Thought IU;d share from this morning's Philadelphia Inquirer. Steve Ramm Posted on Wed, Nov. 17, 2004 I M A G E S CHARLES FOX / Inquirer Dan Morgenstern, director since 1976 of the Institute of Jazz Studies, holds Cootie Williams' trumpet. Behind him are the saxophones of Ben Webster (left) and Lester Young. Under Morgenstern's leadership, the collection has increased fivefold. In the lions' den Billie Holiday's comb is there. And a Fats Waller script. Newark's Institute of Jazz Studies is a sanctuary of the scene and a hot spot for a new generation. By Annette John-Hall Inquirer Staff Writer The elevator door opens to the thump-thump-thump-de-thump of a walking bass line. On top of the rhythm, a piano swings with improvised chords. On one side of the corridor is a gallery featuring brass instruments displayed in glass cases. Around the corner, a finger-snapping jam session's in progress. All this happening on the fourth floor of a campus library at Rutgers? This must be the place. If you're into jazz, chances are you've heard of the Institute of Jazz Studies and its director, Dan Morgenstern. And you've heard his voice - a grandfatherly baritone seasoned with a dash of hipness - lending authority to Jazz Profiles, a weekly series hosted by Nancy Wilson. It's heard locally on WRTI-FM (90.1) Sunday mornings at 10. The institute is regarded as the quintessential reference place for jazz. If not for Morgenstern and the institute, Jazz, Ken Burns' 19-hour documentary which aired on PBS in 2001, could never have been developed. Burns calls the institute "one of the world's treasures." In the jazz world, Morgenstern is another. A foremost authority at 75, the former editor of Metronome and Down Beat magazines has just written Living With Jazz (Pantheon Books, $35), a 673-page compilation of album liner notes and reviews that made him one of the most respected music writers of the era. This year, he's been in demand as a speaker for 100th-birthday symposiums and concerts honoring saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, pianist-composer Fats Waller, and pianist-band leader Count Basie. "It's been a good year for [centennial] celebrations," he says. As a youngster growing up in Denmark and Germany, Morgenstern listened to jazz broadcasts via the BBC. Upon his arrival in America as a teenager in 1947, he passed up the Statue of Liberty in favor of 52d Street, where jazz clubs were as plentiful as checkered cabs. "To me, it was like 'open sesame,' " Morgenstern recalls of his first visit there. "You could hear Charlie Parker on one side of the street and Sidney Bechet on the other." He got to know trumpeter Oran "Hot Lips" Page, which gave him an entree into the scene up in Harlem. Oftentimes, Morgenstern was one of the only white nonmusicians hanging out in clubs there. Nevertheless, Harlem held no danger for this budding journalist, who as a young man was a card-carrying member of the socialist Labor Youth League. Maybe it was because Morgenstern, a Jew, had fled Europe after seeing "the Nazis knocking at the door." Harlem? He thought it was paradise. "Some of my friends who were further to the left than I would ask, 'You go to Harlem?' " Morgenstern said. "I'd tell them yes, and I never had anything happen to me. People were open and friendly. I never felt a draft." At Brandeis University, where he was editor of the school paper, Morgenstern helped bring Stan Getz and Art Tatum to the campus and then wrote about their performances. That steered him into a career as a jazz critic and magazine editor that would last for decades. Since Morgenstern took over as director of the institute in 1976, its collection has increased five times over. Maintained by a staff of six, it houses 100,000 commercial and non-commercial recordings, and provides the most comprehensive library and jazz archive under the sun - or Sonny Rollins, or even Sun Ra, for that matter. There's an original music manuscript by Fats Waller, an obscure video of bandleader Cab Calloway in a 1930s Betty Boop cartoon, and a Conn tenor sax played by "Lester Young, 1909-1959" - and embellished with a plastic gardenia worn by his lifelong friend (some say lover) Billie Holiday. Jazz aficionados can get lost amid the intimate offerings. In the "exceedingly rare" room - the size of a large closet that is kept locked - Morgenstern takes a cigar box off a shelf and opens it. In it lays a comb used by Holiday, next to one of the vocalist's glittery costume bracelets. On another shelf sits a crude sculpture of Ella Fitzgerald made of forks and spoons that held a prominent place on the diva's mantle. A book titled American Jazz Music looks ordinary enough until you peruse the who's who of autographs on its pages, including Duke Ellington's, his capital "E" resembling a flourishing treble clef. "Many of the things in their collection just wouldn't find a home anywhere else," says Becca Pulliam, producer of NPR's JazzSet, a weekly series produced at WBGO-FM in Newark. The institute staff also produces and hosts Jazz From the Archives on WBGO. Pulliam had been excited to hear that the institute had received the papers of pianist Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981), perhaps the most important female musician to emerge from jazz's first 30 years. "She saved everything," Pulliam said of the artist and composer, who was single and left no immediate family. There were love poems to Williams from pianist Bud Powell, and even a box full of cocktail napkins inscribed with written song requests by piano bar patrons. Pulliam wasn't expecting to find, among the meticulously catalogued items, a 30-year-old letter she had written to Williams asking her assistance with piano lessons. But sure enough, there it was. "It's nice to know that there's a place on earth that values the life of Mary Lou Williams," Pulliam says. "And they value it very carefully, piece by piece." Lewis Porter, a professor of music who is also a musician (he was the jam session pianist), directs the graduate program in jazz, which offers a master of fine arts degree. "We couldn't do the research without the institute. There would be no place for our students to go," says Porter, who wrote John Coltrane: His Life and Music. The institute is training a whole new pool of jazz historians. And that, Morgenstern says, is as important as a Miles Davis recording, as cherished as a Billy Strayhorn composition. "It's extremely important to preserve a historical record, but this is not a museum," he insists. "We really enjoy that we deal with people who teach and play and do research, rather than getting people who study jazz only as a dead subject." A melodic rift wafts out of one of the listening rooms. Students bustle in and out of the stacks. The live concert concludes down the hall. The Institute of Jazz Studies may be best known as a den for the dead lions, but it is clear that this is also a sanctuary where jazz still lives. ____________________________________ Contact staff writer Annette John-Hall at 215-854-4986 or [log in to unmask] (mailto:[log in to unmask]) .