Making History

March 23, 2011

The history of jazz is a subject that many accomplished writers and producers have tackled, some with significantly greater success than others. Besides actual recorded performances, there have been numerous methods of documenting this art, from books, periodicals, and essays, to movies and documentaries. Some of the great efforts in this area have included Ted Gioa’s seminal book, Roy Carr’s A Century of JAZZ, Paul F. Berliner, Thinking in Jazz: The Infinite Art of Improvisation, The History of Jazz, and of course, Ken Burns’s quintessential 10-part, 19-hour documentary, Jazz. Going beyond these formats, one of the greatest successes is the Smithsonian’s oral history project which features recorded interviews of over one hundred jazz legends in order to “document a generation of jazz musicians, performers, relative, and business associates” according their website. They’ve done an extraordinary job at interviewing some of the most seminal figures in the history of jazz, much of which is available for free on the Smithsonian web site. However, a great amount of jazz history resides in the towns and cities where musicians plied their trade and toiled in small clubs, restaurants, and studios that couldn’t possibly be covered by any single organization.

Richard Falco, the directory of jazz studies at WPI an engineering college in the mid-size New England city of Worcester, Massachusetts, launched a project in 2001 to look below the surface of the jazz world and delve into the history of the local jazz community, its roots, performers, clubs, and the “second tier people, the one who actually helped create a scene in a town or region.” Falco hit upon an idea of documenting interviews, with players, family members, and others related to the which can be expanded upon around the country, and perhaps around the world that will help to preserve and provide greater understanding of the various styles of jazz that formed in different regions which added to the great diversity of this music. The site, which is known as the Interactive Jazz History Multimedia Museum (www.jazzhistorydatabase.com) is a multimedia database of recordings, videos, photographs and much more. But, it is the concept that Falco has initiated that is an idea that can be duplicated and replicated in regions across the USA that would bring to life the grassroots level artists and their contributions to the jazz idiom. You’ll find an insightful article about this essential database in this edition of JAZZed.

On another very exciting note, kudos to the Grammy awards for honoring former JAZZed cover-subject Esperanza Spaulding as the Best New Artist of the Year. She sums it up on her website with great clarity#149;: “Jazz artists aren’t typically nominated in this category, so that alone is special about the award this year. Bur, mainly I hope this will illuminate more than just an edge of the HUGE breadth of all that is happening in jazz music as a whole right now.” The potential for this award to influence a new generation of jazz listeners is extraordinary…

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