Along with many of the faithful, I have been waiting and hoping since 2010 that this set would become a reality. When it arrived, I turned immediately to the fifth disc — one of a pair containing thirty-nine live performances by the Count Basie band from May 1938 to February 1940, and I was open-mouthed and astonished three minutes into the first performance (one of four particularly extravagant frolics from the Randall’s Island Carnival of Swing) — music that I thought I would never have the good fortune to hear.
Mosaic Records box sets usually have a similar effect on me, but this one is — as a character in a Sean O’Faolain story says — “beyond the beyonds.” And, as a point of information, the box set contains substantially more music than was released through iTunes downloads.
You can learn more and hear something Savory here.
This set is more than a dream come true: it feels like a whole freight train of them. In a postscript below, I’ve copied Loren Schoenberg’s list of the enlightened and generous people who this set possible. Full disclosures: one, I was asked to write a few hundred words for this set, and thus one of my dreams came true, and two, I bought mine — with my allowance.
I will write primarily about the Basie cornucopia, but it is true for the set.
Many listeners forget the distinction between music created and captured in a recording studio and the sounds played “live.” Many of the performances in the Mosaic box explode with happy ebullience. Some of that is the freedom to play without being stopped at three minutes and twenty seconds (I hear John Hammond’s voice saying “Too long, Basie!” at the end of a take that could not be issued at the time) — in fact, the freedom to play without any recording supervisor (Hammond, Oberstein, Stephens, Hanighen) or their disapproving presence (Jack Kapp’s wooden Indian) in the room: the freedom to make a mistake and convert it into something remarkable by proceeding on. Often, the recording studio is all we have or will ever have, but its stated and unstated restrictions can make for a chilly environment.
Some of the joy comes from playing from dancers — the radio airshots from the Randall’s Island festival are particularly frolicsome. And we can’t discount the freedom to have a drink or something to inhale.
On the Basie sides, so much is both new and reassuring. Lester Young, Dicky Wells, and Jo Jones sound like schoolboys who’ve been told the school has burned down. Herschel Evans, so passionate, is in wonderful form (here and elsewhere in the set). I can’t leave out Bennie Morton and Vic Dickenson, Buck Clayton, Sweets Edison, a particularly eloquent Jimmy Rushing, and Helen Humes’ most tender singing the lyrics to BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL.
I hear the arrangements anew — often, the Basie band is perceived as a springboard for soloists, and there’s much justification for that — but these airshots make it possible to hear the sections as if for the first time. (Also, it’s evident how the arrangements become more complex.) And the rhythm section! Before hearing these recordings, I didn’t take in that Jo Jones was still playing temple blocks in mid-1938, and it’s a common assumption that Freddie Green and Walter Page were going along in a serious 4/4, four quarter notes to the bar, but their work is full of wonderful variations, accented notes and syncopations. Even when a soloist closely follows the version created in the recording studio (some audience members wanted to “hear it the way it was on the record”) everything sounds joyous and free.
And since Bill Savory had professional equipment and the discs were splendidly restored by Doug Pomeroy, overall the recording quality is superb — far from the airshots we know recorded by a fan in the living room holding a microphone to the radio speaker to funnel sounds onto his Recordio disc. The sound is not only clear — one hears details and the gentle enthusiasm of the audience — but large. I can’t explain what “hearing the sound of the room” actually means, but there is a spaciousness that is delightful.
The new repertoire — not just Basie — is also a treat, as if we had been offered an audio equivalent to Bob Inman’s SWING ERA SCRAPBOOK . . . Basie performing RUSSIAN LULLABY (with Jimmy singing), ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND, ROSETTA, LIMEHOUSE BLUES, and BUGLE CALL RAG.
To the other gems, some of which have already been well publicized: Coleman Hawkins’ six-minute rhapsody on BODY AND SOUL; Fats Waller at the Yacht Club — so revealing of what he was like as pianist, singer, personality, and entertainer — with dance medleys of songs by J.Fred Coots (a close friend) and Sammy Fain; windows into his world that the Victor sides never provide. Five minutes of young Ella; the Martin Block Jam session with the painfully lovely STARDUST featuring an ailing Herschel Evans; another Block session featuring Eddie Condon, Pee Wee Russell, Bud Freeman, Zutty Singleton, Charlie and Jack Teagarden, and Fats; Mildred Bailey singing TRUCKIN’ with the verse; Leo Watson taking on HONEYSUCKLE ROSE with the John Kirby Sextet and JEEPERS CREEPERS with Johnny Mercer; pearly Bobby Hackett, more from Joe and Marty Marsala, who didn’t get to record enough; Stuff Smith; Ben Webster, Albert Ammons, Chick Webb, Albert Ammons, Carl Kress and Dick McDonough, Ernie and Emilio Caceres, Roy Eldridge, Stew Pletcher, Ram Ramirez, Red Norvo, Teddy Bunn, Kenneth Hollon, Vernon Brown, Milt Hinton; Lionel Hampton, Charlie Shavers, Cozy Cole, Buster Bailey, Joe Thomas, George Wettling, Ed Hall, Carmen Mastren (with several long solos!), Jonah Jones, new music from the here-and-gone Teddy Wilson big band, the wondrous Benny Carter ensemble, and Glenn Miller; a set of four solo piano improvisations by Joe Sullivan, one of them ten minutes long — a true picture of the artist as a barrelhouse Joyce, wandering brilliantly. And I am sure I’ve left someone out.
These six CDs are the Arabian Nights of swing, documents of a time and place where magic came out of your radio all the time.
I think it is obvious that I am urging listeners to purchase this set while they can. But I must modulate to another key — that is, to quietly comment on the culture of entitlement, which, sadly, also infects people who love this music. When some of the Savory material was issued on iTunes, some complained, “I don’t do downloads.” Now that it is all — plus more music — available on CD, I’ve heard some whinge, and yes, that is the right word, that they don’t want to buy this box set for various reasons. Some think, incorrectly, that the six discs of the box have only what was released on iTunes, which is incorrect. Check the Mosaic discography.
I’ve even heard people being petulant, “Why doesn’t this set include X or Y?” not understanding that the artists’ estates were paid for the music — think of that! a legitimate reissue! — and that some estates wanted extravagant reimbursement.
Consider what this set offers — rarities never even dreamed of — and do some simple math, how much each prized track costs the purchaser. And, on another level, what you would pay to keep Mosaic Records afloat. I know that, say, ten years ago, if you’d told me I could have thirty-nine new Basie performances for slightly more than a hundred dollars, I would have leaped at the opportunity, and I am no plutocrat. Of course, one is free to ruminate and grumble . . . but this is a limited edition of 5000 sets. Expect to see Savory boxes on eBay for $500 in a few months. You’ve been warned.
And, by the way, visit here.
Loren’s thank-you note!
The National Jazz Museum in Harlem’s The Savory Collection Mosaic CD set has been issued after many years of planning. Many people were a part of the team who made it possible. Let’s start with Sonny McGown, who led me to the late Gene Savory, Bill’s son. Jonathan S. Scheuer, long-time board member of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, purchased the collection and donated it to the museum. Frank Rich helped spread the word, as did Ken Burns, and within a few months, the Savory story graced the front page of the NYTimes. Fellow board member and attorney Daryl Libow stepped right in to handle all the myriad legal challenges. Doug Pomeroy rescued all that was salvageable from the discs. Dr. Susan Schmidt-Horning had interviewed and written about Bill and gave us lots of help from the academic/acoustic realms. Garrett Shelton was invaluable at iTunes for the initial releases, as was Ken Druker and the production team he assembled to make all of that happen. Samantha Samuels created first-class promo videos for us, and then Scott Wenzel, to whom the jazz world owes a huge debt for his unflagging production of the Mosaic catalogue (along with the rest of the Mosaic team, read: Michael Cuscuna and Fred Pustay) hopped back aboard to bring this collection to fruition; he had been there at the git-go, joining me and Kevin Cerovich in Malta, Ill., to catalogue and drive the discs to NYC.
The album is graced by essays of some of the finest writers out here, starting with Dan Morgenstern and Ricky Riccardi, Tom Piazza, David Fletcher, Michael Steinman, Vincent Pelote, Anthony Barnett, James Carter, Ethan Iverson, and Kenny Washington.
And none of the music would have been issuable without the cooperation of the artist’s estates, and the dedication of the board and staff of The National Jazz Museum in Harlem. So it’s been a long haul, well worth the wait; here’s hoping Bill Savory would be pleased.
May your happiness increase!