Graham Langley is a former Chair and Vice Chair of Trustees of the National Jazz Archive and was fundamental to its early development and direction. Graham shared his experiences in a recorded interview in 2016 as part of our 'Intergenerational Jazz Reminiscence' project, which you can listen to or read the transcript.
Graham was a founder of the British Institute of Jazz Studies (BIJS), and in the short history below he reminisced in 2023 about its formation and it's seminal role in the development of the National Jazz Archive.
The UK's first jazz archive
The December 1963 issue of Jazz Journal carried an article by critic Stanley Dance bemoaning “It is too bad that nowhere is there sufficient concentration of responsible jazz fans to set up the equivalent of a central library”. This triggered a letter in the January 1964 issue from one P. Sutherland of Wandsworth reminding Dance of the existence of the Institute of Jazz Studies in the USA and offering “If any readers would be interested, I will organise a meeting to discuss the setting up of an English Institute of Jazz Studies”.
That meeting presumably took place but by the time of my introduction at an AGM in May 1965 ‘English’ had morphed into ‘British’ and Mr. Sutherland had departed the scene. This meeting was something of a re-launch and the British Institute of Jazz Studies (BIJS) was the result. I was one of a number of attendees voted on to the organising committee.
The aims of the organisation, as laid down in the constitution, were wide ranging with the development of an archive and associated information resource being prominent amongst them. In 1966 the BIJS applied for registration with the Charity Commission and was accepted in the October as Charity No.250388.
What do we do now?
Having stated that the development of an archive / library was a key aim, when the first donation of around a dozen books arrived (from pianist Dick Katz) the committee sat looking at each other with ‘what do we do now?’ expressions. We had no premises in which to house them, once being described, accurately, by critic Derek Jewell as ‘not so much an organisation, more a collection of addresses’, so being an enthusiastic bibliophile I volunteered to take charge of this fledgling library, a decision that triggered a passion that has lasted a lifetime.
As with many new ventures, initial enthusiasms tend to become tempered by reality and although there were successes; the publication of a Bruce Turner Discography, two editions of A Bibliography of Discographies since 1960, newsletters and a small journal, Jazz Studies, a lack of funds or clear direction meant that during the seventies committee members drifted away owing to relocation, work and family commitments.
By the end of the decade the British Institute of Jazz Studies, for all its impressive title, consisted of me and a house full of paper.
A 40 year run of Melody Maker
During this time I had continued to build the library. While concentrating on UK publications I was an indiscriminate collector and acquired an extensive range of material from around the world. While privately housed this was always a publicly available resource, and although necessarily restricted during my full-time employment, its facilities were available to visiting authors, students and researchers. For those outside reasonable commuting distance I instigated a postal lending library and enquiry service.
In 1988 Digby Fairweather founded the National Jazz Archive and I was invited to become a Trustee. I immediately donated several hundred books and a 40-year run of Melody Maker which has arguably been the Archive’s most requested printed resource.
The aims of the National Jazz Archive were very similar to those of the BIJS but because any new organisation is fragile in nature until it becomes established I continued to run the BIJS in parallel, always intending a merger at some future date.
The formal merger
By the late nineties the National Jazz Archive had outstripped the BIJS in structure, resources and size, so my concession to the ‘competition’ was to cease collecting at the millennium and gradually to transfer all materials not published in the British Isles to the Archive. This included over 1000 books, many thousands of international journals, over 100 concert posters and much else. The formal merger of the two organisations took place in 2013.
I therefore retained only items published in the British Isles during the 20th century. There was of course considerable duplication between that and the Archive’s UK holding but the BIJS collection was more complete containing every significant title, around 2100 books and 17000 journal issues from over 700 titles.
Birmingham City University
In 2018 discussions opened with Birmingham City University (BCU), the UK’s leading jazz faculty, to become a satellite of the National Jazz Archive with the BIJS collection forming the basis of the new archive.
With delays due to Covid 19 it was not until November 2021 that the transfer was completed and the materials are now preserved in professional archive conditions.
Learn more about the National Jazz Archive