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Loren Schoenberg: From Benny Goodman to The Savory Collection

AAJ Staff By

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LS: Yes, we went to a place called The Cookery in New York, which was owned by Barney Josephson. Barney Josephson is the same guy who had the Cafe Society uptown and downtown in the '40s. So Teddy played at The Cookery, and because one night [that] he was playing at the Cookery—I went there with my parents—he was [also] playing that [same] night with Benny Goodman, that's how I went to hear Benny Goodman for the very first time, and I met Lionel Hampton and Gene Krupa.

AAJ: When was that?

LS: That was 1972. The Cookery was at [East] 9th Street and University Place [in Greenwich Village]. It was right near where the Knickerbocker is.

LS: Teddy had a tuxedo on and my parents said, "Wow, you're wearing a tux tonight," 'cause usually he didn't wear a tuxedo. He would wear a kind of a brown suit. And so he said, "Yes, I'm playing..." (and he explained that) the National Urban League was giving a humanitarian award that night to Lionel Hampton at the Waldorf. They had the original Benny Goodman Quartet with Slam Stewart—or maybe George Duvivier—and Illinois Jacquet added. And I asked if I could go and he said "Yeah" so I tagged along, and that's when I shook hands with Benny Goodman for the first time.

AAJ: That must have been pretty amazing. How were you so lucky? Did Benny Goodman remember you when you met again?

LS: "Well, I don't think he had that many teenage fans. So he told me I could come up. I called his office to ask if I could have an autographed picture. So I came in and got the picture, and then I met him at the New York Jazz Museum shortly thereafter because they did an exhibit on Benny Goodman and I was a volunteer there. And I got a picture of me and him and it was actually in the local newspaper. So that was the beginning.

AAJ: This was the New York Jazz Museum that was downtown in the '70s.

LS: The Jazz Museum was begun in 1972, by a guy named Jack Bradley. He was a very close friend of Louis Armstrong's. He was like an adopted son. And he, in conjunction with Howard Fischer, started this museum on West 55th Street.

AAJ: Later, there was a Count Basie exhibit there, where Basie played and Charles Mingus sat in on bass.

LS: I recorded that on my little cassette machine. I gave the tape to Phil Schaap. I guess he still has it. [Memo to Mr Schaap: play it!].

AAJ: 78 rpm records can sometimes sound pretty good, relative to LP and digital versions of the same track. Is that something you've noticed?

LS: Absolutely. A mint copy 78 played on [good equipment] will sound better than any transfer, but I think that's basically a technological issue. I don't think that anything will sound better than the source material, if it's played in its optimum way, [with its] optimum technology. You can't sound better than it because that's the (original]. How can anything sound better than a 78?

AAJ: They're large, they have big grooves.

LS: There's a lot of information.

AAJ:: You have recently been holding sessions for the public, playing selections from the historic Savory Collection.

LS: We had [Bill Savory's] son, we had the engineer, and we were talking about exactly what you're talking about. What it still comes down to is, no technology will ever sound better than the source. It can't. Back in the '30s most people at home did not have good equipment. So back in the '30s, a lot of people didn't hear the stuff sound great because their record players weren't great, their speakers weren't great, all that kind of stuff. But at the studio where they recorded this music, [when] they were hearing it back it sounded incredible.

AAJ: To lead a big band is a lot of peoples' dream. How did you get to put that together?

LS: I went to New York in 1976 and I was playing with a lot of mediocre big bands. That was the only place that I could hear big band music. I became dissatisfied because the bands weren't that good and even the charts we were playing were not the originals. They were just copies, so I had this feeling that I really wanted... it's like, if you wanted to hear a Brahms symphony but all you were hearing was a cheesy second-rate version of it, you 'd say 'Man, let's put an orchestra together, get the original symphony, and play it.' Well, it was like that. I wanted to do that with Goodman and Basie and Ellington.

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