Prolific jazz writer, commentator, educator, documentarian, and former publicist Arnold J. Smith recently donated the entirety of his vast jazz collection to the UNLV Arnold Shaw Popular Music Research Center. The collection — with a total value that has yet to be estimated — has begun making its way from Smith’s home in Brooklyn, New York, with the complete move anticipated to take several months.
The collection includes more than 10,000 LPs (10- and 12-inch); hundreds of self-recorded and edited cassettes and open reel tapes (many of rare concerts); jottings, posters, artwork, and various memorabilia. It will be accessible to students, faculty, and interested public for listening and research purposes in UNLV’s climate-controlled facility.
“I began collecting LP recordings to copy the arrangements to play with my cooperative band for which I was the pianist in junior high school in Brooklyn,” Smith said. “My parents loved to dance. Consequently, they had the big band and vocal recordings on 78 rpm wax recordings. I had a hard time convincing them to let me buy vinyl and to covert their 78 rpm Victrola to an LP changer. It was a fait accompli, as I had already bought LPs by saving my small allowance prior to our having something to play them on.
"My first LPs were Harry James Greatest Hits and a Latin collection called Seeco Sampler, which I bought to copy the rhythms for the dances the band sometimes played. I never looked back.”
The Arnold Shaw Center's mission is to collect, archive, and make accessible historical music materials — including music manuscripts, sheet music, recordings and memorabilia — related to the creation, performance, and recording of popular music, including jazz, with a special emphasis on Las Vegas musical entertainment.
Shaw’s long and distinguished writing career includes music reviews, liner notes and articles numbering in the hundreds. He authored 13 books, and he is posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame for his book Honkers and Shouters: The Golden Years of Rhythm and Blues. He originated the "History of Rock Music" course at UNLV, and also created the "Rap with the Artist" event to create a vehicle by which popular music stars could interact with university students. The sessions were recorded and combined with a series of interviews of popular music stars that Shaw recorded in the process of authoring his books. UNLV houses more than 900 hours of these interviews.
"I chose UNLV because I am impressed with the openness for anyone and everyone to hear the recordings and the interviews,” Smith said. “Jazz is living music, not museum pieces."
Smith’s donated collection also includes interviews he conducted for Down Beat Magazine and Billboard Magazine, and for his 26-year series of live interviews at the New School, New York University, Hofstra University, and New Jersey City University, as well as lectures at Michigan State University and Long Island University.
“We are honored that Mr. Smith chose the UNLV Arnold Shaw Popular Music Research Center as a permanent home for his vast collection,” said Jeffrey Koep, dean of the College of Fine Arts. “It is thanks to his keen interest in jazz, as well as his thorough, historic record keeping, that we are able to provide students and the Las Vegas community with some of the best selections of jazz recordings, performances, interviews, and notes ever to be assembled in one place.”
In addition to the collection, Smith also is conducting a series of lectures at UNLV – the first of which was on Oct. 26 on Duke Ellington titled “Aspects of Duke.” Topics covered included Ellington’s Train Songs, the gestation of the Sacred Concerts, Symphonic Ellington, and Billy Strayhorn’s contributions. Audio and rare video footage were used, all of which will eventually be housed at UNLV.
The date of the next Arnold Jay Smith lecture, Louis Armstrong In Hollywood, is to be announced.