Where would we be without music or ways to record it?

Whether listening to Scott Joplin, Bolero, Pink, or Louis Armstrong—or all of them—where would we be without music and without the ability to record and re-play music for our pleasure?

A recent article in the New York Times announced that a fantastic collection of historical jazz recordings has been  acquired from the estate of William Savory. “The National Jazz Museum in Harlem acquired the entire set of nearly 1,000 discs, made at the height of the swing era, and has begun digitizing recordings of inspired performances by Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday… and others that had been thought to be lost forever.” According to the article, some of the recordings were made by Savory on aluminum disks or even acetate. This is a far cry from the wax cylinders invented by Thomas Edison in the last quarter of the nineteenth-century.

This summer, Matt Musselman and his band, Grandpa Musselman and His Syncopators,

Grandpa Musselman and His Syncopators at the Thomas Edison National Historic Park

were asked by the Thomas Edison National Historic Park, New Jersey, to perform some ragtime music to celebrate Thomas Edison Day.

The event was to recreate what happens during the recording of music on wax cylinders and to save the performance for posterity in a historical format.

Wax cylinders waiting to for the performance to begin.

Grandpa Musselman and His Syncopators rocked out some of Scott Joplin’s ragtime compositions.

As the Syncopators performed, Musselman’s music was captured on yellow paraffin wax cylinders, exactly as it would have been done from about 1880-1915.

The sound is transferred by a stylus into the soft wax. The scratchy, “dusty” sounds we hear in old recordings, are said to be in part some of the wax filings that collect in the cylinder. Ideally, while the music is being performed and inscribed in the cylinder, an assistant blows the shavings away to eliminate the background noise.

Thomas Edison staff removing wax shavings

And, luckily for Musselman the Edison National Historic Site has promised to take the wax recording of his music, and give him back a digitized version. Grandpa Musselman and His Syncopators frequently perform in New York and this year have included tours to Dubai, Scandinavia—and the Thomas Edison National Historic Park—in their schedule.

Where would we be without the musicians and composers AND the scientists and inventors like Edison who found ways to preserve the music! (See also Wikipedia for info on wax cylinders.)

Quotation from: Larry Rohter, “Storied Trove of 1930s Jazz Is Acquired by Museum.” New York Times, ARTS. 16 Aug 2010.


About artinthecenter

I am a lifelong artist having studied painting, photography, drawing, and other media, in schools in the US and Italy. I won my first art contest when I was five--at a museum-- and my point of view tends to be as a five-year-old creative child embracing life. Check out all sort of artsy information at: www.watchingpaintdry.com and purchase my artwork at: janemmason.com +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ This policy is valid from 1 January 2016. This is a personal, educational, blog written and edited by me, Jane M. Mason. For questions about this blog, please contact: jane@watchingpaintdry.com. Sincere effort has been made to cite, recognize, and thank all sources of content, including images. If you feel we have included something in this blog that has not been accurately noted or recognized, please let me know and I will adjust the citation when presented with details. If you are interested in using intellectual property from this blog, please contact Hello@watchingpaintdry.com. This blog does not accept cash or paid topic insertions. However, we will consider accepting free products and other forms of compensation. The compensation received will not influence content. All advertising is in the form of advertisements generated by a third party ad network. We do not have control over the products advertised. The views and opinions expressed are those of Jane M. Mason or the associates of WPD LLC. We only endorse products or services that we believe, based on our expertise, are worthy of such endorsement. Any product claim, statistic, other representation should be verified with the manufacturer or provider. This policy has been adapted from DisclosurePolicy.org. For your own policy, go to http://www.disclosurepolicy.org

1 Response

  1. Arts lover

    Thanks for the fascinating musical history lesson!
    This connects very well with your essay on the end of Kodachrome. Wax was an era, vinyl, tape, and so on. Science and art intertwining to push the limit.
    Very interesting!


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