Happily we remain in Discovery Mode where it concerns the unearthing of classic jazz recordings. One of the more pleasant 21st century developments in this constant excavation was the revelation of the Savory Collection of classic jazz performance broadcasts. One recalls with great interest the palpable excitement in the announcement of this discovery by tenor saxophonist-educator Loren Schoenberg, who has been an abiding administrative presence on the National Jazz Museum in Harlem team almost since the inception of that evolving project. On several recent occasions chatting with longtime NJH board member and DC-based attorney Daryl Libow, I’ve been updated on the project. Clearly it was time to pose some Independent Ear questions to Loren Schoenberg on the current status of the Savory Collection project.
Loren, for those not familiar with the story, please tell our readers how the existence of the Savory Collection first came to your attention.
I met Bill Savory in 1980 when I was working for Benny Goodman. It was then that he mentioned that he had a tremendous collection of broadcast recordings, way beyond what anyone knew that he had. However, the impression was that these were only of the Benny Goodman band. That would’ve been wonderful; but as it turned out, it comprised less than half of the total collection.
Talk about your 30-year quest to track down the Savory Collection.
From the moment that he mentioned the existence of the collection, I asked if I could hear the music. Over the course of the next 24 years, until his death in 2004, dozens and dozens of my requests were routinely ignored. We spoke on the phone, and corresponded, and he was always promising me that access would be forthcoming. But it never happened. Every time I called him, Bill would eventually modulate into a detailed technical discussion of the challenges he was having in playing back the old recordings. I pretended that I knew what he was talking about.
Thirty years is a not insignificant chunk of time, so you obviously felt this was a worthwhile sleuthing mission. Given all the recorded material already out here, why did you feel this was such an important pursuit?
Early on, a mutual friend of ours had mentioned that there were probably a couple of Count Basie recordings among the Benny Goodman recordings in the collection. Lester Young has always been my main inspiration, not only for playing music, but also as a collector and as an historian. So once I understood that there was the possibility of just a few minutes more of prime Lester Young with Count Basie, that was all I needed.
Tell us about the actual contents of the Savory Collection.
There were close to 1000 acetates. These eventually, when transferred, played a couple hundred hours worth of music. They were all recorded off the air, actually, the great majority were recorded off the air, as there are a handful of actual live recordings that he made. The artists whose work was captured are far too numerous to list here, but a shortlist would have to include Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Coleman Hawkins, Art Tatum, Louis Jordan, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, John Kirby, Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, Kirsten Flagstad, Arturo Toscanini… and that’s just for starters.
How did the National Jazz Museum in Harlem come to be the source of this collection’s current dissemination?
Bill Savory’s son, Eugene, thought that it was proper that the collection wind up with an institution which was likely to do something to disseminate the music. The museum’s then board chairman, Jonathan Scheuer, traveled with me immediately back to Gene Savory’s house, paid for the collection and then donated it to the museum.
What efforts did it take to prepare the Savory Collection for public consumption?
Two people were indispensable to this effort. Doug Pomeroy, a world-famous recording engineer, came out of retirement to supervise every single aspect of rescuing the music from the recordings, and then transferring them digitally, and then doing the extensive work to make them as listenable as possible. On the legal end of things, which was extraordinarily convoluted, nothing whatever could have happened without another one of our board members, Daryl Libow, who somehow found the time outside of his career as a partner at the esteemed Sullivan and Cromwell law firm, to spend literally hundreds of hours on this project. I worked hand in glove with both of these guys in untold conversations and emails over the course of many years to get to this point.
How will the Savory Collection be made available for public consumption?
We have issued two albums so far which are available for download through iTunes music. Each one comes with an extensive set of liner notes as well.
What will comprise the initial Savory Collection release(s)?
The first album is a compilation of classic broadcasts ranging from Coleman Hawkins to Fats Waller to Ella Fitzgerald to Lionel Hampton, as well as a couple of far more obscure artists who are deserving of greater recognition.
How do you envision this project going forward for the benefit of the Museum project?
Over the course of the last decade, the museum has been doing literally hundreds upon hundreds of public events, whether they be lectures, concerts, dances, you name it. Now we are very happy to add to our profile some of the most important previously unknown jazz recordings of all time. It really helps for the museums mission, and we have also produced concerts internationally were young artists reflect on these classic old recordings and create new sounds. In fact, I did one in Poland last summer, that was out as out can be!
What is the current state of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem project?
We are ensconced in our lovely new home right on the center strip of Harlem [see contact info below], right up the street from the Red Rooster, Sylvia’s, and many other mainstays. Our two artistic directors, Christian McBride and Jon Batiste, are still very much involved, giving advice end guidance, and we have a small but energetic and dedicated staff that somehow make it all happen. This is all really a tribute to our founder, Leonard Garment, whose vision placed us right in the middle of Harlem many years ago.
National Jazz Museum in Harlem
58 W. 129th Street
New York, NY 10027