J-DISC: The Technology of Discovering Jazz
Digital technology and the Web are bringing treasures, both new and newly discovered, to music lovers every day. Using and enjoying these vast riches is a different story: the prospect overwhelms listeners and even stumps experts. Nowhere is this dilemma perhaps more exquisite than in jazz, which has a ninety-five year legacy of recordings and a persistent drive to innovate through recording technology.
The Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University, with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, is leading an interdisciplinary team to find better ways to access, organize, and evaluate information about jazz on record and on the Web.
Jazz studies experts at the Center and specialists in information management and engineering at Columbia and other institutions are working together to build J-DISC, an Internet database application. The site went live in June of 2012 (jdisc.columbia.edu) and will continue to grow in scope and functions during the next two years. J-DISC will provide rich information on jazz recordings with demographic and cultural information free of charge to the public. Yet, as it gathers more data, J-DISC will eventually offer a depth of knowledge on jazz not achieved by more familiar online resources such as iTunes, MusicBrainz, or Pandora. Researchers, educators, and students can mine this data for insights on improvisation, artists' careers, changes in jazz styles, the recording industry, and various other topics.
Prof. John Szwed, Director of the Center for Jazz Studies, believes that “because much of it is improvised, it’s difficult to imagine telling the history of jazz without reference to what gets recorded. Yet a wealth of data about jazz recordings is in danger of being lost, due to changes in the industry and the shift away from print media. We need to transform discography to deal with a new world without discs.”