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Savoy Records: From Newark To The World

Jordan Levy By

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Reig frequented the bars and clubs that were known for jazz, including Minton's Playhouse, where musicians were starting to move past the phenomenon of swing music. The house band at the Playhouse included talents like Thelonious Monk and Kenny Clarke who were pushing jazz forward with a style called bebop. When trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and saxophonist Charlie Parker started to experiment with this new style they quickly became innovators and experts in their own right.

Due to the Petrillo Ban, this innovation was poorly documented when it truly began. Some of the prime years of bebop could only stay at Minton's and other clubs, not travel to the studio. Luckily for Savoy, Reig was a constant inhabitant of the clubs where bebop was developed. When the Petrillo Ban was lifted in 1945, Reig made his move.

On November 26, 1945, Reig got Charlie Parker into the studio to record for Savoy, with Lubinsky in attendance. The group Parker brought with him was full of stars-to-be. Along with Dizzy Gillespie, who played trumpet and piano, the group included a 19-year-old Miles Davis and Max Roach, with Curly Russell on bass. Controversy around this session has existed for years due to another player Sadik Hakim (f.k.a Argonne Thornton) being present and supposedly playing on a few tracks. His credits have been jumbled and changed over and over again in the many reissues over the years.

At this session, Parker cut some of his most well-known tracks, like "Now's The Time" and perennial music school audition tune "Billie's Bounce." However, what really cements this session in Savoy's history and music history is the tune "Ko Ko" a solo-driven bebop recording played over the chords of the standard "Cherokee." The genius of "Ko Ko" stems from the invention of the musicians on the record, but a creative constraint played a role in its radical sound.

Although Parker had been playing a version of "Ko Ko" for years, he had no intention of recording it on that day. The original plan was to record a special version of "Cherokee," the tune where "Ko Ko" gets its harmony from. Parker wanted to include an introduction, play the tune and solo, then end with the introduction again. However on the first take, when the group launches into the "Cherokee" main melody Teddy Reig can be heard stopping the band (in the featured video). Lubinsky, an eternal cheapskate, had said that the original theme shouldn't be played to avoid having to shell out royalties to the original composer. Little did he know, Lubinsky's frugality helped shape one of the most important songs of all time.

On the second take "Ko Ko" as the world knows it was recorded, with Parker playing right through the introduction and going on a legendary tear of a solo, brazenly announcing the arrival of bebop to the rest of the world. "Ko Ko" has become a seminal jazz recording, considered among the most influential the genre has ever seen. In 2002, The Library of Congress added the original Savoy recording of "Ko Ko" to the National Recording Registry.

Once Savoy took off in jazz it did wonders for the city, according to May.

"Newark has been a center and it has not been just a place where the musicians would pass through. They stop there. One of the reasons they stop there was because Savoy Records was there and Savoy, late '40s, early '50s was the label where so many jazz greats, Charlie Parker, Ms. Rapsody, Miles Davis, Art Blakey, all of them, they recorded on Savoy...So, that was a place where musicians came and when they came to Newark, to record, they just didn't record, they went to the local clubs and played."

Newark became a jazz landmark, in part due to Lubinsky's vision. While the first Parker session was by far the most important thing Reig did for Savoy, it was still early in his history with the label. Reig also recorded legends like Lester Young, Erroll Garner and Miles Davis (in his first session as leader). Still never satisfied, Lubinsky cast his net even wider, starting to tap into other black art forms.

In Savoy's early days, Lubinsky launched King Solomon Records as a gospel subsidiary label trying to gauge the black church market. By the late '50s, Lubinsky had grown tired of the payola schemes necessary for R&B records to sell, and decided to truly invest in gospel music. Once again, Lubinsky's dedication to his bottom line was transformative to a genre.

Savoy started to steadily release gospel music, with growing success. Lubinsky didn't do it alone, like with Reig and jazz, he found another A&R to elevate the label's status.

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