Yale Library Preserves Rare Footage of Jazz Legend Benny Goodman | Connecticut Public Radio
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Yale Library Preserves Rare Footage of Jazz Legend Benny Goodman

Jun 18, 2015

In 2008, the library's Benny Goodman film stock was starting to deteriorate.

More than 100 personal film reels of jazz legend Benny Goodman have been saved from permanent damage thanks to an extensive restoration project at Yale University. 

The reels are among the Benny Goodman Papers housed at the Irving S. Gilmore Music Library -- a vast collection of musical arrangements, 5,000 photographs, scrapbooks, and 500 audio recordings. Goodman moved to Stamford in the 1940s, and was a regular performer at Yale University.

"Goodman had a relationship with Yale over the last few decades before his passing," said Goodman scholar David Jessup. "Literally about a week before he died, Goodman had a meeting with the Yale University librarian, and as it turns out, he had contacted his lawyer, and made sure that was where all of that material was going to go."

The Goodman Papers have been safe and sound at the Gilmore Library for nearly 30 years, but in 2008, Remi Castonguay -- who until recently was the public services project manager at the Gilmore Library --noticed a telltale sign that the film stock was starting to deteriorate.

"You could smell a pretty intense smell of vinegar," Castonguay said.

Film preservationists call it vinegar syndrome. "Sixteen and 35 millimeter film have an acetate base, and after a while, the film starts eating itself up," Castonguay said.

Remi Castonguay pored over all of Goodman's film reels for content and damage.
Credit Yale University

The clock was ticking on the film reels. Castonguay applied for, and received, a grant from the Arcadia fund to preserve the film. The first step: catalog each film, and then determine which reels were truly unique to the Goodman Papers, and get them restored.

David Jessup was brought in to help catalog the footage, and was amazed.

"There was a 1941 home movie of a house warming party, shot by one of Benny's sidemen. Being able to see the band members at that point was fun," Jessup said.

The collection also had performances, including a rare 1955 film of Goodman's small group in a recording session.

With the film reels prioritized and cataloged, Castonguay digitized each reel, and then sent the film to Colorlab in New York for the restoration process. Colorlab went with an analog to analog transfer, meaning the original film reel was duplicated onto another film reel.

"The main difference is that the duplicated reel is polyester based, and that's a very durable material," said Castonguay, who admitted that at first, the process seemed counterintuitive. Under the proper conditions, the film stock will last 500 years, he said.

With the film reels safe for the next few hundred years, the next step in the process will be to sync up the audio associated to the reels. Castonguay said access to the films will soon be available on site at the Gilmore Music Library at Yale.