Carleton inherits late prof's vast jazz trove

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Carleton inherits late prof's vast jazz trove

Carleton inherits late prof's vast jazz trove

Rachel Clothier has spent the summer opening up boxes of 78 RPM records, cataloguing them, and carefully filling shelf upon shelf in a room at Carleton University's Audio Visual Resource Centre. 

With several thousand recordings now arranged alphabetically, the master's student in music and culture is about to turn her attention to the remaining boxes of 33 RPM vinyl recordings. There are thousands of those, too. 

For Clothier, it's been a dream summer job. 

"I'm learning so much about the history of jazz, the history of recording technologies, records. It's an amazing collection." 

That collection, primarily jazz recordings made before 1950, is a gift from Trevor Tolley, a former English professor at Carleton and a serious aficionado of jazz recordings. 

The recordings represent 75 years of collecting for Tolley, who died in March.  

Love for music lives on

His love for the musical form lives on in his collection, said Clothier, whose summer employment at Carleton's AVRC was the result of a federal grant from the Young Canada Works program.

"I love how much he loved jazz. It's nice, I think, to spend your whole life [building a collection], and at least it comes to a place like this and it can be appreciated for what it is."

Tolley, born in Birmingham, England, in 1927, arrived at Carleton in 1965, where he was dean of the Faculty of Arts from 1969 to 1974. He retired from teaching in 1994. 

His passion for jazz began long before that. He started writing about jazz at 17, contributing to publications such as Discography, Pickup, Jazz Journal, Jazz Monthly, Vintage Jazz Mart and Coda, Canada's jazz magazine. He wrote two books on jazz, Discographical Essays and Codas to a Life with Jazz.

Monthly meetings

Tolley was president of the Montreal Vintage Music Society. The group, which included former CKCU radio host Ron Sweetman and former Ottawa jazz festival director Jacques Emond, met monthly, with members giving dissertations on jazz artists and playing cherished recordings for each other.

According to Carleton music professor Jesse Stewart, the meetings would last for hours. It during one of those get-togethers that Tolley told Stewart he planned to leave his collection of rare recordings to the university. 

"He said, 'I'm not a young man. I would like to bequeath my record collection to Carleton University,' and we actually asked Ron Sweetman to appraise the collection," Stewart recalled.

After months of work, Sweetman pegged the collection's value at $200,000. 


Jazz greats

Now Duke Ellington, Paul Whiteman, Bix Beiderbecke, Charlie Parker, Jellyroll Morton and hundreds of other jazz greats are packed into a room in the St. Patrick's Building, on custom shelves from Tolley's home. 

"Trevor took very good care of his collection. They're in very good shape," Stewart said. "We need to make sure these [recordings] continue to be taken care of."

The recordings have now been added to a gift from Emond's collection, making Carleton's jazz trove likely the largest in Canada. 

Clothier will curate an exhibit of the Tolley collection at the university in September.

A founding board member of SAW Gallery, Tolley and his wife Glenda Patrick moved to Williamsburg, south of Winchester, Ont., in the 1970s. There, he became a municipal councillor and worked to create affordable housing in the community.

The Tolleys have also donated their family home and a substantial art collection to Carleton, which will be transferred to the university upon Patrick's passing.