Academic journal article ARSC Journal

Starr Piano/Gennett Records Discography

Academic journal article ARSC Journal

Starr Piano/Gennett Records Discography

Article excerpt

In 2002, we began work on a Starr Piano/Gennett Records discography, which would include all the recordings released by Gennett and its affiliates including the recordings from the Richmond, Indiana studio for client labels and personal pressings. Elizabeth Surles at the Starr-Gennett Foundation put us together, as we each expressed interest in this project and because of our different backgrounds as discographers, collectors, historians and educators. Our initial discussion detailed the approach to this project and the emphasis would be on the history of the label and studio and its output. Malcolm would work on the collection of information for the printed text and Charlie for a digital searchable database. We would work independently but would constantly share information, resources, contacts and the occasional pep talk.

While we would utilize the many secondary sources available to us, our objective was to focus on the primary materials such as those housed at The Indiana Historical Society in Indianapolis and in The Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers in Newark, New Jersey. Malcolm would work in the MacKenzie files in Indianapolis and Charlie would spend his time in Newark.

In the summer of 2002, Charlie attended a board meeting with Beth Surles, Al Gentry, Jeff Plasterer and others from the Starr-Gennett Foundation and began investigating the materials at the Wayne County Historical Society and the MacKenzie files. Charlie presented the outline for the project and Starr-Gennett approved a continuous budget of support. 2008 marks the sixth year that The Starr Gennett Foundation has pledged its financial support.

In October of 2003, we traveled to Indianapolis and Richmond. Malcolm spent a week at the Indiana Historical Society and viewed and cataloged all the Gennett recording cards in its collection. One item that Malcolm found intriguing was a musician placement diagram on the back of a few cards. In 1926, Gennett stopped recording acoustically and started using the new electric equipment. This necessitated a complete overhaul of the recording engineer's methodology, therefore he would jot down microphone placement diagrams. The final-use diagrams were then transferred to the recording cards.

Another triumph was discovering on some issues of the Sears-based Silvertone labels, Gennett matrix numbers were used as issue numbers. Beginning in 1925, Gennett recorded and pressed a number of Sears labels, including Silvertone, Supertone and Challenge, which were also released on the Gennett and Champion labels.

Starting soon after, Charlie spent several days at The Institute of Jazz Studies (IJS) entering data from the Gennett ledger and several boxes of recording cards in various states of condition. In order to both preserve the cards for future research and share information with Malcolm, Charlie embarked on a three-year mission to digitally scan each and every recording card at Rutgers. Thankfully, Dan Morgenstern, head of IJS and member of the board of Starr-Gennett Foundation, took mercy on Charlie and allowed him to take home several boxes. When it came to the New York recording sessions, the written dates in the Gennett ledgers were actually the dates the masters had been received in Richmond. The recording cards show the true recording dates. It is most important to correctly date the recording cards and the recording sessions in other discographies. Amongst this collection of recording cards are those from the King Oliver sessions, Duke Ellington and the Ku Klux Klan. We will include some of these scans in our final product.

On the back of some cards are session fee calculations and label design sketches. The names of those who made, or were somehow involved in making, personal records are also of note. …

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