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Savoy Jazz Reaches 60, But Looks Beyond

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I feel pretty positive about jazz and some of the other adult music formats being able to not only hold on to the market share, but increase.
Every so often someone in jazz has their career resurrected. Different elements feed into that. Good luck; a sudden public "discovery;" Perseverance. Going on in jazz right now, however, is the resurrection of an old tried and true recoding label, Savoy Jazz.

It's the result of hard work and a desire to maintain classic recordings from its masters. It's also part of a plan to look to the future and develop new art.

Steve Vining became president of the Savoy Label Group, Nippon Columbia's US-based jazz division, in January. With people like Steve Backer, former Artista Jazz and Impulse! Head, on board, the label has high expectations. They hope to get out to the public, using the best modern technology, some classic music made by the likes of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Charlie Mingus, Billy Eckstine, Tommy Flanagan. Kai Winding, Marian McPartland, Art Pepper, Herbie Mann, Yusef Lateef, Lester Young, Stan Getz and more.

Vining said the label is also looking to make new recordings and is close to signing some. He didn't give specifics, but expect the music to appear next year. Some, he says, will be new artists and some under-appreciated established players, all turned up during a kind of talent scouting by the label.

Savoy Jazz hopes to package the reissues in a way that appeals both top collectors and those wanting to know a bit more about their jazz heroes of an era gone by. A Dizzy Gillespie package, for example, ( Dizzy Gillespie: Odyssey 1945-1952 ) has three discs featuring the trumpeter in a variety of setting, from big bands to small groups, presenting an interesting historical painting. A single-disc Bird set, ( Charlie Parker: Best of the Complete Live Performances on Savoy ), features a great-sounding collection of music that includes a very young Miles Davis, Max Roach, Milt Jackson and Kenny Dorham, among others. It cooks, giving the flavor of the music for those who don't necessarily have to hear every single cut.

All of this has been done in a whirlwind six months or so, and much more is planned. Savoy, once a well-known jazz label, is striving again to be a respected keeper of the flame and presenter of new music. A huge public relations push is coming in the next few months to promote all the exciting things Savoy Jazz officials are trying to get done.

"I have to admit, it's been a bit of a scramble, and we're still scrambling," said Vining, who spoke recently with All About Jazz.

All About Jazz (AAJ): It's the 60th anniversary, but Savoy isn't just about the past. I know there's a lot of things you're looking forward to in the future.

Steve Vining: The good news is, for both Steve Backer [Savoy vice president of Artists and Repertory] and I is that we have a healthy respect for what the historic recordings represent and what they mean to this company. As we've gotten into this company and really dug into it, it seems amazing to us that this group of rapscallions were able to put together a collection of recordings that represented [Charlie] Parker at his best, Miles Davis with Parker, Coltrane's earliest, Mingus' earliest. It's astounding when you look at what they were able to accomplish given some of the stories you hear about this label, which are colorful to say the least.

We're very aware of how important these recordings are to the jazz legacy and I think we've done pretty good, so far, at packaging them in such a way where we've got a series for the serious jazz collector who really wants the comprehensive, scholarly approach to the material, with a lot of annotation, a lot of photos, a lot of background. Then we've got our new mid-price line — our timeless line — which we think is a great introduction to this genre of music, for people who aren't into jazz yet; they're kind of sticking their toe in the water. The timeless stuff really does a good job of introducing them to these artists.

And then beyond that, we'll get into signing some new folks and getting new recordings under Savoy, which hasn't been done in a number of years.

AAJ: How long have you been with Savoy?

SV: Backer and I both started in December of last year. We took the company over at that point. There was very little going on. They had a distribution deal in the US that was ending; they had no distribution in Canada, no distribution in Europe and they hadn't had a new release in about a year and a half. So Steve and I got together and we got our first releases out in May under our new distributor, with Red Distribution, which is an arm of Sony. Through July, we've probably got about 20 new things in the marketplace. By Christmas, we should have just about 50 that utilize new technology, new packages, new compilations of the most august recordings in the catalog; and then our new timeless series.

AAJ: That's a busy year.

SV: I have to admit, it's been a bit of a scramble, and we're still scrambling. Because of the 60th anniversary campaign we're more busy. My background is, I'm very pro marketing, so I really want to make sure that the message and the story of whatever I'm working with gets out there. We've been fortunate enough to come to an agreement with our friends at Bulova, who have the watches and fine timepieces. Well it just so happens they have a Savoy line. We had the presence of mind to call our new mid-price line timeless. The 60th anniversary campaign will have us giving away Bulova watches, on our website, on partner websites, and through a partnership with a retailer, we'll be able to announce in about a week. It's going to be probably one of the largest, if not the largest, jazz marketing campaigns that folks have seen, perhaps ever.

We like to do the kinds of things where we draw in other people. Bulova will be using our music in their radio and TV spots. We'll be creating a custom sampler that their retailers will be giving away when watches are purchased for the fourth quarter. Then we'll have their watches to give away in sweepstakes on the more traditional music side. So, I think it's going to be a fabulous campaign. It's going to help get the word out and create excitement for Savoy this fall.

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