The music program at the University of North Texas has graduated hundreds of jazz artists who went on to successful careers as professionals. Woody Herman populated virtually an entire edition of his Thundering Herd of the 1970s with North Texas graduates, and they keep coming. Jimmy Giuffre, Herb Ellis, Billy Harper, Marvin Stamm, Bob Belden, Norah Jones, Dee Barton, Gene Roland, Marc Johnson, James Chirillo and Jim Snidero are a few of the musicians that UNT has sent into the jazz world. Now, UNT is making another kind of contribution to the preservation of jazz.
Under Maristella Feustle of the university’s library, there is an archive devoted to the late Willis Conover of the Voice of America (pictured with Louis Armstrong). Conover’s VOA programs sent jazz around the world. For a quarter of a century he was one of the nation’s most valuable cultural diplomats. As of today, parts of the Conover archive are online and open to the public, thanks to a grant from the Grammy Foundation. Ms. Feustle (pictured right) has posted audio of programs from several periods of Conover’s career, including complete hours of his VOA broadcasts. In a message to Rifftides, she writes,
We got word at the end of March that the grant had been funded, in the
amount of $16,650 to digitize the 360 oldest reels in the Conover
collection, covering approximately 1955 through 1969. There are just
under 2100 reels total, so this is a good first step in tackling the
most urgent preservation needs. The contractor performing the digital
transfers is George Blood Audio, with whom we’ve worked on other
high-value, high-priority projects. There will be many more recordings
added to the UNT Digital Library as we receive the preservation
In the first batch of 10 reels digitized and posted on the UNT Library site are interviews with (and music by) Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Art Tatum, Kai Winding and Johnny Hodges. There are also what seem to be previously unreleased recordings by Bill Evans at the Village Vanguard, an interview with producer George Avakian from one of Conover’s Music USA broadcasts, and a live performance of The Orchestra, which Conover co-led in Washington, DC, in the early 1950s. To see the list and listen to the tapes, go here.
For my recent Wall Street Journal article about Conover and a new effort to see that his work gets wider recognition, go here.