Tara McPherson (USC) discusses the Scalar software with the West End Blues: Jazz in Chicago group.

About Jazz and the City

  • Project Co-Directors: Angel David Nieves & Monk Rowe
  • Project Consultants: Janet T. Simons, Forrest Warner, and Gregory Lord
  • Collaborators: Fillius Jazz Archive & The Digital Humanities Initiative (DHi)

Digital humanities seeks to both preserve the voices of the past and promote the voices of the present. As the information age increases in complexity, there is a growing need for both scholarly and everyday perspectives to come together on important issues. In the spring semester of 2015, Dr. Angel David Nieves and our ‘Intro to Digital Humanities’ class endeavored to seek such solutions. Our course had a three-pronged mission statement :

  1. To give critical attention to, engage with, and analyze Digital Humanities both as a set of techniques and as a type of discipline.
  2. To engage with technology-based knowledge production through multimedia documents.
  3. To investigate the ways in which digital humanities can promote productive dialogue regarding gender, race, class, and ethnicity.

As such, our work is part of a larger effort to foster accessible learning and communication through multiple media sources.

Our biggest objective is to find, recover, and advocate for voices from marginalized communities. Digital technologies, more so than other avenues, give us the ability to maximize the impact and resonance of our efforts. We have found that issues of race have been particularly salient in these projects. Our work is focused on six of our country’s biggest urban centers, each one having been profoundly influenced by its respective jazz scene. Jazz is a critical point of race-based discussion, especially given that it became a unique voice and form of expression to many people of racial minorities.

To accomplish this, we needed a platform capable of organizing and presenting information in a productive and aesthetic way. Scalar, our platform of choice, fits the bill. Open source and flexible, the platform allows its users to combine and present scholarly information in both traditional and nontraditional ways. The future of scholarship no longer rests between the covers of a book or in the contents of an article. Rather, platforms such as Scalar enable issues to be simultaneously considered through text, illustration, and video.

So, how does all of this come together? “Jazz and the City,” the name of our final project, was the viable entry point for our work. We started close to home and endeavored to showcase the content of the Fillius Jazz Archive at Hamilton College. A repository for all things jazz,the Fillius Jazz Archive includes a substantial collection of interviews conducted with some of the twentieth century’s most notable jazz artists. These discussions are replete with rare, first-hand accounts, and unique insights into a depth and breadth of racial issues. We are particularly grateful to Monk Rowe, who has done much to develop the archive that now holds these amazing first person narratives.

This is the first of many more Scalar digital interventions that will come from the Fillius Jazz Archive and its partnership with The Digital Humanities Initiative (DHi). Our projects are as follows:

  1. "Here, There and Everywhere": Jazz in Chicago by Deondre Costen, Samantha Donohue, Will Driscoll, James LaPosta, & John Zimmerman
  2. History of Jazz in Detroit by Kate Bushell, Alessandria Dey, Michael Diana, Micah Erstling, & Richard Wenner
  3. “Paris of the Plains:” Jazz in Kansas City by Sara Berthiaume, Elise Eagan, Jackson Graves, Adrianna Pulford, & Ajani Santos
  4. “Hip Used to Mean Hip:” Jazz in Los Angeles by Alex Bicks, Edwin Marrero, Malcolm Phelan, & Sarah Scalet
  5. "Never Been Given Credit For It": Music, Race and Culture in the Big Easy by Alexander Boles, Elizabeth Detwiler, Rachel Fredey, Patrick O’Brien, & Ryan Woo
  6. “Our Jazz Mecca:” The Story of New York City by Matt Hrvatin, Alec Karanikolas, David Morgan, Courtney Power, & Baylis Treen