Wednesday, October 24, 2001

Gift of love

Historian donates jazz CDs

        Oscar Treadwell recently gave away the tools of his trade. All 6,226 of them.

        His entire collection of jazz CDs — discs he played on area radio stations during a storied career that began in 1947 — now belongs to the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

        As soon as the CDs are cataloged, by early next year, anyone with a library card will be able to check out recordings that once belonged to the dean of Cincinnati's jazz historians. The Oscar Treadwell Collection is the largest donation of CDs ever received by the library. The gift comes from a man deeply respected by jazz's giants. Legendary saxman Charlie Parker composed “An Oscar for Treadwell” to honor the man known simply as O.T.

        The generosity of this gift says much about the man, his music and his muse.

        His attitudes toward giving and working also provide guidelines for anyone who's ever worked long hours and at the end of the day asked: Who am I?

        O.T. could have held onto his CDs. Although he's been off the air since the summer of 2000, the 75-year-old widower remains in great voice and is still radio-ready.

        He also knows he could have sold the discs. Melted them down. Used them for skeet shooting.

        “Or I could let my kids worry about them later,” he joked. His deep, mellifluous voice, set in the range of a baritone sax flying solo, echoed across his basement.

        Before us stood a wall lined with shelves. Each shelf was sectioned off to hold 10 CDs. Hundreds of sections. All bare. Pigeonholes with no birds. Honeycombs missing their sweetness.

        “This is where they used to be,” O.T. said of his jazz CD collection.

        He spoke without a trace of sadness. Or regret.

        “I don't miss the CDs, because I know they're safe.

        “I want my records where they are available to the public,” he said. “The library is a public institution. Jazz is the people's music.”

        For years the CDs were a part of his life, part of his Anderson Township home. Yet, when the van from the library left with the recordings, he didn't wave goodbye or feel as if he had just lost 6,226 old friends.

        “They were tools,” he said. “Some people collect tools and keep them under glass.

        “This was a working collection.”

        When the CDs left, he did not see his identity going down the street.

        “I've never been like that,” he said.

        Credit for that kind of thinking goes to his sensible view of work.

        Despite his celebrity status, O.T. did not define himself by his job. He never saw himself as Oscar Treadwell, the jazz historian who plays CDs on the air and therefore can never part with the discs or he'll lose part of himself.

        “I loved the music,” he said. “I loved every minute of what I did. It was truly a job that I loved. But that is not the beginning and the end of my life.”

        He defines his life “by the unknown. I'm always questing. I can't worry about what I used to do. I have to find out what I'm going to do now.”

        In an age when so many people are married to their jobs, his words act as a powerful reminder.

        No one is defined by where he works or how much he owns. What counts is how much he gives.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340; e-mail cradel


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