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Once in a Standard: The Savory Collection

Critic Ben Ratliff on why the work of jazz is never done

Coleman Hawkins
Coleman Hawkins in 1947

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.

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