Provenance with a Gendered Lens upon Jazz and Archives

As in the trail one can follow in the story of Lovie Austin, we learn that the archival remnants of lives structure what is knowable and how it is known. William Russell, for example, Sherrie Tucker's source for so much material about women musicians, was curator of the Hogan Jazz Archives from 1958-1965, but he was also a musician himself, a collector, and a record storeowner. Knowing all these things and more about him, one can better understand his collection, can work with it as that of one individual, and consider his aims, his limitations, and his biases.

Most importantly, when one looks at Tucker’s footnotes and those of other scholars, one begins on the trail leading to the provenance of materials. The first name in a footnote is the creator and the location of the materials can lead us to find the context of creation. Provenance is one of the most central of all archival principles. Provenance embodies the need to know the individual, family, or organization that created or received the items in a collection. The principle of provenance or respect des fonds dictates that records of different origins (provenance) be kept separate to preserve their integrity.

Russell understood that to be remembered requires documentation, requires even the oddly sounding “written-ness.” Feminist scholars working with archival collections look also to other aspects of provenance, such as the bystanders who might be present in the creation of archival materials. Tucker built upon the partially obscured context of William Russell’s sources by asking other questions beyond who are the women in jazz. She asked, in part, and asks others to continuing asking, about the sounds, instruments, and musical activities considered appropriate for women at a particular time and place. She wants to know more about musical activities considered appropriate for men and women; about "norms" in musical cultures differing across race, ethnicity, class, religion, neighborhood, or other social factors.

This gendered lens on women in jazz visualizes for others the idea that women singers and piano players had more traditional roles than did other women jazz musicians. Especially as piano players, they assumed a role long thought appropriate for women in the churches, parlors, and other private gatherings. Archives too distinguish, as we have seen, between public and private roles. Recordkeepers in the public realm are more apt to be men and in the private realm more apt to be women.