The collection documents Gabler's involvement in the recording industry and the evolution of Commodore Records. The documentation begins with the Commodore Radio Shop through its evolution to Commodore Music Shop. The collection also includes the beginnings of the Commodore record label and information detailing Gabler's 30 years as staff producer and later Vice-President in Charge of Artists and Repertoire at Decca Records (1941-1974). There is a small collection of black and white photographs chronicling the early years at the Commodore Music Shop, as well as jam sessions, often held at Jimmy Ryan's on 52nd Street. The collection also includes a vast array of audio recordings (mainly audiodiscs).
Scope and Contents:
Papers documenting Gabler's life and career, including: correspondence with family members, friends and people in the music business such as Sammy Davis, Jr. and Lucille Armstrong (Louis' wife); Gabler's writings, including an autobiography and numerous articles; music manuscripts and sheet music, the lyrics for some of which were written by Gabler, and other compositions written by others, including Red Norvo, Eddie Condon and others; legal and financial records, including royalty statements, tax papers and banking records; business records for Commodore and Decca, including correspondence from persons such as Norman Granz, Burl Ives, and Leonard Feather; Commodore and Decca legal records including licensing and trademark documents; publicity materials; production records, such as production logs and liner notes; printed materials such as catalogs, newsletters, magazines, and periodicals; papers relating to Gabler's affiliation with Bert Kaempfert, including correspondence, sheet music and lyrics, and production records; photographs of Gabler and his family and of numerous others in the music industry, including Bing Crosby, Billie Holiday, Sammy Davis Jr., Bert Kaempfert, the Mills Brothers, Rex Stewart, Cootie Williams, Benny Goodman, Coleman Hawkins, Gene Krupa, Louis Jordan, Peck Kelly, Sidney Bechet, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, and numerous others, many taken in the studio during recording sessions; and audio recordings.
The collection is arranged into twenty-seven series.
Series 1: Personal Correspondence
Series 2: Writings by Milt Gabler
Series 3: Music Manuscripts and Sheet Music
Series 4: Personal Financial and Legal Records
Series 5: Commodore and Decca Correspondence and Gabler Rolodex
Series 6: Commodore and Decca Legal Records
Series 7: Commodore and Decca Financial
Series 8: Publicity
Series 9: Commodore and Decca Projects
Series 10: Production Records
Series 11: Commodore General Correspondence
Series 12: Commodore Financial Records
Series 13: Commodore Legal Records
Series 14: Commodore Production Records
Series 15: Commodore, Various Projects and Topical Files
Series 16: Commodore Publicity Records
Series 17: Business Cards
Series 18: Catalogs
Series 19: Newsletters
Series 20: Serials
Series 21: Monographs
Series 22: Newsclippings, Periodical Articles, and Advertisements
Series 23: Correspondence with Organizations
Series 24: Organization Membership cards
Series 25: Bert Kaempfert
Series 26: Photographs
Series 27: Audio Discs
Biographical / Historical:
Milt Gabler was born in Harlem, New York on May 20, 1911. He began managing his father's radio and small appliance store, the Commodore Radio Shop, while still a teen. Gabler convinced his father to expand the business and sell audio recordings. Soon Gabler pioneered the concept of marketing reissues by leasing discontinued masters from various record companies (mainly Victor, Columbia, Vocalion, and Brunswick). Eventually the Gablers changed the name of the family business to the Commodore Music Shop. By the early 1930's Gabler founded the first mail order record label, United Hot Clubs of America, to reach an even greater audience of jazz enthusiasts.
In 1935 Gabler began publicizing the music shop by staging a series of Sunday afternoon jam sessions at several different recording studios along 52nd Street. Later the jam sessions moved to the nearby jazz club, Jimmy Ryan's.
In 1938 Gabler founded the Commodore music label. It was the first American recording label created exclusively for jazz music. A recording session for Eddie Condon's Windy City Seven at Brunswick Studios was the first original Commodore recording. In 1939 Gabler recorded Billie Holiday's controversial "Strange Fruit", which became Commodore's first major commercial success. Other notable Commodore artists include Sidney Bechet, Jonah Jones, Peck Kelley, Red Norvo, Ralph Sutton, and Teddy Wilson.
Gabler began as a staff producer at Decca Records in 1941 and worked with artists from many different musical genres: Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Brenda Lee, the Weavers, and Louis Jordan, among others. Gabler also began writing lyrics in collaboration with Decca songwriters/composers. In 1954 Gabler produced the first recordings by Bill Haley and the Comets. In addition, Gabler continued to run the Commodore recording label until 1957. Gabler also managed the Commodore Music Shop until 1958, when he began working full-time at Decca as Vice-President in Charge of Artists and Repertoire.
Throughout the 1960's Gabler served as lyricist in a number of collaborations with Bert Kaempfert and Herbert Rehbein. Gabler retained his influential position at Decca until 1974 when the corporation moved to the West Coast. Through the Decca years, Gabler had saved the Commodore masters and in 1974 began to reissue the recordings through Atlantic, Columbia Special Products, and finally United Hot Clubs of America. In 1987 Mosaic Records also began to reissue the entire catalog of Commodore recordings.
In the last decades of his life Gabler remained active in a number of professional organizations, most notably the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which bestowed upon him a Grammy lifetime achievement award in 1991. Gabler died in New York on July 20, 2001.
Collection donated by Milt Gabler estate, through Lee Gabler.
The collection is open for research use. Some materials restricted; but most are available for unrestricted research access on site by appointment.
Several items of personal correspondence contained private medical information about living individuals. The originals were removed and will remain sealed until 2030. Copies with the sensitive information redacted are available for research use in the collection.
Access to audio recordings for which no reference copy exists requires special arrangements with Archives Center staff. Please ask the reference archivist for additional information.
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.
The Rex Stewart Papers consist of book manuscripts, scrapbooks, photographs, correspondence, genealogical records, newsclippings, periodicals, and ephemera materials that document the life and career of Rex Stewart, as well as the history of jazz from the perspective of one who witnessed first-hand the genre's "golden era". The collection is organized into four series: Series 1: Book Manuscripts, circa 1950-1972; Series 2: Scrapbooks and Photo Albums, c.1930-1959; Series 3: Photographs, c.1875 and circa 1920-1967; and Series 4: Memorabilia, 1880-1905 and 1924-1988.
Of particular interest are the book manuscripts that were produced from the 1950's until Stewart's death in 1967. These document Stewart's impressions of and interactions with such jazz legends as Fletcher Henderson, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington. Interesting photographic images include "A Great Day in Harlem", taken in 1958, portraits and candid shots of Rex Stewart, Duke Ellington, Benny Carter and others jazz greats, photographs autographed by Rex Stewart, a portrait of the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra at Danceland, tintypes of Stewart's family, a photo album and scrapbook documenting Stewart's 1948 tour in Berlin, Germany, and a photo album containing candid photographs of Ellington and Stewart's family. Other materials of interest include Stewart's cabaret card from 1959-1962 and some Stewart family genealogy records from 1880 to 1905.
Overall, the Rex Stewart Papers exist as a unique look into the creative process and life of a leading jazz figure of the 1930's through the 1960's. Stewart's colorful and poetic writing allows the reader to experience first-hand the excitement and honesty of jazz.
the collection is arranged into four series.
Biographical / Historical:
Rex William Stewart Jr.(1907-1967) was born in Philadelphia on February 22, 1907. He received musical inspiration from his parents, who played piano and sang in both religious and social settings, and from his maternal grandmother, Angelina Denby Johnson, who wrote poetry and hymns. Stewart took up the cornet as a teenager, playing in several small time bands in Washington D.C. and New York. His first big break came in 1926 when he was invited to join the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra as a replacement for Louis Armstrong. However, he did not become a regular member of the orchestra until 1928. Stewart remained with Fletcher Henderson until 1933 when he unsuccessfully tried to form his own band. In 1934, he worked briefly for Louis Russell before being invited to join the Duke Ellington Orchestra. As Ellington's lead cornetist, Stewart became widely known for his Aunique conversational style of playing and experimentation with half-valve effects. He also co-composed several numbers with Ellington including "Boy Meets Horn" and "Morning Glory". In addition, Stewart led small-group recording sessions during the late thirties with Ellington and his fellow sidemen, including Johnny Hodges and Harry Carney.
Rex Stewart left Ellington's orchestra in 1945 and briefly played with Jazz at the Philharmonic. He toured Europe as a soloist and leader of several bands between 1947 and 1951. It was also during this period that Stewart began to lecture and write about jazz. In the fifties and sixties, he entered into semi-retirement in order to concentrate on his writing. Stewart continued to perform periodically with numerous small jazz ensembles on the festival circuit. He was instrumental in the organization and recording of the Fletcher Henderson Reunion band in 1958 and 1959. Stewart died on September 7, 1967 in Los Angeles. A collection of his essays, Jazz Masters of the 30's, was published posthumously in 1972 by Macmillan Publishing Company.
Materials in the Archives Center
Anne Kennedy Collection, 1959-1967 (AC 506)
Duke Ellington Collection, 1927-1982 (AC 301)
Mrs. Claire Gordon, Stewart's companion, co-writer, and recipient of his estate, donated the Rex Stewart Papers to the National Museum of American History on January 3, 1992 and July 18, 1994.
Collection is open for research.
Reproduction fees for commercial use. All rights transferred to Museum in Deed of Gift.