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Loren Schoenberg: From Benny Goodman to The Savory Collection

AAJ Staff By

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So I put a band together of my friends, just a rehearsal band, and started working and then I started to attract really good musicians to play in it. So once I had Mel Lewis, once I had Harold Ashby, Rolf Ericson, or Johnny Carisi or whoever was in the band, more people wanted to play in it, and it eventually turned into an actual band that was working. Not a lot, but we were working. John Hammond [the famous A&R executive who discovered Basie, Goodman and Bob Dylan] was interested, and [others], people who had some influence. And the next thing you knew, we started doing the Newport Jazz Festival. Then we made a record and Benny heard the record. I was working for him at that time in another capacity and that's how it happened. And that's how we became the last Benny Goodman big band.

Discs from the Savory Collection

AAJ: When you were beginning with your big band, did you have any trouble finding places to play?

LS: Sure we did. Of course we did. We played a noon-time gig at a place called The Red Blazer, which was on 88th and Third Avenue. And I paid the band. I don't remember what it was, but I paid them something. And we worked our way up from there.

AAJ: When did you release your first record?

LS: 1984. That was my first big band record.

AAJ: What was the personnel?

LS: "Well it was mostly young guys. It was all my peers, like Howard Alden, Ken Peplowski, Matt Finders and Doug Lawrence and all these good players, but maybe one third of the band or one quarter of the band were the old time great guys, the veterans, like Danny Bank, Mel Lewis or Eddie Bert.

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.]

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