64

Flame Keepers: National Jazz Museum in Harlem

Karl Ackermann By

Sign in to view read count
Curiosity is one of the defining characteristics of jazz fans. —Loren Schoenberg
On 129th Street, in the heart of Harlem, Loren Schoenberg emerges from a crowded back room with an unusual looking recording. Aluminum discs like the one he holds, were the first instant, electrical means of recording. Invented in 1929 they were a means of allowing radio stations to record and archive live programs that could be played on a delayed basis or used for promotional purposes. The discs made for more convenient recording, compared to the standard wax discs of that era but required a wooden or fiber stylus for playback. Their history was a brief one as the new technology of lacquer discs emerged in 1934. Schoenberg hands me the disc and points out the initials etched into the surface near the center hole. Because the aluminum discs were not made for commercial sales, they did not have the customary paper labels, but rather, crude etchings for identification purposes. This one appears to be marked with the letters "BG." It's possible, Schoenberg tells me, that this disc may be from a Benny Goodman broadcast but that has yet to be determined. This investigative process is one of the research projects taking place at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem where Schoenberg serves as Founding Director and Senior Scholar. In a very real way, this was a road that Schoenberg started down decades before he could have realized his destination.

The Brief and Troubled Life of the New York Jazz Museum

It was over-sensationalized in media but there is no question that New York City in the 1970s was a dangerous place. The metaphors of a lawless frontier played out in designations like "Fort Apache" and "Fear City." The October 29, 1975 New York Daily News painted an ominous picture with its infamous headline, FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD, a reference to then President Gerald Ford's refusal to bail out New York City. On the brink of economic collapse, corporations fled to the suburbs and beyond, taking white-collar workers with them, shrinking the city's dwindling tax base and creating a domino effect. Neighborhoods like Hell's Kitchen—now unaffordable to many—were then occupied by drug dealers, street people and transients; unemployment was high and crime was higher. It was in this realm that a newly minted lawyer, Howard E. Fischer, was making some serious career decisions as he struggled to build up a clientele. He answered an unrelated advertisement in the Village Voice placed by a man named Frank Bristol -a jazz fan looking to build a like-minded network to organize jazz related events. Fischer had grown up with jazz, his family listening to Coleman Hawkins, Chick Webb and others, but Fischer's own interest was casual prior to the Bristol connection. With Bristol, he began laying the groundwork for an organization called the New York Hot Jazz Society but within months of their meeting, Bristol died. Through another connection, Fischer connected with Jack Bradley, a photographer who had worked with some musicians. Fischer and Bradley built up the capacity of the society and later became co-directors of the New York Jazz Museum. In 2004, Fischer self-published a chronicle of the museum's history with the sensationalized title, Jazz Exposé: The N.Y. Jazz Museum and the Power Struggle That Destroyed It. The book is less an exposé than a list of accomplishments and grievances; the one-hundred and twenty-six page book relies heavily on reprints of press releases, newspaper coverage and minutia such as the verbatim notes from Board of Directors meetings. Amongst the leaden coverage however, is the story of a substantial public appetite for such an institution, and the museum's relative success in delivering on its goals.

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Culture Clubs: A History of the U.S. Jazz Clubs, Part I: New Orleans and Chicago Under the Radar Culture Clubs: A History of the U.S. Jazz Clubs, Part I:...
by Karl Ackermann
Published: September 29, 2017
Read Flame Keepers: National Jazz Museum in Harlem Under the Radar Flame Keepers: National Jazz Museum in Harlem
by Karl Ackermann
Published: June 28, 2017
Read The Politics of Dancing: Jazz and Protest, Part 2 Under the Radar The Politics of Dancing: Jazz and Protest, Part 2
by Karl Ackermann
Published: May 5, 2017
Read The Politics of Dancing: Jazz and Protest, Part 1 Under the Radar The Politics of Dancing: Jazz and Protest, Part 1
by Karl Ackermann
Published: March 20, 2017
Read Jazz Education: The Next Generation, Part 2 Under the Radar Jazz Education: The Next Generation, Part 2
by Karl Ackermann
Published: February 9, 2017
Read "Flame Keepers: National Jazz Museum in Harlem" Under the Radar Flame Keepers: National Jazz Museum in Harlem
by Karl Ackermann
Published: June 28, 2017
Read "Dai Liang, aka A Bu: Beijing Prodigy" Under the Radar Dai Liang, aka A Bu: Beijing Prodigy
by Karl Ackermann
Published: November 17, 2016
Read "Jazz Education: The Next Generation, Part 2" Under the Radar Jazz Education: The Next Generation, Part 2
by Karl Ackermann
Published: February 9, 2017
Read "Culture Clubs: A History of the U.S. Jazz Clubs, Part I: New Orleans and Chicago" Under the Radar Culture Clubs: A History of the U.S. Jazz Clubs, Part I:...
by Karl Ackermann
Published: September 29, 2017
Read "The Politics of Dancing: Jazz and Protest, Part 1" Under the Radar The Politics of Dancing: Jazz and Protest, Part 1
by Karl Ackermann
Published: March 20, 2017
Read "The Politics of Dancing: Jazz and Protest, Part 2" Under the Radar The Politics of Dancing: Jazz and Protest, Part 2
by Karl Ackermann
Published: May 5, 2017

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.