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Loren Schoenberg: From Benny Goodman to The Savory Collection

AAJ Staff By

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AAJ: Were there any members of The Harlem Jazz And Blues Band? (The band was comprised of original Basie alumni and others from the same era, such as Eddie Durham and Eddie Barefield).

LS: No. That was an older generation, a slightly older generation. They were some people I had worked with. I had worked with Jo Jones and Roy Eldridge and all those people, but they were like grandfathers. I would play in their band or sit in or both, but this was a different generation. My parents' generation was the generation that was my band. That was the grandparents' generation.

AAJ: I read you also played sax with Eddie Durham [the '30s Basie arranger, trombonist and inventor of the electric guitar].

LS: Yes, I played with them all. I played with Al Casey and Sammy Price and Harold Ashby and Russell Procope and Paul Quinichette and Sonny Greer, Jo Jones, all of those.

AAJ: This is the late seventies?

LS: This is the late seventies and the early eighties.

AAJ: A lot of these guys were in their own bands?

LS: Yes, a lot of them worked at The West End. I lived around the corner from The West End. [The West End was at Broadway and 114th Street]. And I became the all purpose sub, 'cause I played saxophone and piano. So whenever they needed anybody, you know [it was] "Call Loren," and I ended up working in the band.

AAJ: What was your book for your own big band?

LS: Basically it was arrangements I got from Benny Goodman, and then Buck Clayton and Benny Carter started giving me music. They would give me some charts. So the book was largely things from the Goodman library and then augmented by Benny Carter and Johnny Carisi and people I knew who had just come. They wanted to hear their stuff played too. At that time there were no jazz repertory bands so there was probably nobody playing the stuff, so I think they were actually happy to have it played.

AAJ: When did Benny Goodman take over your band?

LS: 1985.

AAJ: Was it for the one gig?

LS: Originally it was just for one gig, for a public television show called Let's Dance, and he needed a band. It was proposed to him that Dick Hyman put together a band of all the old-timers and he didn't want to do that. So he said, "No." And then I gave him a copy of my record and we were swimming one day at his house up in Stamford and in the middle of the swimming thing he just said "Oh, by the way, I think I'm going to use your band on the TV show." Oh my God, I was so excited. So we did a concert in New Jersey in Waterloo Village for the New Jersey Jazz Society in the Fall of '84, because Teddy Wilson played. And then we did the TV show in '85 and then he took the band over. The band actually started really working. And within a few months I was gone.

[Goodman had a reputation for replacing musicians en masse. One currently working drummer claims to have been fired three times by Goodman, the Donald Trump of jazz, in the '60s. And trumpeter Doc Cheatham said in an interview that once Goodman fired the whole band that he (Cheatham) was in, except for him. And so it was that soon Schoenberg left too, from his band. All in the name of art, we assume.]

AAJ: Did he tour with the big band?

LS: I wouldn't say "toured," but he was doing work and he was getting a week, a night here and a night there. He was starting a real schedule for the band. And he had been sick that time and he was told to cool it and he wouldn't, and I think he died exactly like he wanted to die.

AAJ: Working?

LS: Yes, leading a big band and playing. That's exactly right. He died on the 13th of June, '86, Friday the thirteenth.

AAJ: Talking about numbers that he performed with the band, did he do a number like say "Bach Goes to Town," the one with five clarinets?

LS: The only thing we did with a lot of clarinets that I remember was "At The Darktown Strutters' Ball." Not the Mel Powell arrangement but the earlier Spud Murphy arrangement, which I love, and it has a passage with five clarinets at the end and I remember very distinctly—we never played it in public I don't think, but we rehearsed it—and I remember what it was like playing the clarinet part and Benny playing the lead, and it was very exciting.

AAJ: Were they all Bb clarinets?

LS: Yes.

AAJ: He also toured or played in England and in Europe in the eighties. Was that with the band?

LS: Not with the big band. I think it was with bands that I put together because I was his manager at that time and he would do tours. (He did) one very interesting broadcast with the BBC in 1982 with Svend Asmussen. I don't know if it's ever been issued commercially, but it was recorded by the BBC and it's wonderful. I've heard it.

AAJ: Did he do post swing-era numbers with the band?

LS: No. By the time he took over my band, he was really only interested in doing all the Fletcher Henderson arrangements. He really wasn't even doing any of the Eddie Sauter arrangements.

AAJ: What were you doing at this time, after no longer playing with the big band?

LS: By that time I was a full time musician so I was either with my band or working with Benny Carter, or working with a jazz orchestra, recording, doing touring, so yeah, my whole life was with the saxophone, conducting bands on occasion, and guest conducting. I hadn't started teaching yet. Teaching came a little bit later.

AAJ: Conducting jazz orchestras?

LS: Yes, jazz orchestras in Venezuela or in Germany, loads of places. I was a guest conductor for a week or a day, or two weeks.

AAJ: You conducted a concert in Germany that included music of Duke Ellington.

LS: That was a big band. It's called the West Deutsche Rundfunk, the WDR Jazz Orchestra. One of the concerts, the Paul Whiteman tribute, was with an actual orchestra. I conducted the "Rhapsody In Blue." It was mostly big bands.

AAJ: Were you arranging also?

LS: Not too much arranging. Probably the most arrangements I wrote was when I was Bobby Short's musical director for ten years, and then I wrote some. I'm not a great arranger but I know great arrangers. So I'm the kind of person who has very limited talent but I was lucky enough to focus on exactly what I did well, and things I didn't do so well I let other people do.

AAJ: It has been said that you're a "natural historian."

LS: Well I guess I am. I'm a writer, I think. I've written a lot.

AAJ: How did the West 55th Street New York Jazz Museum come to an end? [It ended in 1977].

LS: It didn't have any management, and it was the wrong time and the wrong place.

AAJ: You were appointed Executive Director of the Jazz Museum in Harlem in 2001. Did you see that coming?

LS: No. I had nothing to do with it. It was the conception of a man named Leonard Garment. He had the idea for the Jazz Museum and they were having trouble bringing it off and it wasn't happening. They started and stopped and then after it stopped, they got somebody from Congress, they got a million dollar appropriation from Congress. So there was some money, but then there was no institution, and that's when I took over."

AAJ: The Savory Collection is a tremendous find. Is it likely to be released in any way?

LS: We hope so. We're talking with major record labels right now trying to work out a way to issue it.

AAJ: At the public presentations recently, did you play the actual discs or copies of them?

LS: Here are some of the discs [indicates discs on the table]. We played transfers of the discs. That was all done by Doug Pomeroy, who's the transfer engineer.

AAJ: How would the rights situation work?

LS: I don't know. That's what we're exploring.

AAJ: The Museum has a lot of jazz books in the front area.

LS: That's one hundredth of what we have. We have a huge collection of books, recordings, magazines. It's in storage right now until we actually build the museum. [The Museum is hoping to move to large specially-renovated premises on 125th Street]. We have a tremendous collection, all the Metronomes, all the Downbeats, thousands of jazz books, thousands of 78s, memorabilia, Ralph Ellison's collection of things. Tons of stuff."

AAJ: How is the progress of the proposed move of the Museum to bigger premises going?

LS: There's a building across the street from the Apollo Theater. It's called the Mark 125. We were designated by the city to be the cultural organization in Mark 125. Right now, the city is finding a developer to build the building, and once they do that then we will hopefully raise the twenty million dollars we have to raise.



AAJ: There are also some historic photos of musicians on the walls in the front area.

LS: Those come from a book called Ghosts Of Harlem. The book is for sale and the book is written by one of my board members, [photographer] Hank O'Neil. In the seventies and eighties he took pictures of these great musicians, and that's what that is.

AAJ: I'm all for spreading knowledge about "proper" music so that people write good music—good input and good output. Do you have any general plans for, or ideas on, the best methods to do that?

LS: Here's how you do it. At all the Bill Savory events we had this month, I hired young musicians to play along with the records while they were playing, and then to go off on their own. So I see the Bill Savory collection as (being as) relevant to the future as it is to the past. We're going to use these discs and use these recordings to inspire dancers, painters, musicians, athletes, surgeons, anybody. That's the whole idea of the Savory Collection.

AAJ: How are you publicizing it?

LS: Tonight we' ll be on the BBC World News and BBC America, and CBS News is running something and you're doing your piece. Just any and all, just keep it going.

AAJ: Eric Clapton was once interviewed on a BBC radio show and he described how, when he was a teenager buying blues records, the record store owner said to him, "I'll only sell them to you if you also buy a jazz record at the same time!" So I had the idea that when someone buys a rap record or a chart record they should be given a free jazz CD at the same time.
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