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Jazz treasure trove to be made public | Music | guardian.co.uk
Jazz treasure trove to be made public
Savory Collection, featuring rare live sets by Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and Coleman Hawkins, to go on display at US National Jazz Museum
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 18 August 2010 10.15 BST
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In full Swing ... Louis Armstrong in the 1930s. Photograph: AP
Some of the most sought-after recordings in early jazz will soon be available to the public – at least if you're willing to travel to Harlem. The Savory Collection, including rare live sets by Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Coleman Hawkins and many more, is to be displayed at the US National Jazz Museum, and with it, some of the only 1930s jazz recordings more than a few minutes long.
During the late 30s, audio engineer William Savory recorded nearly 1,000 discs of radio broadcasts, capturing an unparalleled slice of the swing era. Although there are already lots of jazz recordings from that period, most are no more than three minutes long: the limitations of 10in 78-rpm shellac discs made longer recordings impossible. As the New York Times reports, Savory's collection is different. With aluminium or acetate discs 12- or 16in wide, sometimes recorded at 33 1/3 rpm, he was able to capture longer performances "in their entirety", according to the paper, "including jam sessions at which musicians could stretch out and play extended solos that tested their creative mettle".
The audio quality is also high. Savory was "a technical genius", explained the museum's executive director, Loren Schoenberg. "You hear some of this stuff and you say, 'This can't be 70 years old.'" The collection includes unreleased music by Count Basie, Lester Young and Benny Goodman; the only known recordings from the world's first outdoor jazz festival, in 1938; a six-minute version of Body and Soul, performed by Coleman Hawkins; and Billie Holiday singing Strange Fruit, accompanied by piano, less than a month after the original recording was released. "You have the most inane scripted introduction ever," Schoenberg said, "but then Billie comes in, and she drives a stake right through your heart."