Monday, September 26, 2011

Frank Driggs 1930-2011

On September 18, 2011, the New York Times published an obituary of country singer Wilma Lee Cooper. Accompanying that obituary was a picture of her with her late husband Stoney, with a credit to "Frank Driggs Collection." Ironically Driggs himself passed away a couple days later. As I type this on September 25, all I have seen about the late jazz historian, scholar and archivist has been a somewhat brief AP obituary noting his remarkable collection of jazz, blues and other American music photographs and memorabilia, nothing the book taken from his collection Black Beauty, White Heat: A Pictorial History of Classic Jazz, 1920-1950, and that he won a Grammy for producing the reissue of Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings.

The Wikipedia entry for Driggs and the obituaries note that he became enamored with jazz and swing listening to radio broadcasts in the late 1930s. He graduated Princeton in 1952 and then joined Marshall Stearns at the Rutgers University based Institute of Jazz Studies where he began his documentation of jazz. Later John Hammond recruited him to Columbia Records where he produced a number of important reissues of jazz and blues including the highly influential King of the Delta Blues Singers, the first album compilation of Robert Johnson's recordings and A Study in Frustration, the important box set devoted to the great Big Band leader, arranger, and composer, Fletcher Henderson. He would also produce reissues of Duke Ellington (which according to jazz historian Ashley Kahn was the inspiration for Steely Dan's recording of East St. Louis Toodle-Oo), Billy Holiday and many others and in the 1970s revived the Bluebird label for Victor to reissue their many classic blues, jazz and other music.

His archive of photos, lyric sheets, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia grew to approximately 100,000 items and credits to the Frank Driggs collection can be found in numerous books on jazz, blues and other American musical idioms. On his blog, jazz journalist Chuck Ramsey noted his use of several photos from Driggs' collection in his biography of Paul Desmond. The Driggs collection was the single largest source of such material used for the Ken Burns PBS series on Jazz.

Black Beauty, White Heat is a simply marvelous sampling from his collection. In addition to that volume, he also co-authored with Chuck Haddix, Kansas City Jazz: From Ragtime to Bebop--A History, is the currently definitive study of Kansas City jazz that was so important in the development of jazz and from which Count Basie, Hot Lips Page, Lester Young, Mary Lou Williams, Charlie Parker, and Jay McShann emerged. While Black Beauty, White Heat, is today an out-of-print classic, Kansas City Jazz is still in print. These books, along the recordings he produced and his collection of music memorabilia leave an impressive legacy.

For more on Frank Driggs and the archive, see Jazz Man from the September 2005 issue of Smithsonian Magazine and "… And All That Jazz Memorabilia" from the March 1, 2005 New York Times. And here is the New York Times obituary.

No comments: