Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The Savory Collection

Jazz treasure trove to be made public
Savory Collection, featuring rare live sets by Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and Coleman Hawkins, to go on display at US National Jazz Museum

Sean Michaels
Wednesday 18 August 2010 10.15

Some of the most sought-after recordings in early jazz will soon be available to the public – at least if you're willing to travel to Harlem. The Savory Collection, including rare live sets by Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Coleman Hawkins and many more, is to be displayed at the US National Jazz Museum, and with it, some of the only 1930s jazz recordings more than a few minutes long.

During the late 30s, audio engineer William Savory recorded nearly 1,000 discs of radio broadcasts, capturing an unparalleled slice of the swing era. Although there are already lots of jazz recordings from that period, most are no more than three minutes long: the limitations of 10in 78-rpm shellac discs made longer recordings impossible. As the New York Times reports, Savory's collection is different. With aluminium or acetate discs 12- or 16in wide, sometimes recorded at 33 1/3 rpm, he was able to capture longer performances "in their entirety", according to the paper, "including jam sessions at which musicians could stretch out and play extended solos that tested their creative mettle".

The audio quality is also high. Savory was "a technical genius", explained the museum's executive director, Loren Schoenberg. "You hear some of this stuff and you say, 'This can't be 70 years old.'" The collection includes unreleased music by Count Basie, Lester Young and Benny Goodman; the only known recordings from the world's first outdoor jazz festival, in 1938; a six-minute version of Body and Soul, performed by Coleman Hawkins; and Billie Holiday singing Strange Fruit, accompanied by piano, less than a month after the original recording was released. "You have the most inane scripted introduction ever," Schoenberg said, "but then Billie comes in, and she drives a stake right through your heart."

Savory died in 2004, and the National Jazz Museum acquired the collection from his son, Eugene Desavouret. But while they are now digitising the recordings, they may never be able to release them. Copyrights are a minefield, involving hundreds of performers, radio stations, publishers and heirs, and in this era of digital distribution, the legal requirements are unclear.

Schoenberg hopes to make the recordings available at the museum and possibly, eventually, online. "Every one of these discs is an unexpected discovery," said Doug Pomeroy, the engineer overseeing the digital transfer. "I can hardly wait to transfer some of this stuff because I am so eager to hear it, to find out what's there and solve all the mysteries."

1 comment:

  1. Don't you just long for a bit more Caravaggio instead of all this jazz stuff?