Oct. 24, 1996
Vol. 16, No. 4

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    Treasures of Chicago Jazz Archive at Special Collections

    s In the 1920s, the South Side of Chicago sizzled with the sounds of jazz. Musicians Jelly Roll Morton, Joe "King" Oliver and Louis Armstrong, among others, migrated to Chicago from New Orleans and blared their wares nightly at such clubs as the Royal Gardens (later the Lincoln Gardens), at East 31st Street and Cottage Grove Avenue, and the Dreamland Cafe, at 3520 S. State Street. At that time, South State Street was known as "The Stroll," and attracted blacks and whites alike who were looking for a night on the town.

    Although some of the cream of the jazz world eventually moved on to New York, Chicago remains home to one of the nation's important jazz scenes.

    The long history of Chicago jazz -- from its ragtime/blues/spiritual roots to its modern innovations -- is celebrated in the exhibition "From Dreamland to Showcase: Jazz in Chicago, 1912 to 1996," opening Wednesday, Oct. 30, in the Department of Special Collections in Regenstein Library.

    " 'Dreamland' is an exhibition of the cultural history of jazz," said Suzy Taraba, Public Services Librarian in Special Collections. "These are materials that are important to historians, sociologists, graphic artists and architects, as well as jazz lovers."

    The exhibition contains such items as Ma Rainey's Mystery Record, for which listeners were instructed to "name that tune," and a Chicago Defender newspaper article that contains one of the earliest references to this type of music as "jass" -- later, jazz. "It was not a nice term," Taraba said, laughing. "It came from Storyville, the vice district in New Orleans."

    Taraba is particularly fond of one item in the exhibition -- an album cover for the RCA Victor Hot Jazz Series titled "Girls in Jazz."

    "You don't hear that much about women historically in the jazz world, but Lil Hardin Armstrong and others were prominent in the Chicago clubs. This exhibition helps to show that women were important in the development of jazz."

    Special Collections is only a temporary place to find jazz memorabilia on campus. Most of the exhibition is selected from materials in Regenstein Library's Chicago Jazz Archive -- one of only three major archives in the country -- which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Specializing in jazz paraphernalia with a Chicago connection, it houses recordings dating to the 1920s, CDs, photos, oral histories and more than 3000 sheet-music imprints, most of which were published in or related to Chicago.

    "We preserve the history of jazz in Chicago for future generations," said Deborah Gillaspie, Assistant Curator of the Jazz Archive. "It sounds hokey, but it's true. That's why we started the Musicians Project."

    The Musicians Project is a way to archive the present jazz scene in Chicago, said Gillaspie, who conceived the project and who is herself a jazz musician.

    "We ask musicians for their press kits, which typically include concert information, a biography and a photo -- most musicians also send along their recent CDs. I wish we had this kind of material from the '20s and '30s! Fifty years from now, people will be able to do research on what the Chicago jazz scene was like in the 1990s."

    Gillaspie noted that most out-of-town musicians she has talked to have said they are planning to visit the archive on their next trip to Chicago. "They are thrilled to be included," she said.

    The archive is housed in a special room that was completed in 1982, the result of a gift from famed musician Benny Goodman and the Peter Kiewit Charitable Trust.

    "Goodman had strong Chicago ties. He grew up here and played in the band at Jane Addams's Hull House as a child," Gillaspie said. "He gave a lecture here in 1976 on the conductor's role in jazz. The Chicago Jazz Archive was born in an informal discussion afterward that included Mrs. Peter Wolkonsky, Chairwoman of the University's Visiting Committee to the Department of Music, and Robert Semple of the Visiting Committee."

    Richard Wang, professor of music at the University of Illinois at Chicago, was the archive's first adviser and, later, the first Chairman of its Executive Committee. Until recently, the curator of the archive was Victor Cardell, who also curated the "Dreamland" exhibition.

    One of Gillaspie's favorite items in the exhibition is a copy of Robert Goffin's book From the Congo to the Metropolitan, previously owned by Don DeMicheal, an editor of the jazz magazine Down Beat. The book, a gift to DeMichael, is signed by numerous jazz artists, including Louis Armstrong and Count Basie.

    The Jazz Archive, packed with such memorabilia, is an invaluable resource for jazz lovers of all kinds, Gillaspie said. Recently, a Chicago man who had picked up Gillaspie's card at the summer Jazz Fest in Grant Park called the archive.

    "His wife's birthday was coming up," said Gillaspie, "and when she was 16, her parents had taken her to see Louis Armstrong in concert. It made such an impression on her that he wanted to find information about the concert to give to her for her birthday."

    Gillaspie found a photo of "Satchmo" and his band taken about the time the man's wife had seen him in concert as well as a group of recordings that members of the band had done, also around the same time.

    "This is only one of many uses of the archive," Gillaspie said. "It's a little-known University of Chicago treasure."

    "From Dreamland to Showcase: Jazz in Chicago, 1912 to 1996" is on view in Special Collections in Regenstein Library through February. For more information, call 702-8705.

    People who wish to visit the Chicago Jazz Archive should call Deborah Gillaspie at 702-8541. The music collection in the archive is not available for casual listening, as many items in the collection are fragile.

    The Chicago Jazz Archive can be found on the World Wide Web at http://www.lib.uchicago. edu/LibInfo/Libraries/CJA/. The Web site includes bibliographies, information about holdings and links to other jazz-related sites on the Internet.

    -- Jennifer Vanasco