should not be discounted.

Research Strategies and the User-Centered Experience

Keeping in mind that materials are preserved in order to provide access to them, jazz archives should examine who uses their materials and how. Then it can be determined whether or not they are meeting the needs of these users. One area that has received virtually no attention in the literature of library and information science is how the researcher functions in a jazz archives. This lack of information, however, is not limited to jazz. In his consideration of the current state of libraries, Andrew Abbott points out:

Indeed, library-based scholarship as an overall enterprise has seen relatively little study. There is serious empirical study of various search strategies. There is a good deal of writing about digital library research and about teaching various populations of non-scholars how to do library research. There are occasional articles studying the research habits of individual scholars in the library-based disciplines. But there is nothing — in the library literature at least — about how library scholarship works as a corporate enterprise, much less about the possible overall effects of the revolution in academic libraries on that enterprise. [17]

There have been no published studies of the research habits of jazz scholars, who are demonstrably different in many qualities from researchers in other areas. This uncharted territory demands attention, difficult though it may be to obtain data. We can, however, learn something from existing studies of humanities scholars and how they use libraries, archives, and other resources. These studies can then be used as models to determine how those who study jazz deviate from those more general humanities scholars in terms of their research behavior.

Even in the digital age, jazz is stuck in the past. Because jazz has not historically received attention from the scholarly community, the existing scholarly tools, such as periodical indexes, do not provide adequate coverage and this affects how and where researchers work. They cannot use a variety of sophisticated research strategies and instead are forced to rely on what Marcia Bates has termed “berrypicking.” [18] This bit-by-bit foraging approach to information retrieval where new queries are constantly evolving is commonly employed by jazz researchers partly due to this lack of satisfactory indexes. When one considers that jazz researchers are sometimes more interested in the newspaper advertisements than the newspaper articles, it is easy to see that full-text searching becomes even more important. Archives must take into consideration that researchers need access to these resources and they need to access them in the same location where their other work is being done. Although it would be unusual to find a comprehensive historical collection of general interest periodicals in a jazz archives, digitization facilitates the use of these materials in the manner that the researcher prefers. In the world of jazz research, berrypicking is unlikely to disappear. Of the various research strategies, it fits best at this point. As the approach involves switching between various search methods, this would be much more difficult in libraries or archives where materials are difficult to access. The IJS seems to accommodate this very satisfactorily, at least in the realm of non-digital sources.

Taking Stock of the Assets

One obvious strength of the Institute of Jazz Studies is its collection, which is of an enormous size and scope. This is a result not only of its longevity, but also of the continual accumulation that has gone on for decades. A collection development policy that strives for completeness demands a methodical acquisition strategy that identifies gaps and fills them. With this approach IJS has excelled.

Though of course those holdings are of primary importance, one finds more inside a jazz archives than merely what is on the shelves. A premier institution such as IJS can lay claim to:

  • The physical collection (books, periodicals, sound and video recordings, photographs, archival materials, vertical files, as well as instruments, personal belongings, etc.)
  • Technology (the machines on which to play recordings, networked computers that can access digital resources)
  • The finding aids (guides, whether paper or digital, that enumerate the contents of archival collections, but also all the various tools that keep track of the archives’ holdings, be they catalog cards, MARC records in the online catalog, homegrown databases, spreadsheets, inventory lists, indexes, etc.)
  • The staff members and their various categories of knowledge: subject-specific, procedural, and institutional, some of which, in all likelihood, is in the form of tacit knowledge, undocumented, possibly based on past experience, and residing only in the individual’s personal memory.
  • The on-site patrons, who might well be the world’s foremost experts in their respective areas.

The problem of “hidden collections” is one encountered by every archives [19] and at IJS, there is certainly room for improvement in the area of finding aids, though steady work is being made towards describing the contents of their many collections. It is crucial that information about acquisitions be disseminated to potential patrons. While a computerized shelf list of most of the sound recordings collection exists, improving the availability of this information to patrons everywhere would be beneficial to all and might even result in assistance in filling those gaps. The fairly recent publication of online finding aids to some archival collections at IJS is a very welcome addition for researchers all over the world. [20] More of the same would be appreciated. An online database of metadata on photograph collection holdings, even if all it provided were the subjects’ names, would be valuable and would save a great deal of time for researchers.

It is technology in general that holds the potential to transform the archives, bringing it truly up-to-date. Virtually all of the advances in libraries over the past thirty years have been technology-related and the modern library has embraced digital technology and has already seen considerable progress in the evolution of computers in nearly every aspect of library management. Certainly IJS has computers and the staff use them regularly for a variety of tasks, but the patrons need access to them. Additional public computers will let patrons access tools that will enhance their use of on-site materials and will bolster the assertion that there is a world of useful information that is not found on-site.

The World Outside

Within a university library system, a comprehensive jazz research center such as the Institute of Jazz Studies falls under the heading of a library “special collection.” Once limited in meaning to the “rare books” collection, a more recent expanded definition identifies a special collection as a center for “one-stop-shopping” on a particular subject. [21] This has resulted in the amassing of collections (primarily physical collections) which are remarkable, but because neither collectors nor archivists can know what users will want to do with these materials, they will never be the end-all.

Libraries have long been concerned with sharing their materials (almost exclusively via the interlibrary loan of print resources), but this has not been a concern of special collections, which do not circulate their holdings. For all the progress it has made, in some ways, the Institute of Jazz Studies has not moved much beyond the conception of a library of the mid-twentieth century. Access is almost entirely confined to on-site patrons and the vast majority of its collection consists of physical items. This criticism should be tempered by remembering how important this groundbreaking work has been and how many challenges the archives has faced. Nevertheless, the future is here and users’ expectations are rapidly changing. Simply maintaining the old course at a time when all libraries are under attack as being irrelevant is not an option. Big changes are needed and first and foremost, the jazz archives must look beyond its walls, toward creating a bridge to the outside.

This bridge travels in both directions. It could start from within the jazz archives. The on-site researcher inevitably finds himself seeking the (seemingly) one thing that the collection lacks. Where can he turn next? For such a common occurrence, certainly a well-defined and tested procedure should exist. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The holdings of one jazz archives may be plentiful but there must be a connection to holdings elsewhere, particularly via the Internet. Having seen so much information available via the Internet, users now expect this — at least to some degree. As the fruits of digitization projects go online, collecting and providing access merge with the idea of dissemination (an innovative way of addressing Stearns’s goals of publication and outreach). With other libraries starting to provide their materials online, on-site patrons are able to save time and money and may conduct their work at the most convenient location — possibly even on-site at a jazz archives.

Taking stock of the relevant assets outside of the jazz archives, we find:

  • Other libraries and archives (including their collections, technology, finding aids, staff)
  • Personal collections
  • Researchers
  • Organizations
  • Musicians and other involved people

The new challenge for the jazz archives is to integrate seamlessly the resources of many archives and libraries as well as the knowledge held by organizations and individuals, whether affiliated with institutions or not.

This kind of integrated library is not a new idea and in fact, it predates electronic digital computers. In the first part of the twentieth century, the Belgian documentarian and visionary Paul Otlet (1868–1944) proposed a library that could be accessed from all over the world. He imagined a library that was connected to other libraries and that could bring materials in disparate locations together virtually through the technology of his day, including television, radio, and microfilm. [22]

Otlet’s prescient conception is still valuable, and now that the Internet provides the means to achieve much of what he dreamed, modern information science is rediscovering and studying his work. Obstacles remain and there are still gaps that have not been filled. These gaps are of particular concern to researchers who are not seeking some information or a book, but all information and every book on a particular topic, which is frequently the case when working in the field of jazz. The haphazard contents of the Internet (free or paid) are deceptive. One edition of a book may be available digitally while another edition is not. One year of a journal may be included in an electronic database but another may be omitted. Whether in electronic format or not, the periodicals to which a library may be able to provide access may be only partial runs. Researchers need to find those missing issues. How can this best be accomplished? Librarians should have the answers, or at least recommendations on next steps.

The second way the bridge travels is from the outside. How to accommodate remote users (offsite) is a more recent challenge. As we enter into the Internet’s third decade of access to the public, it has become possible to conduct serious research without setting foot in a library or archives. This should not imply that libraries and archives are irrelevant, for it is their materials which offer the remote researcher much of this, though at this point, jazz is lagging far behind many other areas of study. As the archives becomes more accessible beyond its walls, however, one thing that is in danger of being lost is that camaraderie that developed from having researchers working side-by-side in the same room. How can it be recaptured or created in a new virtual space? How can the archives balance privacy concerns with the benefits that researchers gain from knowing what others are working on? This introduces the field of social networking, which to this point has been more concerned with matters unrelated to scholarly research. Can it be adapted to more serious pursuits?

New Tools and Techniques

Jazz has endured a history of bias and neglect in the academic sphere, and if one surveys available electronic resources, the situation certainly cannot be seen as having improved much. While database providers large and small offer specialized packages for a range of disciplines, there is currently only two products with a jazz focus, and those products include no scholarship, only commercial recordings. [23]

The very real tools and methods described by Elizabeth B. Cooksey in her study of serendipity in the digital library [24] are possible only because the field in question is science. There are no comprehensive online citation indexes for jazz, nor are there even print equivalents. While scientists discuss the advantages of searching full-text over searching abstracts, jazz scholars cannot even know the full contents of Down Beat without pulling the issues from the shelf and paging through them. This method does have its benefits, of course, and Thomas Mann has urged the scholar to remember “that there are other ways to do full-text searches besides using computers, and that some of these ways simply cannot be fitted into computers.” [25] Jazz researchers who have spent hour upon hour with old magazines know this all too well.

Even when relevant tools have been produced, however, they do not always reach the users who would benefit from them most. Unfortunately, many newer information resources are not commonly acquired by jazz archives. While archives that have acquisitions budgets (as opposed to those that only add to their collections via donations) may have funding that permits the purchase of books and recordings, electronic resources such as aggregator databases, historical newspaper collections, or digitized archival materials instead come under the jurisdiction of the larger university library. Collection policies that require electronic resources to be considered for entire campuses (or even multi-campus university systems) tend to result in lowest common denominator collections. The specialized tools that hold appeal for jazz researchers cannot compete in a system where usage statistics are used to determine value. The high price of most digital collection subscriptions also removes them from consideration. As a result, patrons must seek out other libraries that do have the needed resources (and there are further access challenges, discussed below).

At this point, jazz scholars can hope for a future where this is no longer the case and they can dream of the effects that access to such tools would have on their research work. What would such a future look like? Here are a few tempting propositions. Interested readers are encouraged to explore further.

Machine-Readable Data

Where progress can be made is in providing access to materials that are not in open stacks and in providing information to remote researchers in a form that is appropriate for them. The widespread use of encoded archival description (EAD) finding aids instead of those in plain text computer files or simply printed on paper would be a great step forward. EAD is a broadly accepted standard that has been commonplace in many archives for years and jazz archives simply need to catch up. Finding aid information in this format then becomes accessible not only to human patrons via the Internet, but it also can be ingested by computer programs, combined with information from other data sources, and processed in new and different ways.

This concept of machine-readable data and tools, again largely untouched in the realm of jazz, has been recognized by the Library of Congress as part of the future of libraries.

Further development of standards will be based on evidence arising from changing use patterns. The library community will realize that bibliographic data need to support a variety of user, management, and machine needs. In particular, it will be recognized that human users and their needs for display and discovery do not represent the only use of bibliographic metadata; instead, to an increasing degree, machine applications are their primary users. Data will be designed and developed with this in mind. [26]

Productivity could be vastly increased if researchers had access to useful data in interoperable formats. Researchers could share information, not just by publishing articles, but by sharing their actual data. The output of one tool could become the input for another, allowing for information to be viewed in new ways and to be combined in creative “mashups” that bring together different data sources and produce a service that neither of the original sources could. Imagine an interactive map that shows the location of jazz clubs in a particular city (or around the world, if you are ambitious) that is linked to an interactive timeline. Slide the timeline and see the clubs come and go as the years pass. Imagine further and filter club appearances on a specific artist to see day-by-day tour itineraries become visible. Filter on two artists and watch their careers intersect over time. With already existing tools, this would not be especially difficult to achieve and in fact, there are already similar projects in existence. [27] Again, jazz just needs to catch up. Some of the data is readily available, dug up by earlier jazz researchers. The problem is that it is not yet in a machine-readable form that can be immediately useful. It must be converted first. Of course, more data is buried in historical newspapers, oral history interviews, record liner notes, and many other sources that make up the holdings of jazz archives. If jazz archives and researchers do not undertake these projects, who will? Based on past experience, it will certainly not be the world of traditional academia.

Taking the Initiative

In light of this, jazz archives cannot be complacent. When the tools do not exist, efforts should be made to create them. These tools may be radically new, or they may be tried and true. The ambitious periodical indexing project of Germany’s Jazz-Institut Darmstadt [28] gives but a glimpse of what might be possible. There is plenty of room for similar indexing projects, and with appropriate standardization, the resulting whole would be much greater than the sum of its parts. Beyond this, a full-text database might even be possible. The literature of jazz is fairly constrained, and it seems conceivable that an agreement could be arrived at between the various jazz archives around the world, the publishers and rights holders, and interested researchers to include not only indexing but full-text as well. We are only beginning to see occasional full-text digital projects that involve jazz materials. [29] Now is the time for archives to become involved in defining the requirements that will make these most useful for their users. Particularly with the support and resources of their parent institutions, jazz archives could work to negotiate with rights holders to produce digital collections that would benefit all involved.

Full-Text and Beyond

To be sure, there is still work to be done through traditional methods. There has been very little systematic work in the field of jazz studies and even the best-known figures have not been thoroughly covered. This is not, however, to say that new approaches must wait. Occasionally efforts have been made to conduct research using large bodies of general information which contain buried nuggets of information on jazz. In a brief article, Walter C. Allen described some of his work regarding black newspapers. [30] This could be brought into the twenty-first century. Accurate and complete full-text historical resources would help to answer questions about terminology (When did “bebop,” “rebop,” and “bop” start appearing? How did the use of the three terms change over time? Did publication or geographic region have any effect?) as well as doing tedious work that would contribute to reference works (pinpointing every mention of a nightclub or of an artist’s name, whether in advertisements or reviews, with an eye toward compiling a chronological history. But with the availability of large bodies of full-text data, whether the digitized full runs of newspapers, electronic books, or archival collections, techniques must be reconsidered.

Full-text introduces other possibilities, too. Franco Moretti described one of these as “distant reading” (as opposed to the more traditional humanities “close reading” approach). [31] It seeks to discover what can be learned by taking an entire body of literature as a whole instead of looking at the individual components. The archives can take a leadership role in teaching the application and refinement of search techniques with regard to jazz. This is an area untouched in jazz and would require jazz researchers to work in a very different way. It would depend on archives staff with an understanding of the limitations of digitized full-text resources and the ability to convey this to researchers. Does the indexing in fact include advertisements or does it only include articles? What provisions have been made for correcting optical character recognition (OCR) errors? What strategies exist to work around these errors? Are there multiple editions of the newspaper? What edition has been digitized? Does another source, such as microfilm, exist for another edition? To be comprehensive, the judicious combining of electronic and print sources is necessary. This in itself is an art that requires a comprehensive knowledge of available resources.

Lest one forget, full-text is only one aspect of a new electronic world. There is so much that the field of jazz can offer above and beyond the full-text of printed literature: audio, video, musical notation, photographs, and more. As more and more material is digitized, there are new opportunities and new concerns. Collections of digitized photographs, audio, and video have long been accessed through searches of metadata, textual cataloging information describing and classifying these non-textual materials. However, in the digital age, new approaches are being developed that allow for working with the actual image as opposed to textual description of the image. [32] This is termed content-based information retrieval (CBIR) or query by image content (QBIC). With an entire photo collection digitized, imagine being able to search for faces similar to that of an unidentified individual. Research work on this has been underway for several years at both universities and private sector companies. [33] While the technical aspects are beyond the realm of the jazz archives, being part of a large research university with a computer science department could have its benefits.

Even without such a comparison program, the collective power of the Internet could be used to “crowdsource” identifications by regularly posting images and appealing to website viewers for their assistance. [34] This is already happening with several large archival collections, including the Library of Congress [35] and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. [36] Some archives have even hosted in-person crowdsourcing events, reinforcing the value of the library as place. For collections where rights concerns preclude the online posting of images, this would avoid such obstacles. In both the crowdsourcing and CBIR cases, the new information would make the archives’ collections more useful for future users.

Similarly, software can compare sound files, allowing similarities and differences to be identified and jazz projects are already working at this. [37] There is work being done in the area of the new field of music information retrieval (MIR) from which jazz, with its preoccupation with individuality and improvisation, could particularly benefit. For example, the ability of a computer to produce musical notation from a given audio file could help dramatically in musical analysis and education. With the assistance of computers, the kind of work on melodic formulas that is already an established part of jazz analysis could be performed on a vast body of transcribed solos. [38] The jazz archives that hold the raw materials for such work should be active partners in these innovative projects. Archives should be working in conjunction with scholars, from jazz studies as well as from computer and information science, on cutting edge initiatives. There is no reason that jazz-related projects should not be found regularly in grants in the area of the digital humanities. [39]

New Access Problems

Along with the many benefits, there are also challenges associated with these new tools. Many of the limitations of the physical library (non-circulating materials only available to a single user at a time during certain hours, only to those who will travel to a certain location) can be overcome through technology, but a new question of access arises. Electronic journals, digitized historical newspapers, and other databases are generally made available through expensive institutional licensing agreements which define legitimate users as only the current faculty and students at that particular institution, with occasional exceptions. The independent researchers who make frequent use of jazz archives, however, are frequently not affiliated with academic institutions. How can such researchers gain access to these new tools? [40] Even before the widespread availability of electronic resources, this has been a topic of concern. [41] Some professional organizations such as the American Historical Association are open to unaffiliated researchers and have membership options that provide access to some databases, but at this time there is no analogous group for jazz. A fellowship system where suitable research projects are sponsored (whether financial assistance is provided or not) by jazz archives could resolve this. The National Coalition of Independent Scholars [42] has similar objectives and could be used as a model. Such a program could provide numerous benefits to the field of jazz scholarship and the archives as well as to the individual researcher. The publicizing of such fellowships could result in new contacts and leads and the imprimatur of the institution could aid in opening doors that might have been closed to a “civilian.” Standards could be established to ensure work of high quality, and the archives could assist in the dissemination of work, perhaps through an institutional repository, which, if properly designed, could become a valuable new source for future researchers to tap. Rutgers/Newark, with its established master’s degree program in jazz history and research, is ideally qualified to design these standards, drawing on the long history that IJS has had with independent researchers.


Although this article has considered their past and present and has speculated about their future, jazz archives exist in an ever-changing world that will introduce new possibilities that may not have yet been imagined. We are now in an era where physical artifacts — the very “stuff” that makes up collections — are being replaced by digital files, and archives and libraries are struggling with this radical change. The information stored in paper documents and books, shellac and vinyl records, even CDs and DVDs is now routinely being created, distributed, collected, and manipulated in the form of computer files. In the world of jazz archives, where the promise of computerized metadata has not yet been fully realized, the next step, where objects themselves have no physical form, remains to be addressed. It will soon, however, be unavoidable. It is vital that archivists look forward and are watchful and not complacent. When the Society for American Archivists considered all the various skills required by archivists of today, this idea was stressed.

One important challenge facing information professionals is keeping up with the rapid pace of change. Participants believed that the professions need to understand trend spotting — sometimes called horizon scanning — so that they can anticipate and plan for changes in the information ecosystem. [43]

While they must keep an eye on the future, it is also important that the next generation of jazz archivists understand where the field has been. Newer is not always better. The principles underlying jazz archives remain valid and, as the field has been defined and shaped through the efforts of pioneers, we have a better sense of what work needs to be done. Like Marshall Stearns before him, Dan Morgenstern is without peer and his very presence made IJS a huge success. His shoes will be impossible to fill. Fortunately for successors, the changes in the field described and hoped for in this article will mean that new skills and abilities will be required. As the oldest and largest, the Institute of Jazz Studies should be a model for other jazz archives and should take a leadership role in moving the field forward.


  • Abbott, Andrew. “The Traditional Future: A Computational Theory of Library Research.” College & Research Libraries 69, no. 6 (November 2008): 524–545.
  • Allen, Walter C. “The Negro Newspapers as Source Materials.” In Studies In Jazz Discography, 64–71. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1971.
  • Bates, Marcia J. “The Design of Browsing and Berrypicking Techniques for the Online Search Interface.” Online Information Review 13, no. 5 (December 31, 1989): 407–424.
  • Cooksey, Elizabeth B. “Too Important to Be Left to Chance — Serendipity and the Digital Library.” Science & Technology Libraries 25, no. 1/2 (2004): 23–32.
  • Courtney, Nancy. “Barbarians At The Gates: A Half-Century of Unaffiliated Users in Academic Libraries.” Journal of Academic Librarianship 27, no. 6 (2001): 473–480.
  • Fitzgerald, Michael. “Jazz Archives in the United States”. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2008.
  • Foster, Allen, and Nigel Ford. “Serendipity and Information Seeking: An Empirical Study.” Journal of Documentation 59, no. 3 (2003): 321.
  • Franz, David M. “Markov Chains as Tools for Jazz Improvisation Analysis”. Master of Science in Industrial and Systems Engineering, Virginia Polytechnic Institute, 1998.
  • Freeman, Geoffrey T. “The Library as Place: Changes in Learning Patterns, Collections, Technology, and Use.” In Library as Place: Rethinking Roles, Rethinking Space, 1–10. Council on Library Resources, 2005.
  • Hull, Elizabeth. “‘A View to Hugh’ wins Web award.” A View to Hugh, February 26, 2008.
  • “IJS Archival Collections”, n.d.
  • Kerlew, Clyde. “The Institute of Jazz Studies: From Academic Orphan to National Resource.” Public and Access Services Quarterly 1, no. 1 (1995): 51–74.
  • “King John Intinerary”, n.d.
  • Liestman, Daniel. “Chance in the Midst of Design: Approaches to Library Research Serendipity.” RQ 31 (July 15, 1992): 524–532.
  • Lopes, Ana Paula Brandão, Camillo Jorge Santos Oliveira, and Arnaldo de Albuquerque Araújo. “Face Recognition Aiding Historical Photographs Indexing Using a Two-Stage Training Scheme and an Enhanced Distance Measure.” In Proceedings of the 2008 XXI Brazilian Symposium on Computer Graphics and Image Processing, 11–18. Washington, DC, USA: IEEE Computer Society, 2008.
  • Mann, Thomas. The Oxford Guide to Library Research. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • McCombs, Gillian M. “The Reference/Technical Services Interaction, Revisited.” The Reference Librarian, no. 34 (1991): 1–2.
  • Mihm, Stephen. “Everyone’s a Historian Now.” Boston Globe. Boston, MA, May 25, 2008.
  • Moretti, Franco. “Conjectures on World Literature.” New Left Review, no. 1 (February 2000): 54–68.
  • On the Record. Library of Congress Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control, January 9, 2008.
  • Pearce-Moses, Richard, and Susan E. Davis. “Knowledge and Skills Inventory.” In New Skills for a Digital Era, 1–32. Washington, DC, 2008.
  • Raeburn, Bruce Boyd. New Orleans Style and the Writing of American Jazz History. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009.
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  • Rayward, W. Boyd. “Visions of Xanadu: Paul Otlet (1868–1944) and Hypertext.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science, no. 45 (May 1994): 235–250.
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[1] Bruce Boyd Raeburn, New Orleans Style and the Writing of American Jazz History (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009).

[2] Marshall W. Stearns, “The Institute of Jazz Studies,” Record Changer 12 (August 1953): 22.

[3] Stearns’s final point was realized in the creation of The Journal of Jazz Studies in 1973.

[4] A more detailed history may be found in: Clyde Kerlew, “The Institute of Jazz Studies: From Academic Orphan to National Resource,” Public and Access Services Quarterly 1, no. 1 (1995): 51–74.

[5] Morgenstern’s colleagues of equal longevity, Ed Berger and Vincent Pelote, should not be overlooked. Each member of the IJS team possessed jazz-specific knowledge that contributed significantly to the success of IJS.

[6] Michael Fitzgerald, “Jazz Archives in the United States” (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2008).

[7] Ibid., 66–67.

[8] Ibid., 94–95.

[9] Gillian M. McCombs, “The Reference/Technical Services Interaction, Revisited,” The Reference Librarian, no. 34 (1991): 1–2.

[10] Fitzgerald, “Jazz Archives in the United States,” 35–42.

[11] Everett M Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations, 5th ed. (New York: Free Press, 2003), 269.

[12] Geoffrey T. Freeman, “The Library as Place: Changes in Learning Patterns, Collections, Technology, and Use,” in Library as Place: Rethinking Roles, Rethinking Space (Council on Library Resources, 2005), 1,

[13] Ibid., 3.

[14] Fitzgerald, “Jazz Archives in the United States,” 65.

[15] Allen Foster and Nigel Ford, “Serendipity and Information Seeking: An Empirical Study,” Journal of Documentation 59, no. 3 (2003): 321–323.

[16] Daniel Liestman, “Chance in the Midst of Design: Approaches to Library Research Serendipity,” RQ 31 (July 15, 1992): 526.

[17] Andrew Abbott, “The Traditional Future: A Computational Theory of Library Research,” College & Research Libraries 69, no. 6 (November 2008): 2.

[18] Marcia J. Bates, “The Design of Browsing and Berrypicking Techniques for the Online Search Interface,” Online Information Review 13, no. 5 (December 31, 1989),

[19] Elizabeth Yakel, “Hidden Collections in Archives and Libraries,” OCLC Systems & Services 21, no. 2 (2005): 95–99.

[20] “IJS Archival Collections”,

[21] Special Collections in ARL Libraries: A Discussion Report from the ARL Working Group on Special Collections (Association of Research Libraries, March 2009), 6,

[22] W. Boyd Rayward, “Visions of Xanadu: Paul Otlet (1868–1944) and Hypertext,” Journal of the American Society for Information Science, no. 45 (May 1994): 244–245,

[23] Naxos Music Library Jazz is a streaming audio collection that largely consists of commercial recordings from the Fantasy Jazz conglomerate and Blue Note Records. As of November 2011, it claimed to include 5,200 albums. Alexander Street Press Jazz Music Library is also a streaming audio collection with 130,000 tracks. Most are commerically available, but it does offer never-before-released performances from the Monterey Jazz Festival and broadcasts from Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz While jazz archives likely hold the majority of the included albums in non-circulating physical form, a subscription to such a service would offer jazz researchers the convenience of remote access to these recordings.

[24] Elizabeth B. Cooksey, “Too Important to Be Left to Chance — Serendipity and the Digital Library,” Science & Technology Libraries 25, no. 1/2 (2004): 28–29.

[25] Thomas Mann, The Oxford Guide to Library Research, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 51.

[26] On the Record (Library of Congress Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control, January 9, 2008), 30,

[27] Jon Crump, “The Itinerary of King John Project”, n.d.,

[28] “Jazz-Index”

[29] Full runs of both The Jazz Review and Jazz Forum are online, but with no standardization in place. See and

[30] Walter C. Allen, “The Negro Newspapers as Source Materials,” in Studies In Jazz Discography (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1971), 64–71.

[31] Franco Moretti, “Conjectures on World Literature,” New Left Review, no. 1 (February 2000): 56–57.

[32] Google’s is just one of many CBIR projects. “Search by Image — Google Images Help”,

[33] Ana Paula Brandão Lopes, Camillo Jorge Santos Oliveira, and Arnaldo de Albuquerque Araújo, “Face Recognition Aiding Historical Photographs Indexing Using a Two-Stage Training Scheme and an Enhanced Distance Measure,” in Proceedings of the 2008 XXI Brazilian Symposium on Computer Graphics and Image Processing (Washington, DC, USA: IEEE Computer Society, 2008), 11–18,

[34] Stephen Mihm, “Everyone’s a Historian Now,” Boston Globe (Boston, MA, May 25, 2008),

[35] Matt Raymond, “Flickr Followup,” Library of Congress Blog, January 18, 2008,

[36] Elizabeth Hull, “‘A View to Hugh’ wins Web award,” A View to Hugh, February 26, 2008,

[37] See James A. Harrod, “Pacific Jazz: A Discography in Progress,” IAJRC Journal 31 (Winter 1998): 9–11.

[38] David M Franz, “Markov Chains as Tools for Jazz Improvisation Analysis” (Master of Science in Industrial and Systems Engineering, Virginia Polytechnic Institute, 1998),

[39] One relevant project was awarded a Digital Humanities grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 2009. The Map of Jazz, of which the author is co-director with Dr. Fernando Benadon, takes discographical data and applies computer analysis techniques borrowed from the study of neural networks to examine the interpersonal associations that jazz musicians have over the course of their careers, presenting the data in an interactive visual display. See

[40] On May 7, 2012, just before this article’s publication, ProQuest announced the launch of Udini, a new service that targets individual researchers. See Further investigation is needed to assess how this will affect the area of jazz research.

[41] Nancy Courtney, “Barbarians At The Gates: A Half-Century of Unaffiliated Users in Academic Libraries,” Journal of Academic Librarianship 27, no. 6 (2001).


[43] Richard Pearce-Moses and Susan E. Davis, “Knowledge and Skills Inventory,” in New Skills for a Digital Era (Washington, DC, 2008), 3,

Author Information: 
Michael Fitzgerald, founding editor of Current Research in Jazz, is assistant professor in the Learning Resources Division of the University of the District of Columbia, home of the Felix E. Grant Jazz Archives. He is author, with Noal Cohen, of the book, Rat Race Blues: The Musical Life of Gigi Gryce (Berkeley Hills Books, 2002), which received the 2003 Award for Excellence for best research in recorded jazz music from the Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC) and is coordinator, with Steve Albin, of the website

What does the future hold for jazz archives and the researchers who make use of them? While archives must continue to provide the resources and services of the past, before long they will be asked to accommodate new approaches, and they should take an active role in helping to design the tools that will shape the future of jazz research.

jazz archives, Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies

How to cite this article:

  • Chicago 15th ed.: Fitzgerald, Michael. “Reflecting on Jazz Archives: Past, Present, and Future.” Current Research in Jazz 4, (2012).
  • MLA 7th ed.: Fitzgerald, Michael. “Reflecting on Jazz Archives: Past, Present, and Future.” Current Research in Jazz 4 (2012). Web. [date of access]
  • APA 6th ed.: Fitzgerald, M. (2012). Reflecting on Jazz Archives: Past, Present, and Future. Current Research in Jazz, 4 Retrieved from

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