James Biays Young spent a rich-and-full life collecting jazz recordings and books about “America's classical music,” and now the fruits of those twin obsessions are entrusted to the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
Before Young, a Baltimorean by birth who retired to Ocean Pines, died in mid-February he donated some 5,000-plus compact discs to UMES, a decision influenced by the campus being home to a jazz-format FM radio station.
“This is one of the most impressive private jazz collections I've ever seen,” said Gerry Weston, the radio station manager. “It will fill some major holes in the WESM collection. Our listeners will be forever grateful.”
Young wanted to share his love for the uniquely American genre of music with a broader audience and believed placing his collection at a university would be the ideal setting.
“Jazz was the most important thing in his life,” his son, Colston Young, said. “It gave him joy. He collected because he loved the music.”
Adrienne Webber, UMES' Dean of Library Services, jumped at the chance to be the collection's caretaker when she learned of the elder Young's vision. He had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and was eager to put his affairs in order.
Along with Young's treasured jazz CDs were some 600 books on the subject.
Webber, who hails from Louisiana where jazz has its roots, said Young's collection has her thinking creatively about not only cataloging and preserving it, but also making the recorded music available for casual listening in the library as well as for scholars doing research.
The recordings also will be accessible to WESM 91.3, so an even broader audience will be able to enjoy Young's gesture to support scholarship at the university.
“He wanted to pass on that love of music to as many people as possible,” Colston Young said.
The elder Young grew up and attended school in Baltimore, briefly studying at Yale before enrolling in Johns Hopkins University in his hometown.
After graduation, he took a job with Life magazine in New York before returning home to work as a broadcaster with WBAL radio and then WJZ-TV.
Colston Young said his father was a well-read, “intellectually curious” man who especially liked public policy and current affairs. When he left broadcast journalism, he took a job as an aide for U.S. Sen. Charles “Mac” Mathias of Maryland and spent the “last 28 years of his professional career as an associate covering federal public works and transit legislation … with government relations firms” in Washington.
After retiring, he relocated in 2003 to the Parke at Ocean Pines, where he was a volunteer and then a part-time employee of the Ocean Pines Library.
Colston Young said his father became enamored with jazz as a teen in the 1950s, when music was recorded on vinyl. Young would have been known then as a “hipster,” a connoisseur of 'bop' jazz; the late composer, bandleader and bassist Charles Mingus was his favorite artist.
Over three decades, he collected thousands of albums - many early “collectible” editions - he eventually sold to pay for converting to less cumbersome compact discs that comprise his gift to UMES. He kept one from his youth for sentimental reasons, his son said; the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival recording featuring, among others, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.
“He used to say 'jazz is the heart of pretty much all modern music, and what it is today',” Colston Young said.
When Young relocated to Worcester County some 15 years ago, he found joy listening to the university's NPR affiliate.
Weston, WESM's station manager, met Young shortly before he died.
“Mr. Young was fascinating,” Weston said. “He had many great jazz stories to tell. My regret is that I couldn't spend more time with him. He was the nicest gentleman.”
Colston Young said his father “thought by donating his collection, he would be helping his community and it could benefit an institution of higher learning.”