Friday, December 17, 2010

Louis Armstrong House Museum Online Catalog!

Okay friends, I promised an announcement and here 'tis: the Louis Armstrong House Museum's online catalog is up and running! And here's the link:

Louis Armstrong House Museum Online Catalog

What does this me to you, dear, devoted, disciple of Pops? Well, let me go backwards and quickly take you through a short history lesson. Our hero, Louis Armstrong, was a packrat. The man saved everything: thousands of photographs, hundreds of tapes, letters from fans, scrapbooks, manuscripts, records, books, you name it. When he passed, Lucille made sure that everything stayed intact (thank goodness). After Lucille died in 1983, the House and all its contents were given to Queens College. In 1991, Michael Cogswell was hired to process the materials found inside the house, all of it placed under the heading "Louis Armstrong Collection." And in 1994, the Louis Armstrong Archives were opened.

Are you with me so far? Good. Since 1994, researchers from around the world have made the Armstrong Archives THE place to be when it comes to Pops. The Archives also continued to collect any-Armstrong related artifacts sent in by fans, which led to a second collection, the "Satchmo Collection." And as readers of this blog should know, the monumental Jack Bradley Collection was also acquired earlier this decade. More stuff, including the collections of Phoebe Jacobs and David Gold, continues to roll in. It's epic.

In 2003, Louis's house in Corona was opened up as an official museum and the entire operation became known as the Louis Armstrong House Museum, though the Archives continued gathering steam over at Queens College. As I said, researchers have always visited the Archives...but what if you couldn't? What if you're an elderly Armstrong fan in California? What if your a Pops worshipper in Sweden? Wouldn't you like to know what is contained at the Archives? People send us questions all the time--"What kind of trumpet did Louis play? What kind of mouthpiece did you he? Do you have any information on Louis's trips to Africa?"--but it gets hard keeping up with the responses.

So what the Louis Armstrong House Museum (LAHM from here on out) has done is brought the catalog to you. The first step was to hire a Project Archivist in October 2009, which turned out to be yours truly. Everybody knows it was my dream job but I have been asked, "So, what do you do?"

Well, the answer is PLENTY. We purchased Past Perfect, the leading software for small museums, and I began the process of arranging, preserving and cataloging into Past Perfect the gigantic Jack Bradley Collection. Meanwhile, a dilligent intern, Daniel Pecoraro, hammered away on Past Perfect to enter what we call the Louis Armstrong House Collection, a listing of every single object found in the Armstrong House (some really neat stuff there).

With those two out of the way, I set my sights on the big fish, the one that started it all, the Louis Armstrong Collection. These were the items that Louis owned: the trumpets, the scores, the scrapbooks, the private tapes, with those marvelous collages. Everything got new accession numbers and got loaded onto Past Perfect. It was too exciting to keep to ourselves so this week we've decided to share it with the world on our website.

So what will you find? Catalog records for the Louis Armstrong Collection, the Jack Bradley Collection and the Louis Armstrong House Collection. The site is super easy to use with a simple "Keyword Search" feature. Type in anything--Joe Glaser, Selmer, Swiss Kriss, Satchmo the Great--and you'll be taken to all the relevent records in those collections. Note: you won't be taken to the ACTUAL documents. For instance, if you see a catalog record for a letter or a manuscript, you won't be able to read them. If you land on an entry for a private tape, you won't be able to listen to it. But you will be able to read pretty detailed descriptions of the contents...and if you know my writing, I can get pretty detailed!

But wait, there's more! We're currently scanning stuff all the time. We have about 15,000 total photos between all of our collections, each photo stored in boxes arranged by category ("Louis in Performance," "Louis at Home," "Louis with Celebrities," etc.). I've described each photo box at a high level of detail and scanned between 10 and 20 photos from each box to give a representative sampling of what's included in each box. Each photo features a "Louis Armstrong House Museum" watermark to prevent it from being published. But trust me, scrollilng through the photos is a gassuh!

I've also scanned pages from Louis's manuscripts to give a sense of what they look like. For all the musicians in the house, there are detailed photographs of the trumpets we possess (all but one, which is on loan), as well as every mouthpiece held in the collection. We've taken photos of scrapbook pages and some of the many, many award Louis has received to also give you a feel for those.

And most crazily--drum roll please--we've scanned the front AND back cover of EVERY reel-to-reel tape box in the Armstrong Collection. Every one. Every collage is now in the catalog. Even boxes with nothing on them are still posted. And along with each tape listing is a detailed catalog entry about what's on the tape. We've transferred almost all of Louis's tapes to CDs so we've posted the track-by-track breakdowns of these tapes, all of which, again, is searchable. If you're looking for a tape of Louis and Stepin Fetchit, just type in "Stepin Fetchit." If you're looking for a tape where Louis and friends tell dirty jokes, search for jokes. It's all there.

We also have records of Louis's entire record collection which is fascinating. Louis always talked about opera and would name Caruso and Galli-Curci as some of his favorites. Search for them and see which records he actually owned. I've never heard of a Louis-Lester Young connection but I searched for Lester and found that Louis owned a few of Pres's Mercury records.

Just doing keyword searches is great but sometimes you might get too many results. I'd recommend the Advanced Search if you're looking for specifics. The "Collection" field is very important. Say you just want to see phonographic records in the Jack Bradley collection. Type "record" in "Object Name" and "Bradley" in "Collection" and get ready to scroll through 2,069 entries! If you specifically want to see records owned by Louis Armstrong, type "record" in "Object Name" and "Armstrong" in "Collection" and stand back.

There's also a "Click and Search" feature which eliminates the need for thinking. If you go to "People," all relevent persons are listed in alphabetical order by last name so if you have someone specific in mind, you can go right there and scroll through the list. "Search Terms" is pretty great too as that's where you'll find listings on specific terms such as "King of the Zulus," "Diets," "High Society" and much more.

And if you're bored and looking to have a good time, there's a "Random Image" tab. Every time you click it, you get nine images spanning all the collections. I just did it and got four tape boxes, a publicity shot of Jewel Brown, a trumpet mouthpiece, two awards given to Louis and an artifact in the Jack Bradley Collection! You can click on any image to be taken to the catalog record for more details.

So now I hope you see what I meant when I said it's a treasure trove for Pops lovers...but it's only the beginning. Each week, I hope to add more information and more entries, eventually knocking out the Satchmo and Phoebe Jacobs Collections. There will also be more scans and more photos so the images will continue to grow and showcase other parts of the collection. Please keep checking back and do not hesitate to write to me with any questions.

And I know I've been saying a lot of "I, I, I" and "me, me, me" but this has in no way been a one-man project. Michael Cogswell got this ball rolling in 1991 and a lot of staff members put in a lot of time between then and my hiring in 2009 cataloging, arranging and preserving the precious materials held within the Archives. I've met only a few of them but I thank all of them. And since I've started, I've had some dedicated interns numbering folders, scanning photos, entering data into Past Perfect. This could not have been done without them so hats off to Tyler Rivenbark, Richard Fischer, Daniel Pecoraro, Chris Genao, David Engelhard and Greg Hammontree. Special thanks also to our Archives Assistant Lesley Zlabinger, who also spent plenty of time manning the Past Perfect station (and talking me off various ledges). Assistant Director Deslyn Dyer's enthusiasm for the project keeps me motivated and the Baltsar Beckled is the man to thank for making the site look so pretty. And thanks to the rest of the LAHM staff (especially you, Al "Peacocks" Pomerantz for saving my bacon!), a pleasure to work with from top to bottom. And there probably wouldn't be a Louis Armstrong House Museum so extra thanks to the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation!

And naturally, biggest thanks go to Michael Cogswell. I thank him for being a terrific boss and a great friend but on behalf of Pops nuts around the world, I think we can ALL thank him for doing what he does to spread the gospel of Louis. This whole online catalog was Michael's idea, as his goal is share our treasures with the world. So if you're sitting at home today, searching through the catalog and having your mind blown at some tape box collage or some catalog listing of letters sent from Louis, thank Michael.

Okay, that's all I've got...I gotta get back to work! But that's what I've been doing since October 2009 and I just hope it's worth to all of you Armstrong lovers out there. Now get off this dumb blog and start searching the online catalog!

Louis Armstrong House Museum Online Catalog

2 comments:

Chris Wise said...

Is there a way to listen to things from the catalogue? Such as the reel-reel of him telling jokes? Thanks!
chriswisemusic.wordpress.com

Chris Wise said...

Is there a way to listen to things from the catalogue? Such as the reel-reel of him telling jokes? Thanks!
chriswisemusic.wordpress.com