More than 300 reels of 16mm black and white and color film, silent and sound, fiction and documentary motion picture film documenting jazz and related musical performances, social and popular dance styles and performances, jazz musicians, performance locales, and documentation of African-American popular culture. A list of featured performers in the collection is shown below. The films are frequently compilations produced by Smith for lectures.
Scope and Contents:
The collection consists of 352 reels of 16mm motion picture film. Most of the film is 16mm black and white and sound (composite optical track print), although a few titles are silent or in color. The collection is comprised of compilation reels created by Ernie Smith to accompany his lectures, topical compilation reels created by Ernie Smith, compilation reels created by the Archives Center, and single title reels. The Archives Center produced master and reference video copies using a wet-gate telecine film-to-tape transfer system. Titles were often combined to allow for increased ease of handling, storage, and duplication.
The collection is strongest in the areas of jazz dance styles including Lindy Hop and tap, overviews of jazz musical performers and styles; specific jazz musicians and performers including Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Woody Herman, Artie Shaw, Bob Crosby, Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Jack Teagarden as well as a wide range of female vocalists; and documentation of the New York jazz and club scene. The collection includes feature films and excerpts from feature films, Soundies and other film shorts, television kinescopes, and documentary films.
The collection is arranged into one series and is not arranged in accordance with standard archival procedures. The breadth of the collection and the existence of so many multiple topic and/or performer compilation reels made it impossible to impose traditional archival series order. Therefore, each reel is described at the item level in the container list.
Biographical / Historical:
Ernie Smith began collecting jazz-related film in 1955. He wrote the entry about jazz film in the "Grove Dictionary of Jazz," and worked with Marshall Stearns on the book "Jazz Dance."
Ernest (Ernie) Smith began collecting jazz and jazz dance films during the mid-1950s. An Art Director for a New York advertising agency, Smith had a long-standing interest in jazz and jazz dance that began during his youth in Pittsburgh, Pa. Early on, Smith discovered that jazz music was best appreciated while dancing. He became an accomplished Lindy Hopper, frequenting both white and African American ballrooms.
His job at the advertising agency supported Smith's two passions - painting and jazz dance and music. Smith was also a film enthusiast so, in 1954, after taking a jazz class at the New School taught by Marshall Stearns, a leading jazz scholar, he began collecting examples of jazz and jazz dance on film. In the process of creating his film collection, Smith became one of the leading authorities on jazz and jazz dance films. He collaborated with Stearns on the 1964 book Jazz Dance, compiling the book's jazz dance film listing. He also wrote the extensive entry on jazz film for the 1988 edition of New Grove Dictionary of Jazz .
Smith built his film collection by identifying films of potential interest and acquiring them through trade and purchase. He created lecture reels on specific topics -- the history of jazz, social dance, tap dance, Duke Ellington, Lindy Hop -- and presented lecture/screenings nationally and internationally. He also provided footage for numerous documentaries and maintained active relationships with filmmakers, other film collectors, jazz scholars, the swing dance community, and musicians.
Ernie Smith donated his film collection to the Archives Center in 1993. He continues to lecture and participate in swing dance activities, but he devotes the majority of his time to painting and related artistic pursuits.
The Archives Center acquired the collection from Ernie Smith in 1993.
Collection is open for research. Gloves must be worn when handling unprotected photographs and negatives. Contact the Archives Center at 202-633-3270.
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.