Loren Schoenberg: From Benny Goodman to The Savory Collection
“ I remember very distinctly what it was like playing the clarinet part and Benny Goodman playing the lead, and it was very exciting. ”
Saxophonist, band-leader and writer Loren Schoenberg, now Executive Director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, spent an interesting childhood and teenager-hood growing up in New Jersey in the 1970s, meeting and befriending both Teddy Wilson and Hank Jones, and ultimately becoming employed by Wilson's famous '30s boss, Benny Goodman. Schoenberg was first an assistant to Goodman and then Goodman's manager, and, as a tenor saxophonist, formed the big band that Goodman was eventually to lead himself for a year until his death in 1986.
Schoenberg is also a jazz and classical music historian, a two-time Grammy winner for his historical essays accompanying box set releases from Louis Armstrong and Woody Herman. In addition to essays published in reference books such as the Oxford Companion To Jazz, he is also the author of The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Jazz, published by Penguin Books in 2002 with a forward by Wynton Marsalis.
Big recent news for the Museum was the discovery and acquisition of the Savory Collection, a treasure trove of live recordings of the leading figures of swing made by jazz fan and Harvard drop-out Bill Savory. The recordings were made from 1935-41 on special "long playing" sixteen inch aluminum and vinyl discs, discs that could hold thirty minutes of music a side. Savory worked for a radio transcriptions company, and was able to use the equipment after hours for his hobby: jazz. The recordings were from the radio broadcasts of afterhours jams, and the quality of many of them is excellent. Performers featured include Lester Young, Goodman, Roy Eldridge and Billie Holiday, all in artistically nurturing and relaxed environments. One stellar example is Coleman Hawkins reprising a version of his historic take on "Body And Soul" in a Times Square club in 1940a version that is twice the length of the recorded version but just as intense. Savory also recorded classical broadcasts by such immortal figures as the conductor Arturo Toscanini, which may be as revelatory as those with the jazz masters.
There are a total of 975 discs in the collection, and Schoenberg personally went to look at them in the Spring of 2010, when they turned up through the agency of Savory's son Gene. In September and November, 2010, the weekly series of classes that the Museum holds for the public, called Jazz For The Curious Listener, featured playings from the collection. Schoenberg has much to say on the significance of Savory's efforts, including the recordings' potential for influencing future musicians of all kinds. He is also keen to speak about his time with Goodman, the tremendous innovations of all the great soloists of the first decades of jazz, and the cross-fertilization between jazz and classical music.
All About Jazz: You must have discovered some great 78s.
Loren Schoenberg: I remember once I went out with my friend Phil Schaap [broadcaster at New York's WKCR] back in the '70s and found a twelve inch that was done for Philo with Lester Young, Nat Cole and Red Callender, and at this time it was only available on LP in very bad sound quality. (Well), not bad sound quality but not good sound quality. And I found this lovely 78 twelve inch album. It said ""Lester Young"it couldn't say Nat Cole 'cause I guess he was under contract to another company, but it was the Lester Young Trio. This is not the session with Buddy Rich in '45. This was the trio session with Red Callender in '42. So we brought them home, and then sat on them! I sat on the records by mistake. So that's my 78 collecting story. I found another copy later.
AAJ: As a child in New Jersey, you went to a lot of local venues, where you met Teddy Wilson and through him, in due course, Benny Goodman.
LS: Yes. when I was about 13, 14 Teddy Wilson was playing in a restaurant near where I lived. And I just couldn't believe that this was the same guy who had been playing with Benny Goodman.
AAJ: What was the venue?
LS: It was called the Colonial Post, in Hackensack, New Jersey. It was a very small little restaurant in Hackensack and Teddy Wilson was playing there on Saturday or Sunday afternoons, weekend afternoons, at 5 to 8 (p.m.), or something like that. I said, "This can't be the guy who I have on these records with Benny Goodman." So I asked my parents to take me. And they did, and it was him.
AAJ: Were there any other places you went to?