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Loren Schoenberg: From Benny Goodman to The Savory Collection

AAJ Staff By

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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."

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