Work begun a dozen years ago by Clarkson University Professors Stephen Farina and Johndan Johnson-Eilola will be preserved in the Center for Oral History of the Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library for use by future researchers studying the cultural history of New York City.
In 2006 Farina and Johnson-Eilola were awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant to preserve and document a then-unknown collection of audio recordings, films, photographs, and documents owned by musician and social activist Juma Sultan. That grant helped create what became known as the Juma Sultan Archive and that archive has spawned releases of music, articles, and books, including Farina’s Reel History: The Lost Archive of Juma Sultan and the Aboriginal Music Society (Wesleyan U Press, 2012).
Now, a collection of interviews of Juma Sultan and fellow musician Sam Rivers recorded from 2005 through 2008 will be added to Columbia’s Center for Oral History. These interviews were recorded by Farina and Johnson-Eilola as part of the NEA research.
Last year a large chunk of the Juma Sultan Archive was selected into in the Columbia Rare Book and Manuscript Library (https://clio.columbia.edu/catalog/12305042). These materials had been uncovered and documented by Farina and Johnson-Eilola in concert with Juma Sultan and University of Pittsburg ethnomusicologist Michael Heller. Heller’s book, Loft Jazz: Improvising New York in the 1970’s, (U of California Press, 2016) is based in part on the Juma Sultan Archive.
“Having these materials preserved and made accessible to future generations of researchers is a fitting culmination of the work that Johndan and I did with Juma and Michael over the last decade,” said Farina.
This archive is significant because it is the embodiment of a period in which African-American musicians were engaged in three important social and cultural enterprises. First, they were creating new music that expressed the struggle for social and civil rights. Many were exploring the African origins of their music. Second, they were creating artist-owned performance spaces and artist-owned production companies so that the musician could control his or her own destiny. And third, they organized themselves into a collective: the New York Musicians Organization and ran their own music festivals, starting in 1972.
To those musicians and jazz aficionados today who know of it, this was a particularly vibrant, disruptive, controversial, and influential period of artistic expression. The interviews in the Columbia Library , as well as the collection of recordings, photos, films, and documents, offer a unique and compelling look into that era.
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