Martha before Erroll: Location and the Archive | Erroll Garner Tuesdays

The following post is part of “Erroll Garner Tuesdays,” a semester-long blog series written by University of Pittsburgh music doctoral students in the seminar titled Music, Media, and the Archive: Jazz Collections of Pittsburgh. It was originally published by the University of Pittsburgh.


The original model for this (my final) post was to explore the term “location.” As a meditation on my four-month experience as a student interacting with Garner materials in the University Archives, I intended to unpack the various notions of the archive as a site, creator, and agent of location. To answer this question, I was going to examine the relationships between the city of Pittsburgh as a physical location holding communal and individual memories of Garner and the ULS archive as a location of memory: what does the archive’s location in Pittsburgh say about Garner? Where do we locate Garner in the archive? Is there an attempt at locating an authentic Garner? An attempt at a location of Garner’s significance?

This post is still about location, but in a different context. Through the stumbling upon of new materials, I have been afforded the opportunity to mediate upon my own experience of the relocation of memory. The archive is a place of constant change and juxtaposition of location in two ways. 1) The archive is a site where objects are collected and physically juxtaposed, assembled, arranged, placed or misplaced, and categorized. The physical object exists alone—it is its own location—but also in comparison to other objects in the archive. The physicality of the lone object is placed in a juxtaposed state against a backdrop of similarity and difference, the larger location of the archive. 2) Through the discovery of the knowledge of an object, and comparison of that knowledge to past knowledge, personal locations of meanings, content, and memory are malleable. Personal location in the archive simultaneously remains stationary through the stasis of present knowledge and changes with new knowledge in dialogue with the past. The archive becomes a place of internal change by way of external objects.

At the outset, I was initially searching for examples of typed personal letters from Glaser to Garner as objects to demonstrate the location of technology through the typewriter, and how this archive effectively highlights that use. But my plans changed when I stumbled upon Martha Glaser’s racial correspondence. Three folders marked “race dialogue,” which sat tucked away at the end of a box of correspondence, showed me a side of Glaser that I hadn’t come across until now. These unexpected objects locate a story of Martha before Erroll.

Arranged in a linear order, these objects create a narrative of Glaser as a young women, a budding social activist in the earliest stages of developing a career. They begin in 1942 with a newspaper clipping written when Glaser (or Farkas, which was her surname at the time), is a senior at Wayne State University in Detroit. Already, the materials reveal a deeply politically conscious young person.


Following her graduation, Glaser worked for the city of Detroit to raise morale following the aftermath of the 1943 Detroit race riots. Glaser requested promotional appearances, or at least statements, from performers Duke Ellington and Frank Sinatra in response to the riots.

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For her efforts, Glaser is awarded an appointment as a member of the Advisory Committee on Youth Problems by mayor Edward J. Jeffries.


After a short tenure in Detroit, Glaser became the first Jewish American woman to be hired by the city of Chicago in 1944. As an information consultant for the Mayor’s Commission on Human Relations, specifically race relations, Glaser (or Gleicher, which was her surname in Chicago) worked to de-segregate Chicago’s recreation, housing, health and welfare, and employment environments.


Glaser’s advocacy for public conversations on race relations were prominent in mayor Edward J. Kelly’s signing of a proclamation of a Negro History Week in Chicago.


In 1946, Glaser then became campaign coordinator for an anti-intolerance campaign being organized by the Disk Company of America (a now defunct record industry retailer and distributor).


As part of the campaign, Glaser worked closely with education, youth, and labor organizations to use jazz as a tool to promote “democratic tolerance to all kinds.” Alongside Norman Granz, these performances later became known as Jazz for Justice tours. In 1948 Glaser would move to New York City, meet Erroll Garner, and create Octave Music Management.

What is located through these objects?

An archive cannot be a singularity, a zero point. This archive is and is not about Erroll  Garner. This archive is and is not about Martha Glaser. The location of the archive is simultaneously at play in the said of one narrative, while engaging with the unsaid of another. The location of the archive is at once concrete and malleable: a supplier of the documents to create narrative, and a paradoxical reminder of memories that we never possessed in the first place. At the same time, objects in an archive call, like sirens, to provide further background. The call of the documents causes the researcher to divert from their original path and to linger, to meditate. I am called to the objects and listen. I meditate on the location of objects that were once non-existent, or at least out of my view, and that now sing to me, objects piecing together the constructed life of someone I never knew; re/locating my Martha. 

- Jeff Weston

Doctoral Candidate, Composition and Music Theory, University of Pittsburgh