Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Various Artists: Classic Savoy Be-Bop Sessions 1945-49 (Mosaic)

JazzTimes may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. JazzTimes does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting JazzTimes.
Various Artists: Classic Savoy Be-Bop Sessions 1945-49
Various Artists: Classic Savoy Be-Bop Sessions 1945-49

The only thing that keeps Classic Savoy Be-Bop Sessions from being Complete Savoy Be-Bop Sessions is that it excludes Charlie Parker’s recordings for the label. That, however, is good news. For one thing, it means that Mosaic’s latest isn’t yet another repackaging of music that every semi-serious jazz fan has anyway. Instead, it’s 10 CDs of bebop in its ascendant era, featuring more than 20 headliners and demonstrating that even without Bird, Savoy Records was the most innovative label of the day.

Of course much of this music has also been widely packaged and repackaged, and early dates by Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz and J.J. Johnson are no strangers to the canon. But Mosaic’s curations are so much more than content; they are context. Putting Gordon, Getz and Johnson together, along with Fats Navarro, Howard McGhee, Allen Eager, Tadd Dameron and the great but neglected Leo Parker creates a panoramic view of what the first wave of bebop actually sounded like. And what it sounded like was a sonic rainbow. We understand intellectually that each individual brings his own flavor to the music, but it really takes hearing them en masse for that idea to sink in.

On tenor saxophone, for example, Eager’s cocksure but elegant swagger stands in sharp relief to Getz and Brew Moore’s floating aesthetic (although Getz’s first session, the “Opus de Bop” date from July 1946, is startlingly aggressive compared to the stuff that made his reputation). That, in turn, couldn’t be more different from the shrieking R&B-isms of Eddie Davis and his Beboppers: That’s the Davis you know better as “Lockjaw,” caught here in a 1946 meeting with credentialed boppers Al Haig and Gene Ramey. That band, by the way, also features Denzil Best on drums, whose clanging ride cymbal creates another contrast to Kenny Clarke’s clean crispness and Shelly Manne’s sibilance. (Clarke and Manne are both regulars on this box, the former in one of his first dates as a leader.) The variety never ceases.

There are plenty of other insights to be found here too. The second session included is Kai Winding’s New Jazz Group, from December ’45—probably the first recording of bebop trombone, and proof that Winding hadn’t yet escaped the conventions of the swing era. Trumpeter Shorty Rogers and saxophonist Getz easily outpace him on “Sweet Miss” and “Grab Your Axe Max,” Winding’s own compositions. Six months later, Johnson’s trombonistic innovations in speed and rhythm on the famous “Coppin’ the Bop” session are hair-raising by comparison. And when Winding appears again, on a January 1947 date billed as Teddy Reig’s All Stars, he’s absorbed them completely.

Completists will have a field day with this material. Bud Powell appears several times as a sideman (for Gordon, Johnson and a Sonny Stitt/Kenny Dorham quintet billed as the Be Bop Boys); Sonny Rollins shows up on a ’49 session with Johnson; and Dizzy Gillespie does a 1946 date in a Ray Brown octet that also features saxophonist James Moody’s first-ever appearance on record (with his own feature, “Moody Speaks”). All of this is intricately detailed in a fine essay by Neil Tesser, the cherry on top of Savoy’s (and Mosaic’s) embarrassment of riches.

Originally Published