Trevor Tolley was an English professor and, for a time, the Dean of Arts at Carleton University.
But he was more than that. He was a music lover and collector. In fact he accumulated more than 7,000 records over about 75 years. Most of the albums are jazz recordings made before 1950. He also wrote about jazz, starting at age 17. He contributed to a wide range of magazines and also wrote two books on jazz, Discographical Essays and Codas to a Life with Jazz.
Tolley’s formidable library was situated in a comfortable room inside his Victorian era home in Williamsburg, Ontario. Tolley died in March and his records have now found a new home … at Carleton University.
Tolley was born in Birmingham, England, in 1927. He joined the faculty at Carleton in 1965 and headed the Arts faculty from 1969 to 1974. He retired from teaching in 1994.
The records arrived at the university this summer and were handed to Rachel Clothier who has been organizing and cataloguing the discs since they arrived in the Audio-Visual Research Centre on campus in May. And she’s putting them on shelves that Tolley also donated.
“I was lucky to go to his home and oversee the moving of the records. I have to say that room was beautiful. He donated three of his shelving units that the records were in. They are now in the set-up that they were meant to be in. Essentially I have been opening up boxes and boxes, taking the records out and organizing them by label and label number.”
Clothier is finishing up a Master’s degree in music and culture at Carleton and she has a particular interest in the relationship between music and art.
That relationship has shown up in Tolley’s collection. One album in particular has caught her eye.
“Seeing a Jackson Pollack on Ornette Coleman’s monumental album called Free Jazz was pretty cool.”
This particular release isn’t rare, she said, “but in terms of jazz history it is a special thing. It’s one of the first albums to be fully improvisational.”
Eraly 78 records do not have a lot of accompanying information, she said. Often they don’t carry a date. They didn’t do liner notes in the early 20th century apparently.
To find out that kind of information, she has turned to a crowd-sourced data base to pin down details.
The earliest album in Tolley’s collection is also considered the very first jazz album release, she said.
The Livery Stable Blues was released in 1917. The label credits an all-white ensemble called the Original Dixieland Jass Band.
There are a lot of these early New Orleans style jazz recordings in Tolley’s collection, including legended Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong. There are also big band albums by Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Glen Miller, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Paul Whiteman, Red Nichols and Fletcher Henderson.
The collection contains a mix of American and British labels. And each label had different series and some were aimed at different audiences. One series of records carried a Race label and was marketed at African American music fans, she said.
Such a trove of music carry import value for someone such as Clothier.
“It’s fascinating to see them, the amount of them. The thoroughness of his collecting is impressive.”
As a Beatles fan, she took note of the fact that Tolley had a complete collection of Parlophone records, a German-British record company. The British side of the company signed The Beatles in 1962, after the Fab Four had been rejected by Decca. Tolley does have a few Beatles records in his donation.
But they are not the rarest. That honour belongs to Lovable by Paul Whiteman and his orchestra. It is a master pressing on the British label On His Master’s Voice. Bing Crosby sings on it and Bix Beiderbecke, who was with Whiteman for only two years, plays on the record, Clothier said. It is, she added, the only master pressing of this disc on the label. It was released by Victor Original release in the U.S. in the late 1920s. It has an appraised value of $500.
Most of the records in the collection range between $30 and $60 each. Some of the early jazz 78s from New Orleans reach $100 and $200 each. This is most expensive.
Added up, Clothier said the collection is worth as much as $200,000.
This isn’t the only major collection of jazz albums in Carleton’s care. Jacques Emond, a major figure in Ottawa’s jazz scene until his death in 2013, left his records as well, giving the university one of the largest collections of jazz recordings in Canada. The two men knew each other and were part of a vintage music association headquartered in Montreal. They also apparently loaned each other records as Clothier has found some albums with Emond’s name on them.
Clothier says these collections give music students a chance to listen to the history of recorded jazz music.
And the self-professed Beatles fan confessed she might be headed down the same path of Tolley and Emond.
“I have a feeling this will be me one day. I just like to have them. I wouldn’t say I am a professional Beatles collector but whenever the company releases something new it’s another thing to for me to get. I have all the Beatles CDs and when they remastered all the albums, I bought all of those.
Tolley and his wife also collected Canadian art and that substantial collection may also find its way to the university, she said.