I love jazz. I specifically love jazz from the early 1900s. The tinny vocal tone, the muted trumpet, the dixieland clarinet—the simplicity and purity of music from that era strikes a chord in me that few of today’s genres can match.
But in today’s world, these old recordings can be difficult to get ahold of. Seemingly forgotten by the digital music industry, it sometimes seems like I would be more likely to find older music by trolling around my neighborhood for records at yard sales than by searching the internet for digital copies. Can I ever enjoy the variety of resources modern music fans currently enjoy?
Thanks to the Library of Congress, now I can. The LOC has made an astonishing cache of historic sound recordings available, digitally, for free via their National Jukebox. And dixieland jazz isn’t the only offering. There are opera recordings, along with an ever-expanding digital collection of the 1919 Victrola Book of the Opera. John Philip Sousa’s band’s original recordings are available. Even historical speeches, such as presidential addresses from Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft, are available.
So how is the Library of Congress able to offer such an astonishing collection of treasured recordings? Sony Music Entertainment, which owns the recording companies for which the National Jukebox collection’s original recordings were issued, has granted the LOC a gratis license, which allows the institution to stream the sound recordings. Essentially, a gratis license enables one party to use a work for free, and any existing copyrights are still the property of their respective owners; this is an alternative to handing away the entire copyright and losing all rights to the material in the process.
Now, thanks to Sony and the Library of Congress, I can listen to all of the Tin Pan Alley recordings I want. It’s 100% legal, and I don’t have to give anyone a dime.