Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Jazz Photo Collection Up for Sale

The Smithsonian wants it, as does Jazz at Lincoln Center and Rutgers’ Institute of Jazz Studies. The thing is, nobody can afford it.

The photo collection of former jazz journalist and record producer Frank Driggs is valued at more than $1.5 million and contains nearly 80,000 photos, from 1898 shots of Scott Joplin and Tom Turpin to live shots of big bands playing at long-gone clubs in Harlem and East Village in the 1950s. Driggs was the single biggest supplier of pictures for Ken Burns’ 17-hour Jazz series.

“For filmmakers who often visit hundreds of tiny archives to make a documentary you can’t appreciate enough the value of a collection that contains so many photos,” documentary filmmaker Ken Burns told Reuters.

Driggs started his collection more than a half-century ago, when he began buying jazz photos from collectors; soon, people knew him as a collector and musicians began giving him pictures. When he began leasing the photos in 1977, he made $18,000 and matched his salary as a producer; he now makes up to $100,000 each year through leasing.

The 75-year-old Driggs keeps his collection in seven tall file cabinets behind iron-gated windows in his Soho basement office in New York. He refuses to break up his collection, despite offers to buy portions of his collection.

Many institutions are anxious to obtain the collection, but none have the sufficient funds for the whole collection. “I would give my eyeteeth if we could buy it, but we don’t have those kind of resources, director of the Institute of Jazz Studies Dan Morgenstern said to Reuters.

John Edward Hasse, curator of American music at the Smithsonian, expressed a similar sentiment and said that while the institution – which has hosted portions of Driggs’ collection in the past – would love to have the collection, Congress doesn’t allocate acquisition funds to the museum. “Really, it would be owned by all Americans, and we’d be best placed to preserve it,” he said.

Originally Published