The University of Chicago News Office
October 17, 1996 Press Contact: Josh Schonwald
(773) 702-6421

Exhibition Opens on History of Chicago Jazz

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 Dept. of Special Collections in Regenstein Library, the University of Chicago.

“ ‘Dreamland’ is an exhibition of the cultural history of jazz,” said Suzy Taraba, Public Services Librarian in Special Collections and the present caretaker of the exhibit. “These are materials that are important to historians, sociologists, graphic artists and architectural historians 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 says, laughing. “It came from Storyville, the vice district in New Orleans.”

Taraba is especially excited about 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. In this exhibition, we tried to show that women were important.”

While this exhibition is only temporary, most of the it was culled from materials found in Regenstein Library’s Chicago Jazz Archive, one of only three jazz archives in the country. The archive is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Specializing in jazz documentation 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 current jazz scene in Chicago, said Gillaspie, who conceived the project and who is herself a jazz musician.

“We ask musicians who come to town 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 stuff from the ‘20s and ’30s! Fifty years from now, people will be able to research what the scene here was like in the 1990s.”

One of Gillaspie’s favorite items is a copy of Robert Goffen’s book From the Congo to the Metropolitan, previously owned by Don DeMicheal, a former editor of the jazz magazine Down Beat ,and signed by numerous jazz artists, including Louis Armstrong and Count Basie.

The Chicago 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 had such an effect on her that he wanted to find articles from around that time to give to her for her birthday.”

Gillaspie not only found articles to copy, she 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 through February in Regenstein Library, 1100 E. 57th St., on the University of Chicago campus. For more information, call 702-8705.

People who wish to use the Chicago Jazz Archive should call Deborah Gillaspie at 702-8541. Since the music collection in the archive is fragile, it is not available for casual listening.

The Chicago Jazz Archive includes bibliographies, information about holdings and links to other jazz-related sites on the Internet.
Last modified at 03:50 PM CST on Wednesday, June 14, 2000.

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