Access to Jazz Periodicals

But where do I find copies of these journals? Are they available in one’s local public library or in the library of an educational institution where music is taught? The short answer is no or VERY unlikely. The question looming is why?

The preservation and dissemination of historical Jazz periodicals have received little attention for several reasons: (i) the very limited number of libraries possessing the journals; (ii) the incomplete nature of pertinent collections and lack of complete runs; (iii) the difficulty encountered when one attempts to locate specific information within an available source; and, (iv) the difficulty distinguishing those that are significant from those of lesser interest, aside from a handful of recognized titles. For these reasons this fundamental segment of jazz literature, one that constitutes primary source material, remains in large part unexplored.

As Vincent Pelote, the Administrative Director of the institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University noted:

… major universities began [in the 1960s] to consider jazz as an acceptable field of study. But as jazz began to be accorded some serious academic attention, researchers soon discovered that the information they needed for the most part was not to be found in the traditional types of scholarly journals. Rather, essential sources were often ephemeral publications, many of them of European origin, or long defunct American periodicals.¹

Moreover, Donald Kennington and Danny L. Read in The Literature of Jazz: A Critical Guide also underscore the value of ephemeral journals.

Many jazz periodicals have led a very brief existence. Often they are produced by a small group of similar-minded individuals, and appear more or less frequently for a few months to a few years. There are many reasons for this brief existence, of which economics is certainly the biggest factor. It is also true that some of these short-lasting periodicals have been of very high quality, having been produced by dedicated jazz enthusiasts and having articles written by top experts in the field.²

Clearly, the ephemeral nature of many of these publications and the fact that institutions of higher education only began in the 1960s to accept jazz as a subject worthy of study in the academy, go a long way to explaining much of the problem. We can also add that there was little interest in preserving early jazz literature in public libraries. And those conservatories, colleges and universities with nascent jazz programs that were interested in developing collections of jazz periodicals had difficulty doing so, in part because they were rarely collected and sold by antiquarian booksellers, the normal source through which academic institutions seek to purchase out of print material. Consequently, holdings at even major libraries such as the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library are often very limited and incomplete.

Of course, the importance of this literature is in no way diminished by the difficulty one faces in accessing it. In fact, gaining bibliographical control and, consequently, access to this exceptional source of information is of profound importance to our knowledge of the history of music—a fact, moreover, which has long been recognized.³

¹ Vincent Pelote, “The Harold Flakser Collection,” The Journal of Rutgers University Libraries, 49/2, p. 100.
² Donald Kennington and Danny L Read, The Literature of Jazz: A Critical Guide. Chicago: 1981, p. 198.
³ Scholars and librarians have recognized since the 1930s the importance of gaining access to retrospective music periodicals. See, for example, Ruth Watanabe, “American Music Libraries and Music Librarianship: An Overview in the Eighties,” Notes 38, no. 2 (December 1981): 248]; and, Barry S. Brook, “Patterns in the Historiography of 19th-Century Music,” Acta Musicologica 43, 1971: 279. While Brook refers to journals devoted to western classical music, his position is equally applicable to jazz.