Scope and arrangement
The George Avakian and Anahid Ajemian papers (1908-2013) document the careers and lives of the producer and violinist through personal and professional correspondence; published and unpublished writings and speeches; contracts and other business papers; scores; clippings; photographs; awards; posters; and visual art. The bulk of the collection consists of correspondence, writings, and photographs illustrating George Avakian's career as a recording producer and artist manager. The collection is arranged in three series: George Avakian Papers, Anahid and Maro Ajemian Papers, and Photographs.
The George Avakian papers date from 1924 to 2013. They detail his work producing, managing, or assisting a wide variety of musicians and recording artists; how he helped develop those artists' careers and art; the history of Avakian's careers at Columbia, World Pacific, Warner Brothers, and RCA Records; and his later projects as an independent manager and producer. Broadly, the papers show the development of the recording industry over the course of his career. They reveal the intertwined histories through personal and professional correspondence with recording artists or their management; correspondence with other record industry figures; published and unpublished articles, liner notes, essays, and historical accounts by Avakian; clippings; record company memos; business, recording, and production notes; touring information; contracts; publicity material; awards; posters; visual art; and photographs. Many of Avakian's writings were created with the intention of compiling a memoir of his career.
The Ajemian papers, dating from 1927 to 2011, document the lives and careers of George Avakian's wife, the violinist Anahid Ajemian, and her sister, the pianist Maro Ajemian. They contain biographical papers on both musicians; files on individual performances by the Ajemians as a duo and as solo artists; annotated scores; clippings; contracts; publicity material; letters from the composers Lou Harrison, Edgard Varèse, John Cage, and Alan Hovhaness; and obituaries and memorial tributes for Maro Ajemian. The scores include pieces for violin as well as compositions performed by the Composers String Quartet. Composers represented include Alan Hovhaness, Mel Powell, Wallingford Riegger, and Ben Weber.
The collection holds photographs dating from 1908 to 2012. They include images of Avakian or Ajemian with various musicians and colleagues, as well as candid, publicity, or performance photographs of those musicians, some never published. These include such figures as Louis Armstrong, Maro Ajemian, Dave Brubeck, the Composers String Quartet, Henry Cowell, Miles Davis, Eric Dolphy, Duke Ellington, Gil Evans, Benny Goodman, Alan Hovhaness, Keith Jarrett, Charles Lloyd, Johnny Mathis, Sonny Rollins, and Ravi Shankar. Also present are portraits of Avakian, some by Carl Van Vechten and William Gottlieb, and photographs of the Avakian and Ajemian families. Photographs of the 2004 Satchmo Summerfest appear only in digital form.
The George Avakian and Anahid Ajemian papers are arranged in three series:
Series I documents George Avakian's working and personal relationships with key 20th century musicians and artists, both American and foreign, from his time with major recording labels (1938 to the mid-1960s), to his independent work from the mid-1960s onward, to his later work on reissues of his classic productions. The series also gives evidence to his relationships with other key figures in the music and recording industries, such as producers, scholars, and writers, from the United States and other nations. These relationships are revealed through personal and business correspondence; business and management records; and Avakian's notes and writings throughout his career.
Artists with the most extensive representation in the collection are Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Keith Jarrett, and Charles Lloyd. Other artists with substantial documentation include Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, John Cage, Sonny Rollins, Dave Brubeck, the Composers String Quartet, Wild Bill Davison, Paul Desmond, John Eaton, the Everly Brothers, Erroll Garner, Alan Hovhaness, Dick Hyman, Johnny Mathis, Helen Merrill, Turk Murphy, Bob Newhart, Orchestra U.S.A., and Ravi Shankar.
Other major topics covered in the papers include the development of Columbia Records during Avakian's time with the company; Avakian's World War II army service and his writings during it; the film Jazz On A Summer's Day; the Music for Moderns concert series; the Newport Jazz Festival; jazz in the Soviet Union; jazz history; and the commercial and technical development of the recording business. These files contain correspondence with producers, musicians, researchers, and journalists; Avakian's writings on the subjects; concert programs; and clippings. Smaller file sets contain correspondence with musicians, colleagues, and friends, and detail many recording or performance projects which Avakian produced or helped assemble from the 1970s to the 2010s.
As a general rule, artists and projects recorded for Columbia Records have little contemporaneous documentation in the collection (apart from photographs) because Avakian did not take his office files with him when he departed the company. Instead, Columbia projects are evidenced by correspondence regarding reissue projects, writings, clippings, and interview transcripts. Contemporary documents are more common for World Pacific, Warner Brothers, and RCA productions. Major portions of this series document work done on reissues of albums, not the original productions.
In addition to the descriptions below, further description of file contents can be found in the container list.
This series documents the careers of the Ajemian sisters, both as a duo and as solo artists. It holds annotated scores of works performed or recorded by the Ajemians or the Composers String Quartet; letters to the sisters and the Avakian family from Alan Hovhaness, Ernst Krenek, Lou Harrison, John Cage, and Edgard Varèse; performance-related files; and other topical files.
The scores hold pieces that in many cases were premiered or recorded by the Ajemians, and often contain performance notes. Consisting of both published editions and manuscript copies, they include works by Alan Hovhaness, Gunther Schuller, Wallingford Reigger, Dane Rudhyar, George Edwards, Toshio Mayazumi, Mel Powell, Ettorino Respighi, Seymour Shifrin, Carlos Surinach, Ben Weber, Anton Webern, Henry Weinberg, and Charles Whittenberg. They are arranged alphabetically by composer. The music by Hovhaness includes Suite for Violin, Piano, and Percussion; Three Visions of Saint Mesrop; Shatakh; Arshalouis; and Concerto No. 2 for Violin and String Orchestra (violin part only). The score for Reigger's Sonatina for Violin and Piano was used for the Ajemians' recording of the piece, and is autographed by Riegger. The score for Rudhyar's Three Poems contains 1993 correspondence between Anahid Ajemian and Maureen Nevins discussing the piece. Scores performed by the Composers String Quartet includes pieces by Mayazumi, Powell, Respighi, Weinberg, and Whittenberg.
Letters from Alan Hovhaness, Lou Harrison, and Ernst Krenek are filed under their names. All other letters, including those from John Cage and Edgard Varèse, are filed separately under letters. The letters from Alan Hovhaness to Maro Ajemian are substantial, dating from 1940 to 1950. They also contain 1991 letters from George Avakian describing the pivotal roles played by the Ajemian sisters and Dr. Elizabeth Gregory in the early stages of Hovhaness's career.
The performance-related files hold programs, contracts, clippings, photographs and publicity flyers regarding concert appearances by both Ajemians dating from 1944 to 1983.
Other files in this series hold biographies of the Ajemians and the Composers String Quartet; clippings; programs; handbills; publicity material; and a scrapbook of clippings and programs regarding Maro Ajemian's early performances. They also evidence George Avakian's failed efforts to persuade the U.S. State Department to arrange a 1960 performance by Maro Ajemian in Moscow featuring the music of Aram Khachaturian (filed under Khachaturian); recordings by both Ajemians for CBS and RCA Records (filed under the respective companies); performances and tours of the Composers String Quartet from 1972 to 1983; the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America's honoring of Anahid Ajemian; remembrances of Maro Ajemian; and the scholarship established in her name at the Juilliard School.
Because George Avakian managed the Composers String Quartet for some years, most papers regarding it can be found in subseries I.A., Personal Papers. See also Alan Hovhaness, Lou Harrison, John Cage, and William Masselos in subseries I.A. Series III, Photographs, contains many images of the Ajemians and the Composers String Quartet.
Photographs in the form of prints, negatives, slides, and transparencies extensively illustrate the lives and careers of George Avakian and Anahid Ajemian. They contain high-quality portraits and informal pictures of Avakian dating from the late 1940s to 2010; photographs of Avakian with recording artists, musicians, and industry figures; promotional photographs of Anahid and Maro Ajemian dating from the mid-1940s to the 1970s; and many images of notable musicians and composers, some never published. They also contain informal photographs of the Avakians, their children, other family members, and friends.
A few of the photographs are reproductions, not prints. Many prints have the photographers' names noted on them, and some contain copyright notices. Some of the most historically important photographs, such as those of Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis, were taken by Avakian's brother, the photographer and filmmaker Aram Avakian, and are marked copyright Estate of Aram Avakian. Also among the photographers are Herman Leonard, Chuck Stewart, Otto Hess, and William Claxton. There are no photographs marked as being copyrighted by Columbia Records.
Photographs of George Avakian are in three divisions: solo or informal portraits; subjects; and Avakian with others. The solo portraits include images of him at Yale University, publicity shots during his time at Columbia Records (some by Carl Van Vechten), and portraits made for personal use from the 1980s to 2010. Avakian can also be seen in photographs throughout this series.
A general Musicians file holds group and individual photographs. See the container list for details.
Photographs of the Ajemian sisters are publicity and informal prints. They include images of Anahid Ajemian with, among others, Duke Ellington and Dimitri Mitropoulos; Ulysses Kay; Ben Weber; the Modern Jazz Quartet; Gunther Schuller and Lotte Lenya; and Sahan Arzruni. The Composers String Quartet file also holds photographs of Ajemian. Photographs of Maro Ajemian include solo publicity shots, as well as images with John Cage, William Masselos, and Alan Hovhaness.
Photographs of the Ajemians together feature them with artists such as Henry Cowell, Julius Katchen, Lotte Lenya, Gunther Schuller, and Alan Hovhaness. The Ajemian photographs also include images of family and friends during tours of the United States and Europe. Photographs taken during the Ajemians' debut tour of Europe include a print of the author Clement Richer, taken by Carl Van Vechten.
Some photographs of the 2004 Satchmo Summerfest are in digital form (in low and high resolution), and include an EXIF metadata file.