Four years ago, when the first items from William Savory’s collection of jazz audio were restored and shared by the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, one of them was a recording, from a broadcast by the Mutual Broadcasting System radio network, of Coleman Hawkins performing “Body and Soul.”
This was in 1940, at New York’s Fiesta Danceteria (“the world’s first self-service nightclub,” according to the announcer), a year after the release of Hawkins’ hit studio version of the same song. The 1939 “Body and Soul,” now a historic recording, much analyzed and referenced and included in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry, had already become a set piece. But the version Savory recorded has much the same dramatic intensity, and lasts two choruses longer. It is genuinely great, but its larger suggestion may be greater: that it is not in the nature of jazz to conjure a goal, achieve it, enshrine it for all time, and then move on to something different. It isn’t quite that the new “Body and Soul” tore down a monument. It just made monuments seem beside the point.