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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Duncan P. Shiedt Collection and All That Jazz

The National Museum of American History sponsored a variety of special activities in April to celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month, including special concerts and the opening of the LeRoy Neiman Jazz CafĂ© in the Museum, with its colorful mural (painted by Neiman) depicting eighteen jazz masters.  Spearheaded as usual by Dr. John Hasse, the Museum’s indefatigable curator of American Music, Jazz Appreciation Month often focuses on jazz-related acquisitions by the Museum, especially in the Archives Center.  Searching for “jazz” in SIRIS reveals the jazz-related riches of the Archives Center, from the original music manuscripts of famed composer and bandleader Duke Ellington to published sheet music in the Sam DeVincent Collection (arranged by the topics or subjects of songs), to photographs of jazz musicians by many important photographers.

Photograph by John Miner.  Billy Strayhorn playing piano, possibly Chicago, 26 May 1952.
From the Duncan P. Schiedt Photograph Collection, Archives Center, NMAH
Dr. Hasse has located and helped to negotiate most of the Archives Center’s jazz acquisitions over the years, collaborating with our staff to arrange and complete the transactions.  Some of these acquisitions were made possible through personal friendships and professional connections dating back to his graduate work in music at Indiana University, and Indiana, it seems, has been an unusually fertile source of dedicated collectors of jazz-related collections and archives.  This has been of personal interest to me because I also pursued graduate work at Indiana University in Bloomington—not in music, although I knew a number of music students.  Our most recent major jazz-related acquisition was donated by the children of another longtime friend and colleague of John Hasse’s—Duncan P. Schiedt.  Schiedt was himself a distinguished photographer of jazz musicians, but he also collected the work of other jazz photographers, and authored a number of books.  He wrote in the preface to his book Jazz State of Indiana that “Indiana represented something special in jazz history” and that “Hoosier jazz” made a special contribution to the style of many college and professional jazz bands. The Archives Center is just beginning to view the thousands of photographs in this collection.  Shown above is a photograph of jazz great Billy Strayhorn, from the Schiedt collection.

David Haberstich
Curator of Photography, NMAH Archives Center     

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Message in a Box

The Freer | Sackler Archives is blessed to have many wonderful volunteers.  Many have been working for the archives for years. They all have collections that they come in every week to work on and care for.  One volunteer, the lovely Charlene, has been work on the Pauline B. and Myron S. Falk, Jr. Papers for several years. She is currently organizing all of the Falk correspondence. Recently, she stumbled upon some truly wonderful letters both sent and received by the Falks.  

They are filled with humor, life, and wonderful use of language.  One can’t help but stop to hear what neat letter Charlene has found on a particular day.  You get the impression that the Falks were warm, intelligent, and entertaining people to be around.

Pauline Falk worked with the Lincoln School for many years.

These letters have given us something more precious that a window into the Falks lives.  They have given us an idea of how diversely and uniquely individuals expressed themselves to one another. You can picture the people writing these letters as if they are in the room.  Furthermore, it reminds us how fun, complex, and different the English language can be.  

Excerpt from Mrs. Pauline Falk's 50th High School Reunion.   It took place in 1978 for the class of 1928.  Several of the classmates could not attend the reunion, but then sent delightful notes to be read at the reunion.

In yet another way, it makes us more aware that the art of letter writing is dying. We have email. We have Facebook. We have Twitter.  We have an endless amount of devices to keep us connected.   We communicate instantly and uniquely, but in a different more abrupt way.

The written word seems to be fighting a losing battle in the war of communication.   This is an era of abbreviated thought, where pausing to contemplate and write a personal letter and send it seems as foreign as an alien planet.

Letter thanking Pauline Falk for all her dedicated service to the Lincoln School, 1953.

Of course, email can be and is used to write thoughtful letters, but more often than not, the language of email seems to have given way to short perfunctory business sentences.  The idea of allowing one’s thoughts to wander deeply before putting words down is almost lost.

Perhaps we should all take the time to pause and breathe before we write and send our next email (or, perhaps, even a physical letter) to a friend.

Lara Amrod
Freer|Sackler Archives