Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers Has a New Director
Wayne Winborne has a knack for reeling off liner-note trivia from classic ’70s jazz albums, and in his 20s he gave serious thought to becoming a professional saxophone player. But he has never sat behind a circulation desk or charged anybody a fine for returning a past-due book.
“I heard the words ‘library’ and ‘archive’ and I thought, ‘I’m not that guy,’ ” he said recently from a conference room at the institute that doubles as a gallery for showing off treasures like Curly Russell’s bass.
For the last five years, Mr. Winborne, 55, of Brooklyn, had run the Winborne Group, a consulting company with offices in New York City and Los Angeles. Eight years before that, he was vice president for business diversity outreach at Prudential Financial in Newark.
“Then I found out about the vision behind this job, and I thought, ‘That’s me,’ ” he said. Mr. Winborne accepted the newly created position in June. He started on July 15.
“Wayne is positioned to be the catalyst for exponentially growing interest in jazz and audiences for jazz,” said John Schreiber, president and chief executive of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and co-chairman of the search committee that selected Mr. Winborne after a nationwide screening process that lasted months.
The institute, which houses more than 150,000 recordings and 6,000 books, was founded in 1952. Before Ken Burns made his 10-part, Emmy-nominated mini-series “Jazz” in 2000, he spent a year exploring the institute’s trove of recordings. And the actor Forest Whitaker visited the archives in 2011 for research on a film about Louis Armstrong, said Adriana P. Cuervo, associate director of the institute.
In 2013, it was designated a literary landmark by the New Jersey Center for the Book, an affiliate of the Library of Congress. Students and faculty members in the Rutgers Master of Arts in Jazz History and Research program rely heavily on its collections, Ms. Cuervo said.
The program is the only one of its kind in the United States, said Peter T. Englot, senior vice chancellor for public affairs and chief of staff at Rutgers.
But Mr. Schreiber knows that it will take more than celebrity sightings at the institute — even if it is an authoritative site for jazz academics — to drum up mainstream interest in jazz.
“What’s the cliché about the theater?” Mr. Schreiber said. “They call it ‘the great invalid.’ Jazz has been the great invalid for 100 years. It’s always being referred to as a dying art form.”
Brimming with books, vinyl records, tapes, CDs, DVDs and dozens of instruments played by jazz greats, including a Lester Young saxophone and one of Miles Davis’s trumpets, the institute seems better suited to memorialize jazz than to resuscitate it. Yet jazz seems to be gaining new life, Mr. Schreiber said.
“There is actually more jazz training in universities than in history right now, and there are more young players out there working than ever before,” he said.
Mr. Winborne is convinced that the institute can help to promote jazz and revive its swing.
“We’re going to leverage what we have here to become a pipeline to the wider community,” he said. Public programs are still in the planning stages, but Mr. Winborne intends to work with local jazz personalities, as well as institutions such as the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and WBGO-FM, to create events like a jazz film festival and what he called “a series of conversations.”
“I hate to call it a lecture series because that sounds like academia, and that’s the kiss of death,” he said.
“I used to go sit in at Wally’s, which was this jazz place in Boston that was known for its jam sessions,” said Mr. Winborne. Those sessions convinced him not to pursue a career as a musician, he said.
“I’d go play with cats like Jean Toussaint, who played with Art Blakey and those guys, and I would get absolutely sliced up,” he said. “But I was fearless and I loved the music and the camaraderie.”
Mr. Winborne said he plans to apply that same fearlessness at the institute. He hopes the result will be a camaraderie around Newark to rival some of the tightest-knit jazz communities ever documented in its archives.
“The buzz we all felt when we were in our 20s about this music? That’s coming back,” he said. “We’re going to grow that here.”
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