Linked Jazz: A Huge Data Visualization Maps the Relationships Between Countless Jazz Musicians & Restores Forgotten Women to Jazz History

Hav­ing watched the devel­op­ment of inter­ac­tive data visu­al­iza­tions as a writer for Open Cul­ture, I’ve seen my share of impres­sive exam­ples, espe­cial­ly when it comes to map­ping music. Per­haps the old­est such resource, the still-updat­ing Ishkur’s Guide to Elec­tron­ic Music, also hap­pens to be one of the best for its com­pre­hen­sive­ness and wit­ty tone. Anoth­er high achiev­er, The Uni­verse of Miles Davis, released on what would have been Davis’ 90th birth­day, is more focused but no less dense a col­lec­tion of names, record labels, styles, etc.

While visu­al­iz­ing the his­to­ry of any form of music can result in a sig­nif­i­cant degree of com­plex­i­ty, depend­ing on how deeply one drills down on the specifics, jazz might seem espe­cial­ly chal­leng­ing. Choos­ing one major fig­ure pulls up thou­sands of con­nec­tions. As these mul­ti­ply, they might run into the mil­lions. But some­how, one of the best music data visu­al­iza­tions I’ve seen yet—Pratt Institute’s Linked Jazz project—accounts seam­less­ly for what appears to be the whole of jazz, includ­ing obscure and for­got­ten fig­ures and inter­ac­tive, dynam­ic fil­ters that make the his­to­ry of women in jazz more vis­i­ble, and let users build maps of their own.

Jazz musi­cians “are like fam­i­ly,” Zena Lat­to, one of the musi­cians the project recov­ered, told an inter­view­er in 2015. A mul­ti-racial, transna­tion­al, active­ly mul­ti-gen­er­a­tional fam­i­ly that meets all over the world to play togeth­er con­stant­ly, that is. As a form of music built on ensem­ble play­ers and jour­ney­men soloists who some­times form bands for no more than a sin­gle album or tour, jazz musi­cians prob­a­bly form more rela­tion­ships across age, gen­der, race, and nation­al­i­ty than those in any oth­er genre.

That organ­ic, built-in diver­si­ty, a fea­ture of the music through­out its his­to­ry, shows up in every per­mu­ta­tion of the Linked Jazz map, and comes through in the record­ed inter­views, per­for­mances, and oth­er accom­pa­ny­ing info linked to each musi­cian. Like the Uni­verse of Miles Davis, Linked Jazz leans heav­i­ly on Wikipedia for its infor­ma­tion. And in using such “linked open data (LOD),” as Pratt notes in a blog post, the project “also reveals archival gaps. While icons such as John Coltrane and Miles Davis have large dig­i­tal foot­prints, less­er-known per­form­ers may bare­ly have a mention”—despite the fact that most of those play­ers, at one time or anoth­er, played with, stud­ied under, or record­ed with the greats.

Such was the case with Lat­to, who was men­tored by Ben­ny Good­man and toured through­out the 1940s and 50s with the Inter­na­tion­al Sweet­hearts of Rhythm, “con­sid­ered the first inte­grat­ed all-women band in the Unit­ed States.” Lat­to was “part of a net­work that stretched from New York to New Orleans,” but her name had dis­ap­peared entire­ly until Pratt School of Infor­ma­tion pro­fes­sor Cristi­na Pattuel­li found it on a tat­tered fly­er for a Carnegie Hall con­cert. “Soon, through Linked Jazz, Lot­ta had a Wikipedia page and her inter­view was pub­lished on the Inter­net Archive.”

Linked Jazz’s focus on women musi­cians does not mean gen­der seg­re­ga­tion, but a redis­cov­ery of wom­en’s place in all of jazz.  Like all of the oth­er fil­ters, the Linked Jazz data map’s gen­der view shows both men and women promi­nent­ly in the lit­tle pho­to bub­bles con­nect­ed by webs of red and blue lines. But as you begin click­ing around, you will see the per­spec­tive has shift­ed. “Linked Jazz has con­cen­trat­ed on pro­cess­ing more inter­views with women jazz musi­cians,” writes Pratt, “and these resources have been enhanced by a series of Women of Jazz Wikipedia Edit-a-thons in 2015 and 2017.”

Like­wise, the inclu­sion of these inter­views, biogra­phies, and record­ings have enhanced the breadth and scope of Linked Jazz, which as a whole rep­re­sents the best inten­tions in open data map­ping, real­ized by a design that makes explor­ing the daunt­ing his­to­ry of jazz a mat­ter of strolling through a dig­i­tal library with the entire cat­a­log appear­ing instant­ly at your fin­ger­tips. The project also shows how thought­ful data map­ping can not only repli­cate the exist­ing state of infor­ma­tion, but also con­tribute sig­nif­i­cant­ly by find­ing and restor­ing miss­ing links.


Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Influ­ence of Miles Davis Revealed with Data Visu­al­iza­tion: For His 90th Birth­day Today

How Dave Brubeck’s Time Out Changed Jazz Music

The Brains of Jazz and Clas­si­cal Musi­cians Work Dif­fer­ent­ly, New Research Shows

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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