A letter from the White House


Catherine Boak - I joined the merry band of voluntary enthusiasts at the Archive in 2019 and find the work both fascinating and somewhat addictive.

I was assigned to re-package some of the material, firstly starting on programmes, filed by artist and by country and venues. It is tempting to linger and look at the programmes, but that must be for another time.

I now have the Johnny Simmen Collection to work on. Johnny was a Swiss jazz historian, and the collection holds over 3,000 letters written to him from more than 160 jazz musicians. Most are handwritten, some personal, some confirming engagements, others recording band details.

At first the list of names looked unfamiliar, but they were hard-working jazz musicians who worked throughout America and Europe from the 1940s to 1990s.

Search on the internet and you can find most of their musical stories. Many of course are now dead. Bob Wilber, who died on 4 August 2019 in Chipping Camden aged 91, was a saxophonist and clarinettist - His mentor was Sidney Bechet. Well worth checking him out on the web.

Then I got very excited to find a letter from The White House, Washington DC, which was signed by Richard Nixon in 1973.

It was addressed to Sam Wooding, a dance band leader, who together with other musicians including Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong toured Europe as jazz ambassadors for America during the Cold War years.

Unfortunately the letter is a photocopy not the real McCoy, but it was nice to find it hidden away.

As new material comes into the archive, donated in wills and brought in to us by families, it is amazing what surprises we may find hidden in the boxes. The work continues, on and on, as our jazz history unfolds.

Never a dull moment.


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