Music professor donates collection to Yale archive

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Elyse Mach, professor emerita and piano instructor at Northeastern Illinois University, is being recognized for her donation of recordings and transcripts of legendary jazz pianists to Yale University’s Oral History of American Music (OHAM) archive.

“Grand Pianists of Jazz” consists of a series of interviews by Mach with jazz greats such as Marian McPartland, Billy Taylor and Ramsey Lewis.

Mach, who has been teaching at Northeastern for more than 50 years, was humbled by Yale’s acceptance of her collection, but even more thrilled that these interviews will be preserved in an archive.

“The interviews are an oral history. Hearing their voices when they’re gone – a lot of them have died,” Mach said. “Their words now live on. It’s nice to hear the voices. I feel very fortunate that I had the opportunity to spend time with these people, in person.”

The genesis of this collection started from Mach’s desire to know more about the artists.

“I would read something about an artist, read that they played 85 times, this is what they played,” she said. “But what do they think about? What’s behind the artist as a person? Because who they are as a person influences their music.”

One interview evolved into many more, and then it became the collection that it is today. The moments that Mach had spent with these musicians during these interviews has created wonderful and lasting memories, which she remembers vividly.

“There’s a beautiful interview I did with Billy Taylor. We were at Mike Ditka’s restaurant for breakfast. We sat there for a few hours,” Mach said. “He talked about the theme song he wrote for ‘Mississippi Burning’ and how he wrote it for his 12-year-old daughter.”

Mach had many interesting encounters with other musicians. She spent an entire day with English musician Marian McPartland, which started with cookies and tea and ended with wine and cheese. She also got to the chance to interview Chicago native Ramsey Lewis, who revealed he was formerly a classical pianist but switched to jazz.

“I’m a classical pianist. So with the jazz interviews, their viewpoints are fresh,” Mach said. “They have a lot to offer and to inspire young people with their careers.”

The lives and stories of the musicians have influenced Mach personally and her teaching at Northeastern, and she hopes it will affect others as well.

“I feel good that the work lives on and doesn’t die in a cabinet some place. The collection will benefit people. I want them to know there is a place they can go to listen to these amazing recordings,” Mach said. “It’s a good feeling that these recordings have a home.”

Mach has many more projects in the works, including an article that explores Frank Lloyd Wright’s musical past and a new published work with Oxford University Press.

For more information on “Great Pianists of Jazz,” visit Yale’s OHAM website.