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Rescuing a Lost Era of Jazz

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to meet Tyler Schwartz, musician, chess player and teacher, who passed on this incredible story about a lost era of jazz recovered by a man making sneaky copies of performances. As Tyler tells it:

“Pre-ww2 it was apparently harder to play recorded music/broadcast sports games on the radio, because the powers that be thought it would have a negative effect on record sales/attendance to games. This was made worse during the war, because there was a ban on making actual records, because all supplies used on records were needed in the war effort. Jazz circumvented all this by radio shows, holding and broadcasting live concerts, only heard once, only played once.

“So then this guy turns up named Bill Savory, a pirate. Bill worked as a studio engineer in the 30′s at a recording studio, and would sneak in at night to record these jazz concerts on very sophisticated (then) recording devices. Pirated machinery, pirated product. This guy did this with moderate frequency, and over 4 years amassed hundreds of hours of unique jazz recordings from 36-40.

“Now what also makes him a pirate is that he buried his treasure! He didn’t do anything with these recordings but box them up and sit on them. As years went by, a select few jazz record collectors became aware of the existence of such a special collection of music. But Bill was immune to their coaxing, and would not part with his treasure chest at any cost.

“Bill had to die for his sacred collection of music of be released, and die he did. Luckily his relatives didn’t have the same level of protectiveness as he did, and promptly sold the Savory collection to Lincoln Center Jazz, for a handsome price.

“Most of the music has now been ‘restored’ to a ‘almost listenable level’ (conditions inside attic’ed’ boxes for decades deteriorated much). But no one can listen to it! Copyrights prohibit broadcasting this music, in a similar way to when the music was first recorded. So if you want to listen to the music you have to go to Harlem, to a museum to hear it. I find it funny/sad that the very restrictions that forced Savory to think outside the box, still exist 70 years later, and keep this music private.

“They say there isn’t a picture of Abe Lincoln smiling. Look at all the pictures of honest Abe and you’ll never find one of him cracking up, laughing, not even a grin. This of course, is because it took so long to take a picture back then, that you could never hold a smile for that long. The tragedy of this is, people say Abe had a famous sense of humor, they say you couldn’t come across him without him laughing and making you laugh. The restrictions of the technology of the time, erased that part of Abe, visually, forever.

“So in the 30′s, you could only record a song that was 3 minutes long, or so, because records were too small to record anything longer. This severely limited the music, as all musicians had to truncate their performances.

“You’ve never heard Lester Young play, till you’ve heard him play 3 choruses,’ is what everyone who heard Lester in person said. After playing for about 3 minutes, is when he really starts to ‘blow’ (sound good). So the ‘real’ Lester Young, has never been heard on recording, in the same way photographs cut of Lincoln, early records cut off Lester.

“Until Bill Savory. He recorded on different records, longer ones, from radio broadcasts that were as long as they needed to be. So now pirated recordings have surfaced showing a side of Lester that until now, only existed in lore.

“Too bad we can’t hear em!”

Tyler and his band Duet have a residency at one of New York’s most hallowed venues, Rockwood Music Hall, (196 Allen Street, New York, NY). They will be playing there again on December 4th on Stage #2 from 11.30pm, and it’s free. You should check ‘em out.

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