WBGO Blog
  • Once The Stuff Of Jazz Legend, 1930s Recordings Are Finally Out

    December 8, 2016. Posted by David Tallacksen.

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    The first volume of The Savory Collection features live recordings of Coleman Hawkins, including an extended performance of "Body & Soul." (Image Credit: William P. Gottlieb/Library of Congress)

    In 1938, Ella Fitzgerald sang her first big hit, "A-Tisket, A-Tasket," for a national audience on CBS Radio. Now, a global audience has access to this performance again — thanks to the discovery and restoration of the Savory Collection, a legendary private trove of nearly 1,000 recordings that haven't been heard by the general public since the 1930s. The National Jazz Museum in Harlem acquired them in 2010, and today they're beginning to make their way to a new generation of jazz fans.

    It's the quintessential buried treasure story: Sound engineer William Savory had amassed a collection of radio broadcasts he'd professionally recorded off direct feeds from clubs and ballrooms across New York City. Since Savory kept them to himself, the recordings became the stuff of legend — and, for saxophonist and historian Loren Schoenberg, an obsession. Schoenberg says he pestered Savory for a quarter-century to let him hear his Benny Goodman recordings because Schoenberg had worked for the clarinetist, but Savory never did. Savory died in 2004.

    Six years later, Schoenberg tracked down Savory's son in rural Illinois. When he got there, he found the Benny Goodman recordings he was after — and much more. "There were 50 boxes that had not been opened for decades and decades," Schoenberg says. "And they contained not just all this magical Benny Goodman material, but — totally unexpectedly — Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Coleman Hawkins, Billie Holiday and the rest."

    The centerpiece of the first volume of The Savory Collection is an extended performance by Coleman Hawkins of his signature tune, "Body & Soul." Schoenberg points out that it's twice as long as the version Hawkins released commercially because in the studio, the saxophonist was limited by the length of commercial 78 rpm discs.

    Schoenberg says these recordings of live performances show a more authentic side of these musicians. "In the studio, people played it safe," he says. But in the Savory recordings, he says, "You hear them how they really sounded when they were playing live in person ... Hawkins does some stuff toward the end of that 'Body and Soul' that I'd never heard him do."

    Savory was able to capture full performances the way musicians played them in clubs because he used larger discs that were specially made to archive radio broadcasts. He also recorded at slower speeds. Phil Schaap, a curator for Jazz at Lincoln Center, says the difference in timing is key. "Everybody's blowing longer than they did on record dates," he says.

    Schaap says that for him, the highlight of The Savory Collection, Vol. 1 is another saxophone solo by Herschel Evans on the ballad "Stardust." "The first time I heard that 'Stardust,' it moved me to tears," he says.

    Evans recorded that solo when he was 29 years old, during a 1938 jam session led by Lionel Hampton. At the time, he was ailing from heart disease, but he still managed enough breath control to play his instrument. "He can barely fill the horn with air, but he knows how to cover," Schaap says. "Something's up, but something's still great." Evans died six weeks later.

    Shoenberg acquired the Savory recordings for the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, where he's the founding director. He has spent the last six years overseeing the transfer, cataloging and release of the collection. But he hopes people will hear something beyond the music.

    "I think in every town, there is some great collection of something ... containing the equivalent of the Savory Collection for whatever that thing is," he says. "I hope when people listen to the music wherever they are, that they can get those searches going."

    Listeners will have to do a little digging of their own to find The Savory Collection. It's not in stores or on Amazon — it's only available as an iTunes exclusive.

    Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

  • As 2016 Winds Down, Remembering The Jazz Giants We Lost

    December 2, 2016

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    Toots Thielemans onstage at the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Netherlands in 2005. (Image Credit: Rick Nederstigt/AFP/Getty Images)

    2016 has been a time of great loss for music: Prince, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and Sharon Jones all passed away this year, just to name a few. The jazz world was no exception. Christian McBride, host of Jazz Night In America, joined NPR's Audie Cornish to discuss the lives and legacies of three jazz giants who we lost in 2016 — Toots Thielemans, Victor Bailey and Bobby Hutcherson.

    All three musicians were known for unusual decisions that paid off. Thielemans was a jazz harmonica player who became known for crossover moments like his feature on the Billy Joel song "Have a Tender Moment Alone." Bailey, a jazz fusion pioneer, worked with pop artists like Sting, Madonna and Lady Gaga. And Hutcherson carved out a place in jazz history on an unexpected instrument — the vibraphone.

    McBride recalls how Bailey made an immediate mark when he replaced the virtuosic Jaco Pastorius as bassist in the fusion band Weather Report. "Not only did he fill those big shoes, but he carved those shoes out to fit his own feet," McBride says. "Victor ... said, 'Hey, I'm here. This is my gig now, and you are going to love me.'"

    As for Thielemens and Hutcherson, McBride praises their ability to break into the jazz mainstream on relatively unpopular instruments. "They were dedicated to melodies and beautiful chords and telling the story," he says. "And when you can do that, it doesn't matter what instrument you play."

    McBride shared these and other stories about the late icons. Hear the full conversation at the audio link.

    Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

  • George Coleman Jr. Chats with Rhonda Hamilton

    December 2, 2016. Posted by Corey Goldberg.

    Drummer George Coleman Jr. stops by to talk about the musical legacy of his parents, saxophonist George Coleman and bassist-organist Gloria Coleman.

  • Riza and Marcus Printup on Salon Sessions with Sheila Anderson

    December 2, 2016. Posted by Corey Goldberg.

    How did Marcus Printup start playing the trumpet? What made Riza Printup realize that the harp can swing? And just how did they end up kindling a romance that resulted in marriage and a musical children's book? They tell these tales and more to Sheila Anderson on this Salon Session.

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  • Why Mary Halvorson Sounds Like No Other Guitarist

    November 27, 2016. Posted by David Tallacksen.

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    Mary Halvorson's latest album, Away With You, is a collection of octets. (Image Credit: Peter Gannushkin/Courtesy of the artist)

    When you see Mary Halvorson on stage, she doesn't look like much of a trailblazer. She plays sitting down. She's small, and mostly hidden behind her hollow-body guitar and glasses. But then she starts to play. And the sounds coming out of her amp are anything but conventional.

    "I do like things that are unexpected," Halvorson says. "I often don't like music that's predictable, so you know what's coming next. I like to throw in things that maybe are a little less predictable."

    Over the past decade, the 36-year-old guitarist and composer has found increasing attention and acclaim, leading her own groups in the man's world of jazz and wielding her instrument so distinctively, one music journalist described her approach as "anti-guitar." She insists that is not intentional.

    "I'm not really thinking about being weird, if that makes sense?" she says. "I'm just trying to play some music I like. And it often comes out weird."

    Halvorson discovered the electric guitar when she was 11, growing up in Brookline, Massachusetts. But she went to college at Wesleyan University in Connecticut planning to be a biologist. Then she walked into a music class taught by Anthony Braxton, the MacArthur "genius" grant-winning composer and saxophonist.

    "And I was just so bowled over by him and his music that I ended up dropping all the science classes within the first semester," she says. "Within my first year, I thought, 'I can't not do this.'"

    Halvorson says Braxton encouraged her to find her own voice on the guitar. "He's so excited about everything, and encouraging people to explore," she says. "It made you feel like there were unlimited possibilities." (She still performs in Braxton's band.)

    After graduation, Halvorson moved to New York. At first, she worked in an office by day and played at night, but music has been her full-time job for nearly 10 years. And she works a lot, both as a leader and in bands led by other people — including the Young Philadelphians, with veteran guitarist Marc Ribot.

    "Mary kicks ass, you know? Let there be no doubt about it," Ribot says. "She can play atonally. She can play poly-tonally. She can find the melodies that are inherent in the piece, and develop them, and work with them, and play them upside down and backwards and inside out."

    Halvorson's latest album is a collection of octets called Away With You, with featured collaborators including pedal steel player Susan Alcorn, cellist Tomeka Reid and saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock. Halvorson says she sees more and more women on the bandstand all the time.

    "Which is amazing," she says. "I mean, it's not uncommon now for me to play in bands where women outnumber men. I think there's a real momentum, and things are starting to shift."

    But it's still not all that common to see a young woman leading a jazz band. Halvorson says her philosophy as a leader is to give musicians the freedom to make their own choice, in much the same way that she found her own voice on the guitar.

    "For me it's more a matter of just trusting my instincts, even if you have a really simple idea — just, 'OK, I like this, I'm gonna play' — and not worrying too much about what it is, what it sounds like, or doesn't sound like," she says. So I try as much as I can to play what I like, and trust what I like."

    Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.