Traditional Jazz, 24/7, Free
Archive of Recorded Sound acquires historic Riverwalk Jazz broadcasts.
By Ted Gioia
Stanford's Archive of Recorded Sound will take the biggest step yet to broaden public access to its jazz holdings when it starts continuous web streaming of more than 400 hours of historic radio broadcasts in January 2013.
The project is a partnership with jazz veteran Jim Cullum, originator and co-host of Riverwalk Jazz, Public Radio International's popular weekly radio show. Cullum has donated the program recordings to Stanford, already a growing powerhouse of jazz archives. He and his band, who anchor the broadcasts, have a history on campus: From 1994 to 2004, they were in residence every summer at the Stanford Jazz Workshop and made recordings at Dinkelspiel Auditorium for the radio show.
"These are living performances of a whole genre of American music," comments University Librarian Michael Keller. "Jim's work is an amazing cultural accomplishment that needs to be preserved and shared with the next generation."
Cullum built a loyal following for his personal brand of traditional jazz, especially after his band moved to San Antonio's newly established River Walk in 1963. His father helped finance The Landing, a basement converted into a jazz club facing the waterfront—the first establishment in the district to offer patrons a view of the San Antonio River. "There was a restaurant at one end of the River Walk, and we were at the other end—and that was it. There was no hotel, no other businesses. But when The Landing opened, people were lined up. It was the place to go."
Almost from the start, Cullum paid close attention to new technologies that could serve as a platform for his music. He began broadcasting his band's performances live over the FM spectrum in the early 1960s, when AM still dominated the radio industry. But Cullum's biggest breakthrough came in 1989, when he started promoting Riverwalk Jazz as a nationally syndicated radio show—pushing ahead with ambitious growth plans at a time when many jazz radio stations around the country were shutting down or changing to other music formats.
Riverwalk Jazz ran counter to the trend, and enjoyed unprecedented success. From a home base in San Antonio, never known as a launching pad for broadcasting careers, Cullum built one of the most popular music shows on the airwaves. The program, now in its 24th year, is carried on 167 public radio stations as well as Sirius's Real Jazz satellite channel. In addition, each month more than 100,000 listeners access streaming broadcasts from www.riverwalkjazz.org. Add email, social media and mini-episodes designed for cell phones, and you have America's oldest jazz traditions benefiting from all the latest technologies.
Cullum always envisioned Riverwalk Jazz not just as a vehicle for his own music, but also as a celebration of all traditional jazz. The broadcasts effectively combined entertainment with in-depth historical surveys of the leading artists and themes of the pre-World War II jazz scene. Cullum proved to be the ideal person to champion this body of work. "This is the only traditional jazz group I know of that has the whole early history of the music in its repertoire—over 2,000 pieces," says Keller, who is also a musician and jazz devotee. "It's a phenomenal accomplishment. Jim Cullum has played this music all over the world, and shared it with a larger audience through these broadcasts."
That audience may get even bigger, thanks to Stanford's initiative. Cullum envisions the University leveraging the collection's value as an educational resource, noting its wide range. "There are shows about boogie-woogie with Dick Hyman playing the music, about Porgy and Bess and Show Boat with William Warfield doing the narrative," Cullum notes. "We have shows about how Preservation Hall emerged, about Benny Goodman, the life of Bessie Smith, Jelly Roll Morton, Bix Beiderbecke, all the main contributors to the early history of jazz."
The archive will stream the 420 most important shows from the collection, following a thematic scheme, over two Internet-based radio channels, running 24/7 and accessible at riverwalkjazz.stanford.edu. "It takes each channel more than 16 days to play through the broadcasts," Cullum explains. "Stanford has made a commitment to continue these broadcasts for at least 25 years."
The Riverwalk Jazz donation joins Stanford's collection of unique jazz materials. These include the Monterey Jazz Festival archives—some 1,000 hours of historic audio and video spanning more than a half-century—and personal collections of jazz materials from Richard Hadlock, Herbert Humphrey, Bob Arnold, Arnold Jacobsen and former Stanford lecturer Grover Sales, among others.
The traditional jazz revival of the post-World War II period has become an area of focus for the archive—a fitting role, since Northern California served as one of the key centers of this movement. Stanford houses the archives of the San Francisco Traditional Jazz Foundation and has also secured tens of thousands of images from the collection of Ed Lawless, a San Francisco physician who promoted, hosted and photographed traditional jazz musicians over a period of more than 45 years.
"The acquisition of the Cullum collection is a major step for us," says Jerry McBride, head librarian for the Braun Music Library and the archive. "We now have one of the largest collections of traditional jazz material with a particular emphasis on the Western United States. There has long been recognition of the role of New Orleans and Chicago in traditional jazz, but there were also many important developments out West."
Founded in 1958, the Archive of Recorded Sound now houses more than 350,000 items. The ambitious plan to provide round-the-clock streaming of Riverwalk Jazz broadcasts is in keeping with the archive's commitment to digital preservation of materials and wider access to the unique items in its collections. "We've recently been successful in getting grants to support cataloging and expanding the availability of our holdings," McBride notes.
The Monterey Jazz Festival collection has now been entirely converted to digital format, as has Cullum's personal collection of recordings of Texas traditional jazz artists—an earlier donation to Stanford—including one-of-a-kind performances from trombonist Jack Teagarden and other pioneering jazz performers from the Southwest. These were originally stored on 177 reels of tape but have now been converted to nickel-plated disks.
"We would like to offer more online access to jazz materials," McBride adds. He explains that beyond leveraging technology, web streaming involves resolving legal and intellectual property issues. Some of the Monterey Jazz Festival material has been released on compact disc, and other archival jazz recordings could eventually show up online.
In his Stanford Jazz Workshop concerts, Cullum not only showcased the jazz sounds of an earlier decade but also demonstrated how the first generation of jazz musicians projected their sound without amplification. "The students learned to appreciate what you could do acoustically without microphones and speakers," says Jim Nadel, Stanford music lecturer and SJW director. "This was a revelation to young musicians raised in the age of sound engineering and amplification." Cullum's class on the blues was especially popular among student musicians—with close to 40 participants learning in real time how to improvise, interact and accompany under the guidance of band members. "Students would master riffs and get a chance to solo," Nadel recalls. "It was a vital combination of learning and playing in an exciting hands-on environment."
Cullum's legacy will now continue to find a home base on the Stanford campus, while reaching a much larger worldwide audience. The archive looks to build on this milestone achievement. "I would like to continue to develop Stanford as a repository for jazz," Keller says. "The history of jazz coincides with the history of Stanford. The literature of jazz matures in the same time frame and, like Stanford, is still evolving. This is an appropriate area of focus for us."
Ted Gioia, '79, MBA '83, is the author of eight books, including The History of Jazz, Delta Blues and The Jazz Standards.
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