While We Played Dances is an activation by Shine Portrait Studio. Conceptualized by artist and RU-N professor Nick Kline and digitally montaged by photographer Anthony Alvarez, the work was created in conjunction with the upcoming Tanner Lecture on Human Values Festival, taking place at Rutgers University - Newark on April 21-28, 2019, under the title of “Flowing: Human Migrations and Human Values.” In conjunction with the Institute of Jazz Studies, this installation activates the themes of human movements and agency because, in the words of RU-N professor and New Arts Justice founder Salamishah Tillet, “jazz was born in and from the Great Migration as America's first modern movement.”
A conceptual portrait, While We Played Dances takes its title from a passage on the first page of Louis Armstrong’s autobiographical manuscript, which can be seen in the installation. Born in 1901 in New Orleans, LA, Louis Armstrong was a monumental jazz trumpeter, vocalist, composer, and actor. His life ended in 1971 in Corona, Queens, NY.
The manuscript is comprised of a loose stack of handwritten notes in green ink. Each small page is about 5x7 inches, and contained within a folio lined with marbled, patterned paper. Armstrong’s first-person recollections of travelling with Fletcher Henderson’s band (“We were the first colored big band to hit the road,”) describe music gigs but also moments of relaxation, such as his love of swimming. The shallow focus in the photograph on the word “swimming,” and the emphasis on marbled paper, both amplify ideas of water, flow, improvisation, movement, and freedom. While We Played Dances also alludes to the backdrop of larger social movements, such as people migrating from the South in pursuit of opportunities and racial freedoms in cities like Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and beyond.
The precious and lively manuscript itself is housed in the Institute of Jazz Studies (IJS) archive. The contents of this manuscript, created during the mid-1940's, became the basis of Louis Armstrong’s second published autobiography Louis Armstrong, in His Own Words (Oxford University Press, 1999). Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong (1900-1971) was born and raised in New Orleans and migrated to Chicago to work with his idol and mentor Joe “King” Oliver in 1921. Armstrong details life events which lead up to his migration north in his first published memoir, Satchmo: My life in New Orleans, which was first published in 1952 and reprinted by Da Capo Press in 1986. The IJS holds a typescript, typed by Armstrong himself, for this book. Eleven-time GRAMMY Award winner and IJS Director Emeritus Dan Morgenstern wrote the forward for the 1986 edition of Satchmo. Armstrong went on to appear in film and television, toured the globe and made thousands of recordings, including a session with Chick Webb and his Orchestra in Camden, New Jersey in 1932.
The Institute of Jazz Studies (IJS) came to Rutgers University-Newark in 1967 and is the world’s foremost archive and research facility dedicated solely to jazz. Located in Dana Library at Rutgers University-Newark, the IJS has provided Kline inspiration for this installation. Kline was introduced to the Institute’s holdings via an archivist-led tour, and he made subsequent visits to work with primary sources from archival collections and other library holdings such as monographs, sound recordings and periodicals.
This art installation is a partnership between the IJS, Shine Portrait Studio and Rutgers University Libraries which commissions contemporary artists to reflect on the Jazz archive, create an art installation, and participate in related educational programming. Funding support for these projects comes in part from Express Newark.