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CBMR Digest is a publication of the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College Chicago

ISSN # 2168-3301spring 2014 | Volume 27, No. 1

The Reynolds Collection of Jazz and Popular Music Recordings Donated to the CBMR

Samuel V. Reynolds felt strongly that Duke Ellington was one of the greatest musical minds of the twentieth century and that he helped mold the scope of black music. His personal dedication to Ellington resulted in an impressive collection of recordings that spanned decades. His son, Mark Reynolds, who has written extensively about African-American culture and celebrity since the late 1980s, recently donated his father’s priceless collection to the CBMR. While explaining the collection’s significance to his father and to himself, he stressed the importance of the collection of music being in its original form. In an article published in PopMatters, Reynolds wrote:

Before there were MP3s, compact discs, cassettes, 12-inch singles, vinyl albums and seven-inch 45s, there were 10-inch, 78 rpm records. They were made of very heavy and brittle vinyl, and would shatter if dropped. They contained about three minutes of music per side, which made the recording of longer pieces impossible unless serialized across two or three platters. They were how Americans consumed music from the early years of the 20th century, displacing the cylinders from the dawn of the recording industry, through the ’40s, when new recording and record production technology made the 12-inch 33 1/3 rpm album (up to 20 minutes of music per side, roughly) possible.

The Reynolds collection includes sides from the 1920s to the late 1970s, with original versions of Paul Robeson’s “Ballad for Americans” and Count Basie’s “One O’Clock Jump.” It also includes several sides by legendary “Grandfather of Rock ‘n’ Roll” Louis Jordan (and his Tympany Five), cuts by jazz artists and big bands including Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Billie Holiday, and Johnny Hodges, as well as vocal groups like the Ravens, Ink Spots, and Orioles. A number of small labels are represented featuring blues, jazz, and popular music, including Atlas, Jubilee, Vocalion, Keynote, Beacon, Bluebird, and Black and White. 

However, Duke Ellington was clearly the focus of Samuel Reynolds’ collection. Virtually every original recording that the musician made as a bandleader during the years 1927–1941, is included in the Reynolds collection, on labels both large and small, including Master, Columbia, Capitol, and Musicraft. There are also an Ellington “Musical Smart Set” 4-disc album from RCA Victor and a two-volume collector’s series set from Brunswick titled “Ellingtonia” (9 discs). 

Mark Reynolds states that while in college he heard Steely Dan’s remake of his personal favorite Ellington work, “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo,” which piqued his interest in his father’s collection and eventually led him to donate the collection to the CBMR so that it would be preserved.

“I had an appreciation for Duke Ellington, but I was definitely not a fan like my father was,” Reynolds said.

Although his father never played the 78 rpm records, due to their fragile state, Mark Reynolds said he felt that he connected to the records personally. “Dad wasn’t the most talkative, but I know he probably talked to us through the records.”

The Reynolds Collection of Jazz and Popular Music Recordings is held in the CBMR Library and Archives, which is open to the public 9am–5pm, Monday through Friday.

Mark Reynolds has written extensively about African-American culture and celebrity since the late 1980s. He began his print journalism career with the weekly Cleveland Edition and was a longtime contributor to its successor, Cleveland Free Times. He has also written for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and other publications in Cleveland and Philadelphia. His national credits include reviews and features for the college-distributed entertainment magazine Hear/Say, and his reporting on the travel industry for the trade magazine Black Meetings & Tourism. His media criticism was honored in 2004 by the Ohio chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Jasmine Browley is a freelance writer, a graduate student in journalism at Columbia College Chicago, and the CBMR’s Social Media Community Manager intern.

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