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Institute Awarded NEH Grant
For Jazz Oral Histories

The National Endowment of the Humanities awarded a $276,289 grant to the Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies (IJS) in the spring to preserve the Jazz Oral History Project collection of 120 sound recordings and make them accessible to the public.

IJS, located in the John Cotton Dana Library on the Rutgers Newark campus, is a unit of the Rutgers University Libraries. Founded in 1952 by Marshall Stearns, a Hunter College professor and pioneering jazz scholar, IJS has grown to become the world's foremost jazz archive and research facility.

Encompassing the reflections of 120 noted pre-Swing Era and Swing-Era jazz luminaries such as Roy Eldridge, Benny Carter, Count Basie, Mary Lou Williams, and Milt Hinton, the Jazz Oral History Project is unique in the range of artists interviewed and in the length of observations recorded. The taped interviews run from five to thirty hours each and touch on the artists' thoughts on their own careers as well as the careers of such peer musicians as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and others.

The Jazz Oral History Project has served as a primary source for hundreds of articles, books, dissertations, and radio and television programs. National Public Radio's Jazz Profiles and the BBC's jazz programs have drawn heavily on the collection. In addition to their evident value in revealing jazz history, the interviews also illuminate issues such as race relations and civil rights, the nature and challenges of the music industry, the Great Depression and Prohibition, and other pivotal episodes and experiences of American life.

The Jazz Oral History collection was assembled by the Jazz Advisory Panel of the National Endowment for the Arts' Music Program from 1972 to 1983. The collection was first overseen by Jazz Interactions, a New York non-profit service, then by the Smithsonian's jazz program. The Oral History Project was passed to IJS in 1979, and IJS added further interviews and began archiving the collection. The NEH grant will allow IJS to hire audio experts, who will begin re-recording the Oral History Project tapes and creating back-ups in CD and digital linear tape formats during the fall semester. The grant also supports IJS's work to create records for the recordings in the Libraries online catalog and information system.

Summing up the value of the Jazz Oral History Project, noted jazz historian and filmmaker James S. Luce, president of the Luce Group, wrote: "These tapes reflect the hidden stories behind the making of a music that is a huge part of our heritage as Americans. I wholeheartedly support the Institute's work to preserve the tapes for future scholars, authors, students, broadcasters, and writers."

IJS Sound Archivist Vince Pelote, the project manager for the NEH grant, commented: "While several other archives house important jazz oral histories, the Oral History Project is exceptionally unique in its scope and depth. The interviews have served, and will continue to serve, researchers in many fields, such as African-American studies, musicology, sociology, and cultural history. The tapes are, quite simply, a treasure trove for students in a variety of subjects."

For more information about the Jazz Oral History Project, please contact Mr. Pelote by phone at 973/353-5595 or by email at To learn more about the Institute of Jazz Studies, visit its website at:

Posted October 29, 2003