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The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts Acquires Collections of George Avakian and Anahid Ajemian

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Rich Archives Document Illustrious Careers of Record Executive, Violinist and Their Impact on 20th Century Music 

Contains Rare Materials and Recordings from Composers and Performers Including Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, John Cage, Henry Cowell, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Johnny Mathis, Sonny Rollins, Ravi Shankar, Fats Waller and Others

March 31, 2014 - The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts has acquired the archives of George Avakian and Anahid Ajemian, the husband and wife whose remarkable careers each helped shape the music industry, as well as produce and record some of its greatest stars. The Avakian Collection will provide the most complete documentation of the work of a 20th century recording executive, whose career with Columbia Records and other labels encompasses a golden age of recorded jazz, popular and classical music. The Ajemian Collection offers access to one of the foremost violin and piano duos of its time, which commissioned, premiered and recorded works by some of the most prominent classical composers of the 20th century. Together, their collections form an extraordinary resource for the study of jazz, popular and modern classical music, the recording industry, and more. 

The Avakian and Ajemian Archives amount to more than 160 linear feet of correspondence, papers, photographs, commercial and non-commercial sound recordings, a large number of which have never been available to the public before. The Avakian materials alone include hundreds of recordings, broadcasts, live venue recordings, studio takes and complete recording sessions of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Sonny Rollins, Bing Crosby, Johnny Mathis, Peggy Lee, Keith Jarrett, Chet Baker, Dave Brubeck and Ravi Shankar. The Ajemian portion of the collection is equally rich in unreleased recordings by composers and performers such as John Cage, Henry Cowell, Alan Hovhaness, Aram Khachaturian and Lou Harrison. 

"The wealth of information and rare materials contained in the Avakian and Ajemian Archives is truly remarkable," said Jacqueline Z. Davis, Barbara G. and Lawrence A. Fleishman Executive Director of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. "George and Anahid's collections not only tell the stories of their incredible careers, but also shed light on the important relationship between producer and artist, and performer and composer. The Avakian and Ajemian Archive is an invaluable resource, and an exciting addition to The Library for the Performing Arts' holdings. The fact that the Avakian and Ajemian Archive will complement, enhance, and expand so many of our existing offerings in the Music Division, Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound and throughout the Library is a testament to George and Anahid's influence on 20th century music." 

"We are thrilled to have our collections available at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts," said George Avakian and Anahid Ajemian. "The Library is an incredible resource for anyone interested in music, and especially for anyone interested in the artists and performers we worked with throughout our careers. We feel that our archives will very much be at home at the Library."

George Avakian has been actively involved in almost all aspects of the music world, and is one of the most illustrious and respected executives in the field of recorded jazz. A founding officer of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), Avakian created one of the first collections of historic jazz recordings and a canon of jazz classics (Columbia Records' "Hot Jazz Classics" series), the first to organize unreleased alternative takes, and with the insightful commentary and background information he wrote to accompany these recordings, he set the standard for explanatory album liner notes. Avakian oversaw the issuing of Columbia's first jazz LP live recording - the enormously successful 1938 Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall Concert -- and produced the first live recordings of the Newport Jazz Festival. Avakian also signed Dave Brubeck and Miles Davis to Columbia and produced some of their most important recordings, and during his career at RCA Victor signed Sonny Rollins for what was at the time the most lucrative record contract with a jazz artist. Avakian produced Ravi Shankar's first U.S. release, and signed Johnny Mathis and produced his debut album. In the course of establishing the emergent Warner Brothers label, Avakian signed the Everly Brothers, Bill Haley and the Comets, and discovered Bob Newhart, producing the first comedy album to win a GRAMMY Award. Avakian later shifted careers, becoming the personal manager of ground-breaking pianist Keith Jarrett.

Some highlights from the Avakian collection include:

  • Unreleased recordings of and interviews with artists including Cannonball Adderley, Count Basie/Lester Young, Dave Brubeck, Eddie Condon, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Coleman Hawkins, Earl Hines, Keith Jarrett, Jimmy McPartland, Bob Newhart, Sonny Rollins, Ravi Shankar, Willie "The Lion" Smith, Fats Waller, Mary Lou Williams, and Teddy Wilson
  • Never-before-seen photographs with artists throughout Avakian's career
  • Original handwritten music as recorded by various artists in the recording studio
  • Correspondence with Bob Newhart, Dave Brubeck, Sonny Rollins, Toots Thielemans, Francis Coppola, James Earl Jones, and Woody Allen
  • Lectures, notes, published and unpublished articles, oral histories, essays and interviews documenting Avakian's personal recollections and professional activities
  • Various documents detailing the histories of John Lewis’s Orchestra USA which he helped organize and manage, the development of the 33 1/3 LP format, and Avakian's creation of the first 78 rpm jazz album
  • Extensive materials related to: Louis Armstrong, including Avakian's research on Armstrong's and Bix Beiderbecke's copyrighted compositions; the dramatic story behind the Miles Davis's signing to Columbia Records, including a copy of the contract; the discovery of Bob Newhart

Violinist Anahid Ajemian is a founding member of the Composers String Quartet, specializing in commissioning and performing new works by major contemporary composers. Performing as a duo with her pianist sister Maro, Ajemian commissioned and premiered new pieces by American contemporary classical masters including Lou Harrison, Henry Cowell, Aram Khachaturian, and John Cage. The Ajemian sisters were instrumental to the success of Cage and Cowell, as well as other major contemporary composers, through their world-wide introduction of their compositions and recordings, many of which were composed for the sisters. Maro, in particular, played a major role in the planning, execution and performance of a large portion of MGM’s eclectic contemporary music catalog supervised by Edward Cole.

Highlights from Ajemian's collections include: 

  • Unreleased and rare recordings of major 20th century composers and performers including Béla Bartók, John Cage, Henry Cowell, Lou Harrison, Alan Hovhaness, Charles Ives, Aram Khachaturian, Yehudi Menuhin, Kurt Weill, Carlos Surinach as well as Anahid and Maro Ajemian themselves
  • Correspondence with John Cage, Edgard Varèse, Alan Hovhaness, Henry Cowell, Ernst Krenek, and others
  • Annotated string parts from Ajemian's performances and recording sessions with the Composers String Quartet
  • Scripts, performance notes, and programs
  • Contracts and other business materials

After the collections are processed by archivists and preservationists, they will be made available for researchers at The Library for the Performing Arts in Lincoln Center.

About The New York Public Library For The Performing Arts
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts houses one of the world’s most extensive combination of circulating, reference, and rare archival collections in its field. These materials are available free of charge, along with a wide range of special programs, including exhibitions, seminars, and performances. An essential resource for everyone with an interest in the arts — whether professional or amateur — the Library is known particularly for its prodigious collections of non-book materials such as historic recordings, videotapes, autograph manuscripts, correspondence, sheet music, stage designs, press clippings, programs, posters and photographs. The Library is part of The New York Public Library system, which has 90 locations in the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island, and is a lead provider of free education for all.  

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