i was looking for some bessie smith the other day. don’t actually remember why, probably a singer in a show i was listening to said that the song was originally done by bessie smith. anyway, so i went onto the internet archive to see what there was to see (or hear, as it were). after flaffing my way around a number of collections of .mp3 copies (and not very good ones, sometimes, but that’s a different discussion), i stumbled across the astounding “the david w. niven collection of early jazz legends, 1921-1991”.
check out the overview at https://archive.org/details/davidwnivenjazz: “650 tapes · 1,000 hours · 1,378 WAV files · 637 GB · 691 JPEG scans of cassette liner cards & literature. Meticulously Collected, Compiled, and Narrated by David W. Niven, 1930-1993″.
this is a seriously large amount of sometimes very old music. i’ve listened to a number of the cassettes, and the format is mr. niven giving some introductory comments, and then playing a song; another comment, another song, etc. the comments are sometimes very interesting, and the passion behind the effort to record so many tapes really comes through.
each tape (or set of tapes) is devoted to a single artist. for example, bessie smith, which is most of what she ever recorded (not all, though, i guess mr. niven didn’t have all bessie’s recordings). or take the the ben webster tapes, which i’ve also been listening to. mr. niven stays focused: it’s not everything ben webster ever played on. for example, from his years with the duke ellington band, only the songs where ben webster solo’ed are included.
the tapes have each been transfered to one .wav (or sometimes .flac) file per tape-side. so there’s no tracking. i’ve tracked a few things, and plan on tracking more. i’ve created a permanent page on this blog with links to the selected internet archive pages from the collection and pages with tracked versions of recordings from the collection.
just to get you started, here’s a link to search the internet archive for the niven collection: