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National Jazz Museum in Harlem Acquires Vintage Collection

Savory Collection includes live recordings from 1935-1941 by Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Artie Shaw, Billie Holiday and many other jazz greats

Artie Shaw
Count Basie

Recently, the National Jazz Museum in Harlem acquired a historic collection of never-before-heard recordings, including live performances from jazz greats such as Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Lionel Hampton, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman and many others, all recorded during a five- to six-year period starting in 1935. This treasure trove of ’30s era jazz consists of 975 aluminum and vinyl discs, adds up to over 100 hours of material. The recordings were made by William Savory, a recording engineer and Harvard-educated physicist. While working at a radio transcription service in New York between 1935 and 1941, Savory recorded hundreds of hours of material directly off the radio. Not only is the quality of the discs better than much of what was recorded at the time, but, according to the Museum, in many cases these discs constitute the only known recordings of these live performances.

For Loren Schoenberg, executive director of the Museum, the acquisition of the Collection was the culmination of a quest that began about 30 years ago. “In 1980 I was working for Benny Goodman,” Schoenberg said by phone from his office at the Museum. “I met his friends and among the people I met was Bill Savory. I knew that he had supplied the material for a two-hour piece that Columbia had put out in the early 50s of Goodman airchecks, so I asked him how he found the best material and how he picked it. And he said, ‘Well, I didn’t pick the best material. I picked the best of what was in the first box.’ At that point, I was very excited. And basically that started a 24-year cultivation on my part of him that ended in naught. He never let me hear the stuff and he never shared any of it with me. When he passed away in 2004, I thought that we had lost a great collection of Benny Goodman recordings. Goodman had all these great people – Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, Sid Catlett, Cootie Williams, Mel Powell, Gene Krupa – in his band and I knew that on a lot of his radio broadcasts, he’d had a lot of guests. So I anticipated that it would have been a helluva find. When I eventually did find it in the spring of this year, it turns out that the Goodman part was a third and that the other two-thirds were all these other things. I was flabbergasted.”

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