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Loren Schoenberg: From Benny Goodman to The Savory Collection

AAJ Staff By

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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.

LS: That is a brilliant idea. I'm going to steal that [laughs]. I had never thought of that and that might even be a way for us when we do the Savory Collection. It'll be tied to something contemporary. So, in other words, if somebody likes Little Wayne or Naz or Alicia Keys or whomever the hell it is—Justin Bieber, whatever his [name is]—if they like that, you introduce both to both. Because we're not coming from the perspective that jazz is better than anything else, which is unfortunately the position of too many people, that somehow jazz is superior. No, I'm not saying that jazz is superior.

AAJ: You have won two Grammies for album essay notes. How do you write a good sleeve-note?

LS: You call them sleeve-notes, that's what they're called. But they're really... without sounding too pompous, one of my favorite writers is [classical music critic] Donald Francis Tovey, and I love Tovey's writing because Tovey wrote about classical music in a way that laymen could read and a serious musician could read the same piece and find something in it. So my goal has always been to try and imitate—I never did it [laughs]—but to try and write about it in a way that would satisfy me as a musician, and that my nephew or my niece could read.

AAJ: Is there a particular example of Tovey's writing you can mention?

LS: Well, his writing about the Brahms symphonies is how I met him, because I'm a Brahms nut. Because I was getting into that, and I started teaching it at the places I was teaching when I was teaching jazz. I was starting to incorporate it to make sure that jazz students would have a month of Brahms' Fourth, just so that they would understand it. In the summer program I do with Christian McBride [McBride was appointed a Co-Director of the Museum in 2005] in Aspen, we have great young jazz musicians and I take them through the Goldberg Variations [of JS Bach]. And again, Tovey on the Goldberg Variations is incredible. But we only do it in the context of its relationship to jazz music.

So, in other words, I always tell my students there are three things: "OK, we're talking about the Goldberg Variations, but you have to be able to understand what the relationship is between jazz and you here in 2010, and if at any moment you don't understand those two things just ask me and I'll try to answer that question. So, in other words, we never want to get into a topic or a musical analysis that's so abstruse or so opaque or far out, that they say "What the hell are we talking about this for? This is a jazz discussion. This is a jazz class. You're teaching me about jazz. Why are we talking about Bach?" And then I'll try and answer. I'll say, "Because, there are only so many notes, there are only so many chords, and why try and re-invent the wheel?"

AAJ: What other classical composers do you like a lot?

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