Once The Stuff Of Jazz Legend, 1930s Recordings Are Finally Out In 2010, the acquisition of William Savory's legendary collection of almost 1,000 live recordings had jazz fans salivating. Now, 40 restored tracks from the Savory archives are available on iTunes.

Once The Stuff Of Jazz Legend, 1930s Recordings Are Finally Out

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/504696831/504792318" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Imagine turning on your radio back in 1938 and hearing this performed live just a few months after it came out on record.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A-TISKET, A-TASKET")

ELLA FITZGERALD: (Singing) A-tisket, a-tasket, a brown and yellow basket. I sent a letter to my mommy. On the way, I dropped it.

MARTIN: That is, of course, the voice of Ella Fitzgerald from a CBS broadcast singing her first big hit for a national audience. It comes from a legendary private collection of nearly a thousand recordings, and it hasn't been heard by the general public since the 1930s. They were acquired by the National Jazz Museum in Harlem about six years ago. Now, the recordings are being restored and making their way to a new generation of jazz fans, as Tom Vitale reports.

TOM VITALE, BYLINE: It's the quintessential buried treasure story. Sound engineer William Savory had amassed a collection of radio broadcasts he professionally recorded off direct feeds from clubs and ballrooms across New York City.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Ahoy there, mates. We're at the Yacht Club.

FATS WALLER: Hello.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Hello yourself. That's Fats Waller. He's sitting here at the piano saying hello over my shoulder.

VITALE: And Savory kept them to himself. The recordings became the stuff of legend...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

VITALE: ...And an obsession for saxophonist and historian Loren Schoenberg. He says he pestered Savory for a quarter-century to let him hear his Benny Goodman recordings because Schoenberg had worked for the clarinetist, but Savory never did. Then, Savory died in 2004. Six years later, Schoenberg tracked down Savory's son in rural Illinois.

LOREN SCHOENBERG: It turned out that, when I finally got there, that there were 50 boxes that had not been opened for decades and decades. And they contained not just all this magical Benny Goodman material but, totally unexpectedly, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Coleman Hawkins, Billie Holiday and the rest.

(SOUNDBITE OF COLEMAN HAWKINS SONG, "BODY AND SOUL")

VITALE: The centerpiece of volume one of "The Savory Collection" is an extended performance by Coleman Hawkins of his signature tune, "Body And Soul." Schoenberg points out that it's twice as long as the version Hawkins released commercially because, in the studio, the saxophonist was limited by the length of commercial 78 rpm discs.

SCHOENBERG: In the studio, people played it safe. So these recordings, you hear them how they really sounded when they were playing live in person, relaxed and doing things that they couldn't do. I mean, Coleman Hawkins does some stuff during towards the end of that "Body And Soul" that I never heard him do.

(SOUNDBITE OF COLEMAN HAWKINS SONG, "BODY AND SOUL")

VITALE: Engineer William Savory was able to capture full performances the way musicians played them in clubs because he used the larger discs specially made to archive radio broadcasts and because he recorded at slower speeds.

PHIL SCHAAP: And that's really the linchpin here or the catalyst or the cherry on top of the sundae. Everybody's blowing longer than they did on record dates, and these dates have personnels that none other have.

VITALE: Phil Schaap is a curator for jazz at Lincoln Center. Schaap says, for him, the highlight of the first volume of the Savery collection is another saxophone solo by Herschel Evans on the ballad "Stardust."

SCHAAP: And the first time I heard that "Stardust," it moved me to tears.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STARDUST")

VITALE: Herschel Evans was just 29 years old and suffering from heart disease when he played on this 1938 jam session led by Lionel Hampton.

SCHAAP: And he's dying, and he plays an instrument that requires you to have a lot of breath control and a lot of control of your entire circulatory system. He can barely fill the horn with air, but he knows how to cover, and he does. There's a sadness, but I think you can hear something's up, but something's still great.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STARDUST")

VITALE: Herschel Evans died six weeks later.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STARDUST")

VITALE: Loren Schoenberg acquired the Savery recordings for the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, where he's the founding director. He's spent the last six years overseeing the transfer, cataloguing and release of the collection, but he hopes people will hear something beyond the music.

SCHOENBERG: I think in every town there is some great collection of something that is sitting in some closet or some basement or some library or some storage space containing the equivalent of "The Savory Collection," for whatever that thing is. And I hope that when people listen to the music, wherever they are, that they can get those searches going and start looking for those things because I think they're all around us. I was just lucky enough to find it.

VITALE: Listeners will also have to do a little digging to find "The Savory Collection." It's not in stores or on Amazon. It's only available as an iTunes exclusive. For NPR News, I'm Tom Vitale in New York.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.