Like many other jazz fans, I first heard the name Bill Savory in the liner notes (by George Avakian) to a series of Benny Goodman airshot performances issued on Columbia Records after the astonishing success of their 1938 Carnegie Hall jazz concert issues. I learned that Savory was a pioneering engineer, friend to many jazz musicians, with a special fondness for Goodman and his associates, who had made disc recordings of radio broadcasts in the Thirties.
Some memorable performances had been made available through his devotion to the music: one that I can hear in my head as I write this was a Goodman Trio version of SWEET LEILANI, complete with energetic tom-tom playing by Gene Krupa, that gave the demure Hawaiian maiden a decidedly uptown flavor.
Through the various Goodman discographies, I later learned that Savory’s collection was substantial. But that was where it ended until recently — where, in the New York jazz circles I frequent, I began hearing rumors about those discs.
Now it’s progressed past gossip and whispers: the stuff is here (more or less) and it defines “mellow.”
How about music from the fabled Randall’s Island Carnival of Swing, which has existed only as silent newsreel footage of the Count Basie band?
How about performances by Goodman (of course), Teddy Wilson (once on harpsichord), Leo Watson, Louis Armstrong, Chu Berry, Mildred Bailey, Lester Young, Herschel Evans, Charlie Christian, Coleman Hawkins, Lionel Hampton, Bunny Berigan, Bobby Hackett, Billie Holiday . . . . ?
The collection has been brought to light through the long-term and tireless efforts of Loren Schoenberg — not only a fine tenor saxophonist and bandleader in his own right, but the head of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem — who made the pilgrimage to Malta, Illinois, where Savory’s son had kept the thousand or so discs. And who better to take over the difficult job of transferring those that could be rescued but our friend Doug Pomeroy, who decided that he didn’t exactly feel like retiring once he heard some of the music coming from those unique recordings.
Now the whuspers have turned into reality, and we wait to hear the results. I don’t know how long — or in what fashion — the music will eventually reach us. Loren has proposed that this musical treasure will become part of the Museum’s digital trove . . . but until that happens, here’s some more fascinating information . . . taken from the pages of The New York Times, which doesn’t often make a point of mentioning Chu Berry in its first section!
But wait! There’s more! How about some tantalizing snippets from the collection (just enough to induce hysteria among the faithful). (Click on JAZZ LOST AND FOUND under the photograph to the left for some audio magic):
And (closer to the end of the article) there’s an astonishing video showing the esteemed Messrs. Schoenberg and Pomeroy . . . the latter, a master at work, restoring these treasures.
And a Times story on Coleman Hawkins, 1940:
And the Museum will be presenting four programs on these treasures as part of their Tuesday evening JAZZ FOR CURIOUS LISTENERS series, held from 7:00 – 8:30PM at our Visitors Center, 104 E. 126th Street, NY, NY 10035.
September 7 – You Won’t Believe It – An Overview
September 14 – Tenor Madness – Lester Young/Coleman Hawkins/Chu Berry/Herschel Evans
September 21 – Trumpet Titans – Louis Armstrong/Roy Eldridge/Harry James/Bunny Berigan
September 28 – Jam Sessions – Benny Goodman/Bobby Hackett/Lionel Hampton/Slim and Slam
P.S. I apologize to the New York jazz aficionados, for whom this post is already old news; they have already made their appointments to visit the Museum. This is for my readers for whom New York jazz gossip is not their daily breakfast chat . . . and for the sheer pleasure of writing about these treasures!