There’s something delightfully rough-hewn and earthy about this third entry in the Savory Collection from the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, available exclusively on Apple Music. We are talking some seriously uninhibited streaming here, from 1938-40, the apogee of the swing era. The heart of this collection is a mighty jam session broadcast on NYC’s WNEW and featuring Pee Wee Russell on clarinet, Bud Freeman on tenor saxophone, Jack Teagarden on trombone and vocals, and Fats Waller at the piano and doling out his vocal jive, plus trumpeter Charlie Teagarden, bassist Artie Shapiro and drummer Zutty Singleton, with no less than Eddie Condon playing guitar.
This is, by any measure, a swing dream team, and if you could insert yourself back in time to the peripheries of a musicians-only jam session, this is what you’d hear. “Honeysuckle Rose”—which gets several contrasting airings on this set—is akin to the thesis statement, with Waller carving out the largest chunks of glory. He flat-out brings it at the ivories in a manner beyond mere dexterity, approaching the fluidity of a Sviatoslav Richter, with some of the wit of Ring Lardner’s short tales from the last decade interpolated. You find yourself asking if anyone else ever made music like Waller did.
Especially revelatory are the 10 cuts by John Kirby’s sextet. Normally we think of Kirby’s music as densely cerebral, with classical flourishes, but the latter have gone out of the mix here, and his unit thoroughly carves up “Honeysuckle Rose” with bluesy aplomb on another 1938 broadcast, with scat singer Leo Watson marking the chord changes with coloratura.
The hero of the hour, though, might be sound engineer Bill Savory, from whom this collection takes its name. You need have no trepidation that the sound will be a series of crackles and pops—the quality is pristine, elegant. And while Albert Ammons acquits himself potently with a rollicking “Boogie Woogie Stomp,” pay special attention to Chick Webb’s 1939 Café Society version—with Roy Eldridge on trumpet—of the Gershwins’ “Liza,” with drum solos unlike anything else in Webb’s career. These are among the best percussive moments we have in all of jazz.