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Institute of Jazz Studies Preserves Music Journals like Down Beat

December 9, 2016
Down Beat photo

Ben Knysak, left, of RIPM and assistant Gabriel Caballero scanning 1930s issues of Down Beat in October. The effort at IJS is part of an international project to digitize music publications going back to the eighteenth century. Photograph by Mark Papianni

For two weeks in October, the Baltimore-based research center RIPM set up a scanner in the reading room of the Institute of Jazz Studies. The main objective was scanning the first few years of the venerated magazine Down Beat and a few others of the hundreds of jazz, pop and related periodicals and journals collected by IJS since its founding in 1952.

RIPM (Retrospective Index to Music Periodicals) was founded in 1980 by H. Robert Cohen at the behest of the International Association of Music Libraries (IAML) and the International Musicological Society (IMS). The goal was access to some 5,000 international music journals and publications published from 1760 through the 1960s.

“The goal was to create access to journals both for historians and lovers of music,” said Benjamin Knysak, managing associate director of RIPM. “Through these publications, people can put themselves in places where music history happened.”

Knysak said digitizing jazz periodicals face some of the same issues as other periodicals. Some issues are more unique to jazz, such as relative scarcity.

“Many jazz journals are very rare sources of documentation,” he said. “They may have been printed in the limited numbers and had limited distribution because they were not published by large corporations. Many were published by individuals: musicians, aficionados, critics and collectors.”

In many cases, RIPM has tracked down those solo publishers or their heirs who he said have been uniformly thrilled to have their labors of love preserved for posterity.

The Jazz Database will be online in 2017. It will provide fully searchable text and photos based on technology developed by RIPM.

Knysak hopes the relationship between RIPM and the Institute will continue for many years.

“IJS is amazing, simply amazing,” Knysak said. “The breadth and depth of publications held there is unique. We are honored to work with the collection and wonderful colleagues.”

“For many years jazz researchers have been dreaming of having the kind of access to the jazz periodical literature that RIPM will be providing,” said IJS director of operations Vincent Pelote. “I am both proud and happy to have had a part in making that happen.”

In addition to Pelote, associate director Adriana Cuervo and collections manager Elsa Alves are coordinating the project on behalf of the Institute.