Jazz Historians Discover Hidden Gems
Rare tapes surface in archives at Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies in Newark
For Ed Berger, almost every day of sorting through the collections of Benny Carter and Benny Goodman unearths a treasure: a reel-to-reel tape recording of Goodman and his daughter at Harvard University or an unreleased 1947 recording of Carter performing with Nat King Cole.
But that’s par for the course when you are archiving jazz collections from two of the genre’s most famous musical ambassadors.
Berger, associate director of the Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies (IJS) on the Newark Campus, is principal investigator for a two-year $296,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, awarded earlier this year. The grant is helping the institute – the world’s largest jazz archive – to digitize the collections of Carter and Goodman and make them more accessible to researchers working in fields ranging from music to history to political science.
Before the materials can be digitized, however, Berger and his IJS associates must sort through nearly 1,100 hours of recordings to determine the source and whether the material is already available elsewhere.
Only a few months into the process, Berger already is impressed, and sometimes astounded, at what he is hearing, especially in the Carter archive, which includes many unlabeled boxes of cassettes, discs, and reel-to-reel tapes. There is an unissued studio tape of Carter working with another jazz legend, Sarah Vaughan, and one of Louis Armstrong rehearsing a song that Carter had written for him to perform on comedian Flip Wilson’s show.
For Berger, one of the most exciting finds is a collection of Carter’s soundtracks for numerous motion pictures, including Stormy Weather starring Lena Horne in 1943 and 1972’s Buck and the Preacher with Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte, to television programs, such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Ironside.
Born in 1907, Carter was one of jazz’s most important and versatile talents in a career that spanned nine decades one of the first African-American musicians to penetrate the Hollywood studios. As a soloist, he was a model for swing era alto saxophonists and could double on trumpet in an equally distinctive style. As an arranger, he helped chart the course of big band jazz, and his compositions, such as "When Lights Are Low" and "Blues in My Heart," are jazz standards.
Goodman’s archive includes a performance at a private party for the king of Thailand, numerous broadcasts of his band’s 1930s performances, and his very last concert in 1986.
Goodman, the symbol of the Swing Era, was a clarinet virtuoso, proficient in classical music as well as jazz, and a bandleader who helped spread big band jazz around the world. He also made a major contribution to civil rights by hiring black musicians Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton to perform with him during the mid-1930s
The IJS, part of the Dana Library and the Rutgers University Library system, ranks the Carter and Goodman collections among its most significant bodies of sound recordings. When completed in 2011, the materials will provide benefits far beyond the obvious advantages for jazz scholars, Berger said.
“Carter’s and Goodman’s careers intersected many other important figures and traversed many varied areas of American culture, including race relations, the film industry, the recording studios, radio and television, the academy, and even international diplomacy,” he explains. “So this material will serve as primary source material for a wide range of specialists in many other fields.”