The Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University–Newark, a gold mine of history and archives, turns to Wayne Winborne and Vincent Pelote to further burnish jazz’s place in American culture.
The long aisles of tall shelves stretch all the way across the wide climate-controlled room, packed tight with records and CDs. If heaven has a radio station, its music library must look like this. It is the silent sanctuary at the heart of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University–Newark, the world’s largest archive of jazz history, and its new director would like to hear it make some more noise.
“I want folks who are aware of the institute to still feel it’s their resource, but I want to grow our audience,” says Wayne Winborne, who took over as executive director in July. “I want to grow the number of users. I want to expand the number of things we’re doing and have a whole cross-section of offerings from a programmatic standpoint.”
The institute has long been known as the place where scholars and musicians come to wade in the deepest streams of jazz history. It is where Ken Burns’s researchers had 30,000 photographs to choose from when searching for images for the PBS documentary series Jazz. It is where Gunther Schuller had 100,000 recordings to consult when writing his magisterial The Swing Era. It is home to Lester Young’s tenor saxophone, Miles Davis’s trumpet, Eddie Condon’s four-string guitar, and 170 boxes of Mary Lou Williams’s papers.
It started as a private archive in the Greenwich Village apartment of Marshall Stearns, a Harvard scholar, and moved to the basement of the John Cotton Dana Library at Rutgers University–Newark in 1966. As the collection grew, it moved to a first-floor space in Bradley Hall and then, in 1994, back to Dana Library, up to its present, more inviting home on the fourth floor.
For most of its life at Rutgers, from 1976 to 2012, the institute’s director was Dan Morgenstern, a figure so revered in the jazz world—the former editor of Down Beat magazine, winner of an armload of Grammy Awards for album notes, author, encyclopedic repository of lore and arcana—that it took three years and two men to finally replace him: Winborne as executive director and Vincent Pelote as director of operations.
“The inside guy basically, the behind-the-scenes guy,” Pelote NCAS’77, SCILS’85 says of his position. He started at the institute as a work-study student in 1972 and went full-time soon after he graduated with a degree in music education in 1977.
Winborne is the outside guy, charged with raising the institute’s profile among those who may not know who Mary Lou Williams was and why those 170 boxes are so important. Even before he moved into Morgenstern’s old office, he was talking about staging jazz film festivals; establishing partnerships with the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), the jazz radio station WBGO, and other Newark institutions; linking with the English department to explore the tradition of jazz poetry; and teaching kids about the jazz roots of sampling by hip-hop artists. “I think there are a lot of ways to get creative about this,” he says.
Pelote agrees. “The kids need to be exposed,” says Pelote, who did some jazz evangelizing of his own during a brief stint as a substitute teacher in Jersey City in the mid-’70s, playing cuts from The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz on a heavy old school phonograph and watching his students eyes light up. “What I’m hoping is going to happen with Wayne aboard now is that we get some of these kids into this music, because they’re our future. We have to cultivate an audience for this music; otherwise it’s going to just become a museum piece. That’s my fear. So if the way to reach them is to mix a little hip-hop in there, or whatever it takes to get them interested, I’m willing to do it.”
Winborne first fell for jazz as a boy in Portsmouth, Virginia, enthralled when he saw Duke Ellington’s big band on a black-and-white TV. He played sax and taught a jazz history class in college, as a psychology major at Stanford University, but any residual dreams he had of making his way as a musician vanished when he attended graduate school to earn a degree in social psychology at New York University.
“I fell in with the wrong crowd,” he says. “I fell in with guys who could really play.”
Jazz musicians Wynton and Branford Marsalis lived a block away, Kevin Eubanks around the corner, and so Winborne launched a career elsewhere, toggling between nonprofits and the corporate world. He spent 10 years just blocks from the institute, at Prudential, where he was a vice president of business diversity outreach. He always kept a hand in the jazz world, though, producing recordings by several artists.
The institute will extend its reach late next year when Express Newark: A University-Community Collaboratory project opens in the former Hahne’s department store building, which is across Military Park from NJPAC. Some ground-floor display cases will be reserved for a few of the revered instruments stored out of sight now; visitors will be able to listen to music from the collection or hear voices from the Jazz Oral History Project, which has interviewed Count Basie, Charles Mingus, and scores of other jazz masters; and musicians will play in a small performance space, although the lineup will not include a saxophonist named Wayne Winborne.
“Not in public,” he says about his sax playing. “It’s better for Western culture that way.”