The Lomax Radioshow archives: recounting the ’38 Jelly Roll sessions
I’ve started poking around in what is available over at the Cultual Equity site but am only just starting to get a feel for the mountains of content there. I thought I’d start this week in a fairly recognizable place: Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton and his long-form interview/oral history with Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress in 1938. At the time of the session, Morton’s career was in decline and the long interviews with Lomax gave the pianist a welcomed stage from which to voice his unique story, sometimes speaking, sometimes playing the piano. Having that keyboard under his fingers allowed Morton to punctuate the telling of his history with chords and melodies giving the story a multi-modal richness not possible in a typical interview. (It should be noted that Lomax’s approach to interviewing is not without criticism. The strengths and weaknesses of Lomax’s methods as an ethnographer will likely be a subject of many posts to come.)
As great as this session is — indeed, you can purchase the complete sessions (nine hours worth!) in a Grammy Winning box set from Rounder Records — this post is pointed specifically to the Radio Programs section of the Cultural Equity archive. Currently on the site, there are several hours worth of radio programs, spanning from the early 40s to the mid 50s, but Lomax’s radio presence stretched far beyond that. For now, check out the page’s first listing and you’ll find Lomax talking about and playing excerpts from the’38 sessions with Jelly Roll.
This initial crop of streaming radio programs give the archive visitor a sense for the immensity of what is currently available for streaming in the archive. Listening to each program leisurely might take months and these radio shows represent only the tip of the vast iceberg of holdings.
Frankly, I’m both excited and intimidated. There is so much to listen to, so much to learn.
*illustration by Brett Affrunti