For decades a few jazz enthusiasts “in the know” have whispered about the collection of jazz recordings created by William Savory, an audio engineer with a strong passion and ear for music. Referred to as a technical genius, Savory made the recordings from radio broadcasts in the late 1930s. Because of his job at a radio transcription service, Savory had access to larger, more durable 12- or 16-inch discs, and the technology to record at slower speeds. His recordings were incredibly high quality for the times and contain longer jam sessions with extended solos that were never recorded elsewhere.
For more than 70 years, Savory stowed away his meticulously organized, never-before-heard recordings of jazz icons like Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Lester Young, Billie Holiday, Lionel Hampton, Artie Shaw, and Benny Goodman.
When Savory died in 2004, his son sold the entire “Savory Collection,” sealed in crates, to the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. Museum Director Loren Schoenberg, a professional saxophonist and educator, had been pestering Savory for years to unveil the recordings. Schoenberg transported the boxes by truck to New York City.
Currently, 975 discs are being converted into digital form to make them playable. The museum is still working out copyright issues for the recordings, but some remarkable samples are available to the public at the museum’s website: www.jmih.org. Alternatively, the museum welcomes visitors to come in and hear the recordings Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. If you’d like to visit the museum to hear the recordings, you can set up an appointment by calling (212)348-8300 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The museum also houses a collection of historic photographs documenting the jazz movement in Harlem and an exhibit related to the book The Ghosts of Harlem by Hank O’Neal. Though currently small, the museum has big plans for the future. It was designated the lead cultural component in a redevelopment project across the street from the Apollo Theater. The 12,000-square-foot future museum, will house rotating and permanent exhibits, a restaurant, and small performance venue.
In the meantime, Schoenberg and co-director and jazz musician Christian McBride continue to build support for the museum through weekly events and educational programs.
This article is from our January-February 2011 issue. Click to order!