Student guest blogpost: Noah Lightfoot's time with the Theodore Chandik Jazz Collection
Noah Lightfoot, class of '22, spent 3 years working primarily with the Theodore Chandik Jazz Collection. In this post, he describes his experience working with these albums, some of which are available to listen to at the Music Library's new LP listening station. We thank him for the great work he did, and wish him the best of luck in the future!
Coming from a background in jazz music, I knew that I would enjoy this project from the get-go. I was sold when Clare pulled out one of the albums from the collection. It was a copy of “Clifford Brown and Max Roach'' signed by Max Roach himself! This is one of my favorite jazz albums, with songs that I’ve listened to repeatedly on Spotify. The only thing that would have made this album more surprising to me would have been a signature by Clifford Brown. This would be unlikely because he tragically passed away in 1956 at the age of 25 in a car accident on his way to a performance in Chicago. As I worked to archive the countless LPs, I noticed that many of the signatures were from musicians that would have been alive sometime in the past 50 years, which is within the time that Theodore Chandik likely collected autographs. I didn’t expect to find autographs of people who had passed before that time, such as Charlie Parker, but I did find many household names like Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis, and Chick Corea.
The autographs were a window into Chandik’s life, going to numerous jazz concerts, festivals, and signing events. To personally meet some of the greatest jazz musicians of all time feels incredibly surreal today, especially artists who have developed the genre across multiple decades. To live in a time when music was changing so drastically, and the skill level of the musicians was unmatched is a dream! However, for Chandik, this was the norm. I wonder if he had become desensitized to the raw talent and mastery that was displayed in live concerts, or if at every event he was just as awestruck as I would have been. Some of the autographs had small, personalized notes to Chandik as well. For example, a couple of Dizzy Gillespie’s signatures had the phrase “Love and Bebop” and a little sketch of a trumpet. These small details brought the personality of these jazz greats to life, helping me to see them as more than world-class musicians.
Another fascinating aspect of this project was related to the record companies that produced these various albums. It was a look into the state of the music industry in the middle 20th century. There were so many different labels! Some of them were more dominant and produced a higher quantity of both less-known and popular albums. The best example of this kind of record company is Columbia, which has three to four entire rows of ARS shelving dedicated to its vinyl albums. On the other end of the spectrum, there are custom labels that are created by an artist or group. These oftentimes don’t even exist in the ARS. Some of these labels ceased production, but many of them have been consolidated into a few massive conglomerates such as Sony BGM, Universal Music Group, and Warner Music Group.
The existence of countless labels opens up a variety of marketing tactics. I’ve seen collaborations, covers, re-releases, greatest-hits collections, live concert recordings, special editions, etc. I can imagine walking into a record store in a small town, browsing the colorful shelves for new releases, up-and-coming artists, or all-time classics to put on the record player while cleaning up the house. The way we listen to music has been completely revolutionized by technology, as we hit shuffle on our Spotify playlists with thousands of hand-picked songs. Many of the albums I processed are on Spotify now, and I get excited when I find something that is on my playlist. While the selection of music was much more limited back in Chandik’s day, there may have been a different feel to the experience. Coming home from the store to listen to Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” for the first time, or listening to “Moanin’” by Art Blakey in the listening preview booth is a feeling that is long lost. We often take the endless list of music that is available to us for granted, with customizable playlists that store thousands of our favorite artists, songs, and genres. It took Chandik a lifetime to collect a small fraction of the music that is available to us, and he must have paid several thousands of dollars adjusted for inflation!
As my very first job, working for the Stanford Music Library and the ARS has been nothing but a wonderful experience. The people are incredibly kind, helpful, and passionate about what they do. Working with musical recordings is a great joy because you never know what you are going to pull out of the box. It may be something that you know and will give you a sense of nostalgia or a bit of an ego boost as you can flex your knowledge of jazz music. Or, it may be an underrated artist you’ve never heard of, that you go on to look up on Spotify and end up listening to their album on repeat! Lastly, this kind of work is a great means of escape from the Stanford grind. I love some of the mundane tasks that came with this project, such as putting plastic straps and barcodes on album covers, because it gives you space to reflect and re-center yourself. I often play music, podcasts, or sermons during my two to three-hour shifts. I will never forget my time working at Braun. It has been nothing but a blessing during my time at Stanford, and if you end up working here, I’m sure it will be a blessing during yours.
Thank you, Clare, Ray, Kevin, Ben, Vincent, and Nathan. Even though I would only see you briefly a few times a week, sometimes exchanging a few words, it was a pleasure working with all of you.