A Brief History
In 1987 a number of interested individuals discussed the need for the establishment of some form of archive for jazz.
There was no nationally recognised archive in the field and there was some concern that collections in the hands of private individuals might ultimately be lost if no arrangements could be made to safeguard them. In 1988 the National Jazz Foundation Archive was registered as a charity.
An approach was made to Essex County Council's Library service. This was favourably received at officer level and subsequently a formal approach was made to the Library, Museum and Records Committee seeking accommodation for the Archive.
In due course accommodation was offered at Loughton Library. This location was chosen because space was available in a prestige building and it enjoyed good communications with Central London.
Until the present time Essex County Council Libraries department have generously funded the Archive in terms of dedicated staff, purchasing, heat, light, cleaning and accommodation.
How it all started: Digby Fairweather
I'll never be entirely sure when the first inklings of an idea that we should perhaps have some kind of National Archive for jazz books, periodicals and memorabilia in Britain crept into my head. But it was probably soon after the day in 1985 that my band and I made a trip to Southsea Pier to record a TV show celebrating 'Fifity years Of Nat Gonella'. Somewhere between the run-through and the recording I was introduced to Chris Clarke, newly-appointed jazz curator of the National Sound Archive who'd come to see about interviewing Nat for the 'British Oral Jazz History'.
"Whats' that?" I asked.
Chris explained that the 'BOJH' was an on-tape research project for which prominent British Jazz people were interviewed about their lives. Each interview was then cross-indexed with others for future generations of researchers to use. "Sounds good" I said, recognising through the mists an acknowledgement that what jazz musicians in Britain - or anywhere - were doing could, and should, be worthy of historic acknowledgement. "It's a good scheme" affirmed Chris. "Why don't you try doing an interview for us sometime and come and look over the Jazz Section while you are at it"? I did, and was duly impressed. Stacked in perfect order on hundreds of shelves in a department of the British Library was a large proportion of the recorded legacy of jazz, on everything from cylinders to LP's (this was a couple of years BCD). Books and periodicals about jazz, however were a different story; a small and random collection on no more than a dozen shelves at best.
I mentioned this to Chris, and he nodded. "Yes, but there's a problem. For one thing, this Archive is about sound - recorded sound - not words. And I doubt if we'd have the time to handle books as well. Or the space come to that. But let me look into it".
Good as his word, Chris did look into it, and soon after we had a meeting with several of the big bosses of the British Library. But as one, they shook their heads. "No room" they confirmed "you'll just have to look elsewhere".
So, for now Chris and I were back to square one. But I had an idea - or dream at least. Where better to start looking for premises than with my old friends and employers at Essex Library Service? I'd worked at Southend Library for twelve years - and my old boss, Frank Easton was now Deputy County Librarian of Essex. "Well" mused Frank at our first meeting "I'm not sure what we can do. But there is a spare office in a corner over at Loughton Library. Perhaps you could use that for now".
From that moment fate seemed to smile. Chris Hodgkins, the newly-appointed boss of "Jazz Services" agreed to help co-ordinate the project. Then, via the fine British Dixieland Drummer and friend to Jazz, Brian Chadwick, we inherited the collection of man-about-jazz Chips Chipperfield, who had asked Brian to retain his legacy until a suitable and permanent home could be found for it. Chips' books, magazines and souvenirs formed the basis of our collection, and we were soon supplemented by donations from Graham Langley of the British Institute of Jazz Studies and John Blandford who between them supplied a complete run of Melody Maker from 1926 to 1981, and by many other friends who contributed valuable gifts and collections. Almost day by day, the seeds we had sown flowered into summer shows of goodwill.
Essex County Council Libraries has continued to offer us unfailing support, ever since those early days. Expanded and dedicated premises are now staffed by our very own archivist David Nathan, who knows his way around our collection as no-one else does.