(Ed. Note: Thursday Trivia may be done tonight, maybe Friday – I’m not feelin’ it right now.)
As most of you already know, for four years I worked at the Louis Armstrong House Museum as a volunteer tour guide. While my primary role was giving tours of the house where the jazz great and his 4th wife Lucille lived, I basically did whatever they wanted or needed me to do – file payment requests, do inventory, staff the gift shop, just answer questions visitors had, even get balloons for our great book party in January (was it that long ago?) where Terry Teachout read from his then-new (now new in paperback) Armstrong biography, Pops. But along with being at the House in Corona one or two days a week (generally two in the summer), I also was at the Armstrong Archives at Queens College once a week.
Because it was so close to my high school, I just ran from the school to Rosenthal Library, where the Archives have been located since 1994 (though in the next few years they’ll be moved to the Visitors Center the museum’s working on). Before the house opened to the public in 2003, the Archives was the public face of the organization, with changing exhibits and everything; now, the exhibit space has given way to being a repository for gift shop materials, and the only people that really go to the Archives are researchers and students in the jazz studies program at QC.
Anyway, once a week I would come in and work with the Project Archivist over at the Armstrong House, Ricky Riccardi. Ricky’s a real class act and an absolute expert on Armstrong (who is right now living the dream – working with the materials of one of the all-time greats, with a book on Armstrong’s later years coming in June – I’m debating pre-ordering it on Amazon versus buying it at the Armstrong House gift shop, where I’m sure they’ll have it in stock and where I’ll get a discount for being a member), and working under his and longtime museum director Michael Cogswell’s guidance was quite the great experience. Every week, I would put info from finding aids from the Louis Armstrong House Collection of the Archives – that’s the stuff that’s actually inside the house, as it was found (some of it, such as items from the since-razed third floor Lucille put in place after Louis’ death, were put in storage) – into PastPerfect, the premier cataloging software for small museums such as LAHM. In the meantime, Ricky, MFA and MLS candidates like Richard Fischer and Tyler Rivenbark, and I would work on the Louis Armstrong Collection (Louis’s ample belongings, papers, photographs, &c.), the Satchmo Collection (donations from over the years), and the big one – the Jack Bradley Collection, the largest private collection of Satchmo-bilia before or since its acquisition in 2005 – all in the effort of creating a catalog for access online.
Well, after about a year and a half, here it is – in all it’s shiny, new glory. What started out as an idea, where Archives Assistant Lesley Zlabinger, then-intern Matt Musselman (of Grandpa Musselman and his Syncopators), Michael Cogswell and I were simply playing around in putting pieces of the massive collection into PastPerfect, has come to fruition. I feel a great swell of pride, not only for myself in being a part of this project, but that this is the first of very many big things to come for LAHM, things that probably started out before I even volunteered there and are blossoming as I’m a member of the museum.
You can read more about the catalog on Ricky Riccardi’s fan-freakin’-tastic blog, The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong, and Michael Steinman at Jazz Lives (where there’s also what I believe to be exclusive video of the unveiling of the catalog, at a press party hosted by Michael Cogswell and Ricky Riccardi).
- What a Wonderful House (online.wsj.com)
- Visitors’ Center Planned for Louis Armstrong House and Museum (artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com)