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Paper Trail: Where You Can Find the Historical Documents of Jazz

Musicians created jazz’s rich legacy, but schools and other institutions are archiving it

Count Basie
A late-era photo of Count Basie, part of the Basie collection at Rutgers’ Institute of Jazz Studies (photo: Suliman Olatunji/Rutgers University)

Jazz was developed outside of the academy, but it lives on in part through the schools and institutions that have sought to preserve the music’s history, thanks to donations from musicians, producers, writers, and photographers. Universities, libraries, and museums around the country contain the documents that lend jazz its narrative—scores, letters, photographs, and other papers.

“At its essence, jazz is about individuals,” says Michael Fitzgerald, who wrote a paper on jazz archives in the United States and now works as an electronic services librarian at the University of the District of Columbia, which is home to the Felix E. Grant Jazz Archives, “and while it is a music reliant upon the fleeting art of improvisation, there is also a wealth of physical materials that can help researchers of the present and future understand the lives and creative activities of musicians.”

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Originally Published

Matthew Kassel

Matthew Kassel is a freelance writer whose work has been published by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Slate, and The Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications.