Jazz Collection

The New Orleans Jazz Museum's collection is the largest and most comprehensive of its kind in the world.

The Jazz Collection chronicles the music and careers of the men and women who created, enhanced and continue in the tradition of New Orleans jazz at the local, national and international levels.  It consists of instruments, pictorial sheet music, photographs, records, tapes, manuscripts and other items ranging from Louis Armstrong’s first coronet to a 1917 disc of the first jazz recording ever made.  It includes the world’s largest collection of instruments owned and played by important figures in jazz- trumpets, cornets, trombones, clarinets and saxophones played by jazz greats such as Bix Beiderbecke, Edward “Kid” Ory, George Lewis, Sidney Bechet and Dizzy Gillespie.
Other artifacts in the Jazz Collection include some 12,000 photographs from the early days of jazz; recordings in a wide variety of formats, including over 4,000 78 rpm records that date from 1905 to the mid-1950s, several thousand 12-inch LPs and 45 rpm records, approximately 1,400 reel-to-reel tapes; posters, paintings and prints; hundreds of examples of sheet music from late 19th-century ragtime to popular songs of the 1940s and 1950s – many of them first editions that became jazz standards; several hundred rolls of film featuring concert and nightclub footage, funerals, parades, and festivals; hundred of pieces of relevant ephemera; and architectural fragments from important jazz venues.


The Museum has the largest collection in the world of instruments owned and played by important figures in jazz, possessing multiple examples of all the commonly used instruments: trumpet, cornet, trombone, clarinet, and saxophone. Some late 19th-century instruments date from the early days of jazz.
The Jazz Collection has over time picked up many odds-and-ends pertaining to jazz, some of it clearly of value, some close to worthless. Much of this is not considered part of the collection proper, but is kept for reference, as study material, even possibly for future exhibit props. Much of it is ephemera, never intended to last. A jazz concert ticket, for example, has a useful lifespan of a few minutes, from the moment you buy it at the box office to the moment you hand it to the ticket taker. But fifty years later, when the performers have become legends, the stub of that ticket with the particulars printed on it can have remarkable evocative power.


The Jazz Collection has hundreds of examples of sheet music, from late 19th-century ragtime to popular songs of the 1940s and 1950s. Included are examples of 19th Century music not directly related to jazz or ragtime but composed and published locally, giving documentary evidence to musical culture out of which jazz grew. This collection contains first-edition examples of many pieces that became jazz standards, such as “Chinatown,” “Tin Roof Blues,” and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.”


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Louis Armstrong was taught to play this cornet when he was a resident of the Municipal Waif’s Home for Boys, 1913-14, where he was sent after shooting off a pistol on New Year’s Eve. Without the encouragement of the staff, and the self-discipline and musical education he acquired there, the most important individual career in the history of jazz possibly never would have happened. The objects are not only historically important, but visually distinctive. The cornet has notches in the non-detachable mouthpiece cut by the young Armstrong, in an attempt to aid his embouchure.

Recordings and Online Jazz Audio

The Jazz Collection has close to 10,000 recordings in virtually every format ever used, from piano rolls to digital tape. Recordings were vitally important to the development of jazz, as they enabled it to find a widespread audience. The collection has about 4,000 78 rpm records ranging in condition from superb to broken and dating from about 1905 to the mid-1950s, when they stopped being made; several thousand 12-inch 33-1/3 rpm LP records; and hundreds of 10-inch LPs and 45 rpm records. Most of these are New Orleans traditional jazz. Reel-to-reel tapes, which number to about 1,400, fall into three groups: New Orleans Jazz Club radio programs, taped interviews, and music. The latter, typically tapes of concerts or private jam sessions, are New Orleans traditional.  Visit our collections pages on Louis Digital Library for online jazz audio.


Louisiana Historical Center

The Louisiana Historical Center, located in the French Quarter on the third floor of the Old U.S. Mint, is one of America’s great archives. Since it opened in 1977, the Center has served thousands of researchers from around the world. In addition to its priceless collections of Colonial-era manuscripts and maps, the Center houses a wealth of primary and secondary source materials in a wide range of media.

The Louisiana Historical Center’s archives are open to anyone with an interest in Louisiana history and culture- from professional scholars to family genealogists. All services are free of charge, during regular hours or by appointment. The Center is open to the public Monday and Tuesday from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM, and by appointment Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM.

Part of the Louisiana State Museum, the Center also relies on private, corporate and foundation support for our mission to collect, preserve and provide wide access to Louisiana’s history through the documentary record. Contributions may be made through the nonprofit Louisiana Museum Foundation.

Finally, the Center invites donations of historically significant documents to build our collection. Please consider us as an ideal permanent home for family or institutional papers, diaries, letters, photographs, scrapbooks, rare books and albums, maps, prints, posters and other ephemera.


The general manuscript collections date from 1584 to the present. Included in the colonial period documents are the original 1724 Code Noir, signed by Louis XV and promulgated at New Orleans, and many abstracts and translations of colonial documents in other archives, such as the Dispatches of the Spanish Governors of Louisiana (1766-1796) in 27 volumes. Manuscripts documenting Louisiana’s antebellum economic, social and political history are housed in several collections including the John McDonough papers (1813-1846) and the John Slidell papers (1822-1918), and numerous plantation ledgers and notebooks. Other documents concern the Battle of New Orleans, War of 1812, Mexican War, and Civil War.

For information on the Historical Center:
Sarah-Elizabeth Gundlach, Curator
Phone: 504-568-3660

For research appointments:
Erin Kinchen, Reading Room Attendant
Phone: 504-568-3659

Colonial Documents

Louisiana is rich in original manuscript material from the 18th century, an inheritance from the colony’s early founding, strategic location, and economic and military activity. New Orleans’s French Superior Council (1714-1769) and Spanish Judicial Records (1769-1803)—which have been in the care of the Louisiana State Museum since its founding in 1906—are  the crowning jewel of this written patrimony. Unfortunately, accessing the manuscripts is a complicated process, and the documents, some nearly 300 years old, are deteriorating. Action is needed to preserve this archive and to make it more accessible to researchers and the general public. To preserve the contents of this one-of-a-kind archive, and to provide free and universal access to the region’s most significant foundational documents, LSM is committed to a three year, $800,000 effort to digitize and publish the archive online in a searchable database.

Purpose and Significance

The French Superior Council and Spanish Judicial records have long been essential to the study of American colonial history for the quantity, quality, depth, and diversity of the documentation they contain. They have provided generations of historians, students, sociologists and genealogists with a rich source of data on New Orleans’s earliest days, the Louisiana territory, the slave trade, Native American relations, the Atlantic World, and Canada and the Caribbean, among other topics. Due to the documents’ age and fragility, however, the only safe way for researchers to access them is through microfilm, much of which is difficult to read or illegible. In addition, the extant microfilm disregards the original order and provenance of the records. Digital imaging of the documents will enable virtual restoration of the original structure of the archive.


To accomplish the project’s goals—to create digital surrogates of the manuscripts and to publish them online in a searchable database for access by anyone with a web-enabled device—the Museum will hire three Scanner Operators to create the images and three Indexers to harvest the data that will make the document database machine searchable. LSM will purchase one Epson Expression GT-20000 Scanner (2 have been acquired with bridge grant funds), and 3 desktop computers and accompanying OCR software. The Museum has already committed funds to purchase a Gallery System’s eMuseum module, which will become the public’s primary access point for the documents. The eMuseum module will enable instant internet publication of the documents and finding-aid and descriptive data scans from the LSM’s internal TMS collections database to its website. Image files created in the scanning process will be stored on an external server, (already purchased by the Museum), to safeguard the images, facilitate access to the materials, and allow for sharing and transfer of the materials digitally.


The LSM will collaborate with others to promote the use of the digital archive to be created. It has already published 25 records and related finding aids on the LOUISiana Digital Library. One hundred of the documents will also be available at KnowLA, where they will be translated into English and encoded with metadata to make them searchable within the context of KnowLA’s core content.

Get Involved

If you would like to learn more on how you can help this project or any other at the Louisiana State Museum, please visit www.thelmf.org.