Saturday, 21 January 2017

The National Jazz Archive

Despite having worked next door to this archive for the last 12 years I am ashamed to say that this week I visited the National Jazz Archive for the first time. I had seen various displays of their items as they have a permanent exhibition over several cases on the first floor at Loughton Library in Traps Hill. The National Jazz Archive is itself in Loughton Library on the edge of Epping Forest at the far end of the Central Line.

Located on the first floor in a large side room the archive is run by a part-time archivist, David Nathan and several volunteers. David started at the archive after retiring some 19 years ago so knows the collection inside out. The Reading Room has a large tabled area in the middle for research work. It was founded in 1988 by trumpeter Digby Fairweather to “ensure that the rich tangible cultural heritage of jazz is safeguarded for future generations of enthusiasts, professionals and researchers.” Throughout its existence the archive has been supported by Essex County Council and latterly by grants for specific projects from the Heritage Lottery Fund. They also have several fundraisers each year which has meant that many greats from the world of jazz have played to a select audience at the Loughton Methodist Church on a Saturday afternoon. 

The archive holds the UK's largest collection of printed, written and visual material for jazz, blues and related music from the 1920's to present day. The collection runs to 4,000 books, 700 journals and periodicals, photographs, drawings, paintings, concert and festival programmes as well as posters. Some items are available from shelves although posters and photographs are in a store room. The Lottery Funding that they have received has meant that much of the collection has now been digistised and is available for all to view on the National Jazz Archive website. Posters are mentioned on the website but as yet are not all are photographed although it was looking through the site that I discovered that the posters for the annual Soho Jazz Festival which began in 1986 and finished in 2001 were designed by Eduardo Paolozzi. There is an excellent documentary on YouTube which gives a good snapshot of Soho in the 80's as well as the people behind the festival called 10 Days that Shook Soho.

Their latest Heritage Lottery Fund project is based on oral histories and is called ‘Inergenerational Jazz Reminiscence’ which runs until mid 2017.

I spoke to David Nathan at some length about the collection and looked around the reading room for some time at various items of interest. He is very enthusiastic about the material the archive holds and the artists that they are able to showcase. He showed me a fabulous book of caricatures of jazz artists as well as some photographs that happened to have been given to the archive by a friend of my family.

We spoke about one particular fundraiser only a few years ago, which I was unable to get a ticket for by American singer Buddy Greco and his wife Lezlie. It was sold out and Greco, who died in early January aged 90, put on an amazing afternoon despite being quite frail. I told him that seeing the posters for this event had made me purchase some of his music at the time.

The next fundraiser is on February 11th at Loughton Methodist Church by the Simon Spillett Quartet whose members are Simon, Alec Dankworth, Clark Tracey and John Critchinson.

Patrons of the archive include Courtney Pine, Baroness Amos, Clare Teal, Sir Michael Parkinson and Dame Cleo Laine. At the moment they are also looking for a Trustee.

I will certainly be visiting again but will know what I want to look for next time, having a look through their many boxes of journals may be a starting point. They are open to the public Monday, Tuesday Wednesday and Friday 10am till 1pm. Appointments can be made on a Wednesday afternoon between 1pm and 5pm by calling 020 8502 4701.