Two American cultural institutions have joined forces to launch Jazz Masterworks Editions (JME), an organization that will publish transcriptions of classic jazz performances.

Oberlin College and the Smithsonian Institution have created JME, which will publish full musical scores for vintage works by Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Artie Shaw, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman and others.The first project will be a three-volume set of extended pieces by the orchestras of Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson and Count Basie.

JME plans to release 12 volumes over its first five years, at a cost of roughly $1.25 million. A start-up grant from the Rockefeller Foundation will be used to help raise the funds.

"The editions will enable professional repertory orchestras and college jazz ensembles to re-create in live performance the great classics of the recorded repertory," said Oberlin president S. Frederick Starr.

"Accordingly, they will encourage the growth of jazz repertory ensembles, the presentation of classic-jazz concert series, and the production of newly recorded interpretations of early recorded classics."

Why go to all the trouble, if the performances are already preserved on record?

"Sooner or later this century's jazz heritage will disappear unless it appears in some permanent condition, just as most of Mozart's improvised cadenzas are lost because neither he nor anyone else took the trouble to write them down," said Gunther Schuller, who serves on the JME executive board with Indiana University professor David Baker, critic Martin Williams and ragtime expert John Edward Hasse.

"While it's true that we have great jazz performances on records, records are not a living legacy. Our younger generation, for example, is far more interested in rock than in jazz. With future generations disinterested in buying the jazz recordings, I predict that it will not be long before our jazz heritage, which now exists only on records, will disappear altogether.

"Any music that is not kept alive in live performance will die, sooner or later."