The Willis Conover Collection

My love for shortwave radio was already strong by the time I was six years old. It was fascinating to me to tune in radio stations from around the world and hear different languages, news from places I had to look up on the map, and stories from cultures I knew nothing about.

And, of course, new music.

From an early age, while listening to our own shortwave international powerhouse, the Voice of America, I would regularly hear this:

 

As a kid, the music was new and exciting to me, and that voice was soothing. That was Willis Conover, who went on the air at VOA for over 40 years, broadcasting jazz to the world. He was all but unknown in the US; around the world, however, he was bigger than life for bringing American music and culture over the Iron Curtain. Many people learned English or even became jazz musicians themselves because of Willis Conover.

I have wanted to hear some of those old recordings for many years. This summer, after many years of archiving Conover’s material, the University of North Texas received a grant and began digitizing some of the thousands of recording they have of Willis. I was excited to learn they’ve started releasing the material for all  to enjoy, thanks largely in part to Maristella Feustle, UNT Music Special Collections Librarian (and jazz guitarist).

The initial batch of material includes two compete episodes of Music USA on VOA, interviews with Dave Brubeck, Louis Armstrong, a set from Bill Evans, and much more.

If you enjoy jazz, check out this site and learn more about Willis Conover and his role in jazz history.

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Summertime Done Come And Gone

Happy almost-October! The summer has flown past and there haven’t been any additions to the Archives. However, that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been any activity.

The big news is that NTAP has officially formalized a relationship with the Sousa Archives imageand Center for American Music at the University of Illinois. Jeff Machota donated over a dozen vintage Nature’s Table shirts to the Sousa Archives, Here’s a photo of Jeff and I (left & middle) making the donation to Sousa Archivist Scott Schwartz (right):

This formally creates a procedure by which donated materials to NTAP will be transferred to the Sousa Archives for safekeeping, cataloging and preservation. In the case of recordings, the physical media (cassettes, reel-to-reels, etc) will be handed over to the Sousa Archives after NTAP digitizes them.

Scott Schwartz also provided Jeff and I guidance on creating a Deed Of Gift form for NTAP, similar to the one we fill out when NTAP gives material to the Sousa Archives. Many thanks to Scott for his assistance!

Another noteworthy item: during my last visit to C-U in August, I managed to get an oral history recording from Jeff Machota, describing his time at the Table from 1984 until the end. I hope to have that posted to the Oral History area soon.

Of course, the main thing folks are interested in is the music. Jeff and I have had very busy summers with work, and life has simply gotten in the way. I hope to get back on track and start providing new recordings at a minimum of once every month. Keep following the What’s New tab here on the ste, or the Nature’s Table group on Facebook,  and you’ll see the latest devlopments

Thanks for the support! Drop us a line if you have any questions or donations; we’d love to gear from you.

Sean

We’re Still Here!

Hi all-

Wow, has it really been a month since we’ve posted anything? Sorry about that… Jeff, Jeff and I all got busy with life and work. As much as we enjoy doing the work to get shows posted, we have to earn our daily bread.

We’ll be getting back to posting musical goodness on a regular basis. Jeff Machota just did a transfer of a great jazz set, and I’ve got some leads on our first rock set from the Table, too. Stay tuned!

Sean

Making Headway

Things continue to develop here at NaturesTable.net. Just a couple days after the web site went live, I received an email from Scott Schwartz, Director of the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music at the University of Illinois. Scott informed me they were clued in to what we were up to by my friend and one of C-U’s finest musicians, Paul Kotheimer. Schwartz said he was quite interested in the Nature’s Table Archive Project and wanted to talk about using material from NTAP as part of their collection on the Champaign-Urbana music scene, which was being spearheaded by Assistant Archivist Rory Grennan. After emailing Jeff Machota and Jeff Helgesen, I decided to fly out to C-U this past weekend and get everybody together for an in-person meeting and figure out how to proceed.

Several of us met at Crane Alley this past Saturday afternoon during a torrential downpour: Jeff Machota, Jeff Helgesen, Morgan Powell, Paul Kotheimer, Scott and Rory from the Sousa Archives and myself. We’ve agreed that that there is a lot of common ground here, and we’re all pretty excited that this music and other artifacts from the Table have a chance to be preserved for a long, long time. We’re still working out the details, but we’re all moving together in the same direction now.

I also posted the first of what I hope to be many oral histories of folks who played or worked at the Table. Check out this great interview with Nature’s Table regular Guido Sinclair, recorded in May 1987 by Paul Boyev. Thanks for sharing this recording, Paul.

That’s the latest. I hope to have another recording posted soon. Now if I can just find some time to get the site looking better!

-Sean

Welcome to Nature’s Table.net

It’s been a long time now, and not many remember how it was in the old days, not really. Not even those who were there to see and hear it as it happened, and who shared, night after night, the mysterious spell created by the talk, the laughter, grease paint, powder, perfume, sweat, alcohol, and food — all blended and simmering, like a stew on the restaurant range, and brought to a sustained moment of elusive meaning by the timbres and accents of musical instruments… -Ralph Ellison, “The Golden Age, Time Past”

 

Twenty three years later, and I still miss the Table. Lots of us do. If you were there, no further explanation is necessary. If you weren’t, just know it was an incredible place: great food, a wide cast of characters, an unparalleled  sense of community.  There was the cooking, the art, the front steps, the Augsberger Dark.

And the music… that incredible music.

Much has been preserved from Nature’s Table over the years. The bread and chocolate chip cookies and so many other treats are still available, thanks to the Nature’s Table Cookbook. The cookbook, photos,  schedules and lots more are available on Jeff Helgesen’s excellent site full of memories and history. But the music… that’s been elusive.

After talking for years about developing a site devoted to preserving the music recorded at Nature’s Table, it’s finally happening. Former Table employee Jeff Machota, long-time Champaign-Urbana taper Doug Berkman and myself have finally teamed together to try and collect and archive as many of the recordings made at this wonderful place as possible.  Many recordings were made there over the years. Some were great, some weren’t. But that was the beauty of the Table; it was a place where you could go and try.

None of this would be possible without the help of those who made the recordings in the first place.

We’re just getting this going. It’s going to hopefully be a long-term project, so bear with us while we take our first steps and figure all of this stuff out. Relax, have a Gondolette and some red beans and rice, and watch us get this off the ground.