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Savoy Records: From Newark To The World

Jordan Levy By

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Mendelsohn was head A&R at Savoy and eventually ended up as president of the label, and by the early 70's was basically informally running the label. Nappy Brown, an R&B artist Mendelsohn recruited emphasized how crucial Mendelsohn was to Savoy's success.

"Fred should have been at the Savoy, because if it hadn't been for him, Lubinsky wouldn't have any artists. Freddie was the one that kept the thing together."

However, Lubinsky was still top dog, but things changed drastically. In 1973 when he was diagnosed with cancer. Dick Lubinsky recalled his final days.

"They gave him two weeks to live and he lasted nine more months. My father would be so bonged out on morphine and other drugs they give terminal cancer patients, he'd be making deals right out of his hospital bed that I would have to countermand. His signature wouldn't even come out horizontal."

On March 16, 1974, at age 77, Herman Lubinsky Sr. died. Afterwards, the National Estate Bank determined that the company should be sold, and after a short competition Clive Davis of Arista Records bought the label's library and assets in 1975 for $1.8 million. Mendelsohn was kept on as president after the acquisition, but things were never the same.

By the '80s Mendelsohn was announcing cutbacks across the label, in 1983 he was scaling back his beloved Gospel division, as announced in Billboard.

In the same year, Joe Fields of Muse Records purchased the Savoy catalog from Arista. Fields then made a few crucial moves. In 1986 he sold the gospel division to Malaco Records, which revived the sagging sales. In 1994 Billboard reported that Malaco/Savoy had "the largest black gospel catalog in the world,." In 1989 Malaco released "Mississippi Mass Choir" which was the number one gospel album for a calendar year, continuing the legacy of success Mendelsohn had started.

In 1990, Fields sold the rest of Savoy to Denon Records, but after a few unsuccessful years, the catalog was sitting around unutilized.

In 2001, Nippon Columbia, the oldest Japanese record label, and Denon's parent label launched Savoy Label Group. SLG was introduced as "a new U.S.-based jazz and classical division featuring the catalogs of Savoy and Denon." in Billboard.

Steve Vining, President of Windham Hill Group was tapped to be president of SLG, and he rose to the challenge. In his first fiscal year he rose sales by 600 percent and revitalized SLG through setting up subsidiary labels. Including the catalog reissues on Savoy Jazz and the classical reissues of Denon, Vining also launched 429 Records a more pop-oriented brand, even though it ended up releasing music from all over the musical landscape.

429 has released albums from a wide array of artists, ranging from the New York Dolls to LL Cool J. Artists like Beninese singer/songwriter Angelique Kidjo has even won the label Grammys.

Savoy Jazz is still a name that holds weight in the world of jazz, as exemplified in a story Vining told FMQB.

"Milton Nascimento came to us and we handled his last record. He wanted to be on Savoy. Now my election would have been to put him on 429, because we felt as a World artist, he was more of a 429/Triple A artist. Milton knew the Savoy legacy. He revered it, and discussed with us how the early Savoy recordings had an impact on him. We had a long talk about it, and he was adamant he wanted to be on Savoy, so we allowed it."

Nascimento isn't the only artist who recognizes and respects the Savoy name.

Up and coming trumpeter Bruce Harris, who lists Charlie Parker and Prince as his main influences said "The Savoy period of Bird is my favorite period, so those recordings? I was all over that."

Organist, pianist, and Rutgers Newark jazz professor Radam Schwartz remembers back to the Savoy Dictators.

"Clem Moorman who just died, he died at 102 years old. He was one of the arrangers, and so was one of the most important arrangers in jazz history Bobby Plater, who's from Newark."

Although calling him "a crook" Schwartz knows why Lubinsky and Savoy saw such success.

"One of the main things is he recorded bebop, he recorded gospel, he recorded R&B. Despite the fact that he ripped people off, well we think as musicians he ripped people off, a lot of the stuff wouldn't be out there you know? I mean Stan Getz's whole career started at Savoy Records. Charlie Parker, when he couldn't get anybody else to record him, got recorded on Savoy Records."

Regardless of how people feel about Lubinsky, the man was a self-starter, who started a label who's legacy has lived on to this day.

Savoy's most recent sale was in 2017 when SLG was bought by Concord Music Group. Concord Music's Chief Operating Officer Glen Barros explained why Savoy is still a worthy investment in 2017.

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