Before yesterday, I had never heard of Bill Savory. For this, I’m thankful: If I had known about Savory, I would have wasted a lot of time and energy being very upset with him. As a sound engineer in the 1930s, he made nearly 1,000 unique recordings of seminal jazz musicians — and refused to let anyone hear them.
Savory pulled this audio from radio broadcasts of live performances, which stations didn’t (or couldn’t) archive. The standard recording format of the day could only accommodate about three minutes of music — fine for studio sessions but inadequate for the longer, more free-form takes musicians played in nightclubs. Savory used large, heavy-duty discs to capture the broadcasts of these sprawling performances, right in his own home. If not for him, incredible performances of classic tunes by the likes of Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, and Benny Goodman would have existed only in memories.
But imagine fans’ frustration when he wouldn’t share! Savory was a little eccentric — you’d expect as much from someone who sat at home and recorded his radio for hundreds of hours — and guarded his invaluable recordings so doggedly that only his closest friends ever got to listen. That left many jazz scholars, who had heard of this sealed treasure trove, waiting and hoping for decades for Savory to have a change of heart. After his death in 2004, Savory’s son collected the recordings and thankfully consented to arrange their release. Now the New York Times reports that the National Jazz Museum in Harlem has finally acquired the collection, and expects it to be ready for exhibition within the year.
Savory’s archives are probably more accurate representations of jazz in the 1930s than the studio takes we have now. The Times describes a six-minute version of a Coleman Hawkins song that’s about twice as long as the studio recording: “By the last chorus, he has drifted into uncharted territory, playing in a modal style that would become popular only when Miles Davis recorded ‘Kind of Blue’ in 1959.” Hawkins anticipating one of the greatest albums of all time by almost 20 years? Jazz buffs, set your mouths to watering.
This reminds me of a much more recent controversy involving a giant of the indie-chamber-baroque-folk-pop-singer-songwriter scene: A Sufjan Stevens song, the only recording of which belongs to one Alec Duffy, who won the song in a contest. It’s practically the same story, with Duffy refusing to release the song publicly. As expected, some people were really upset by this — but Studio 360′s Eric Molinsky learned that Duffy’s got a pretty convincing argument for keeping the song under wraps.
The first thing that comes to mind when you think of the jazz piano are probably smoky late night bars and cool cats in fedoras.
But would you think of quilting?
Jason Moran does. Along with critical acclaim for his technique, this jazz innovator is gaining recognition for his more avant garde compositional sensibilities, taking inspiration from unlikely sources, including modern art and ballet.
Last week, Moran visited Studio 360 and played one of his songs for the exhibition, “Blue Blocks.” He explained to Kurt how he composed the tune by re-imagining the striking colors, patterns, and shapes in the quilts.
Quilters of Gee's Bend, Alabama
We’ll broadcast more of Kurt’s conversation with Jason Moran soon.
Two years ago, celebrated jazz pianist Fred Hersch was in the throes of a life-threatening, A.I.D.S.-related dementia. He’d been living with H.I.V. since the mid-’80s – but when the virus spread to his brain, he suffered hallucinations, paranoia, and fell into a coma.
Perhaps the only thing more miraculous than his survival was his recovery. Two months later, he came out of the coma, but ultimately had to re-learn how to eat, how to hold a pencil, and eventually how to play the piano. There’s not a trace of those setbacks on his new record.
Whirl is Hersch’s first outing with his trio (filled out by bassist John Hébert and drummer Eric McPherson) since before his hospitalization. Yet the characteristic expressivity of his playing remains unchanged: Hersch’s technique is always understated, personal, and beautiful. These compositions employ a certain Bop melodicism articulated with the same delicate charm as Erik Satie’s early piano works. McPherson’s drums are a quiet force on the record as well, darting along tight, acrobatic lines that barely ever rise above mezzo forte. At times he unmoors himself from the tempo, lending an even more airy quality to Hersch’s piano, which already sounds as if it’s floating somewhere above your head.
“Skipping” is the most energetic and appropriately-named cut on Whirl. It finds the band bouncing across meters with a lightness and ease that makes every transition seamless.
Troy Andrews earned his nickname at a jazz funeral. Only four years old at the time, Andrews was parading with a trombone almost twice his size – his older brother spotted him and shouted “Trombone Shorty!”
A couple feet taller and twenty years older, Shorty still hasn’t outgrown that exclamation, or its roots. A bona fide New Orleanian, he’s a consummate trombonist and trumpeter who’s been playing instruments since he could walk. Now, thanks to a boundless enthusiasm and an awe-inspiring talent, his new album Backatown has been sitting comfortably near the top of the Billboard Jazz chart for six straight weeks.
See how I called him awe-inspiring? It’s a loaded label, I know. But anyone who can do this…
Yeah. Pretty nasty. It’s a technique called circular breathing, which is more often reserved for instruments like the didgeridoo. Circular breathing allows a wind player to sustain a continuous tone or tones for an ungodly amount of time – it’s extremely difficult to master and utterly hypnotic to watch. Shorty’s got it down cold.
In addition to the new album, Shorty’s also making waves with a new collaboration. In light of the massive oil spill in the gulf, Shorty recently teamed up with Lenny Kravitz, Mos Def, and the immutable Preservation Hall Jazz Band to record a benefit song for the catastrophe. Check out “It Ain’t My Fault” to hear this bittersweet take on a classic New Orleans sound.
You can also catch Trombone Shorty on HBO’s new series Treme, where he and a slew of other local musicians constantly pop up around his old hometown. Producer David Simon and cast member Kermit Ruffins talked with Studio 360 earlier this year about the importance of having New Orleans natives on the show.
This week, V.V. Brown stopped by Studio 360 to chat with Kurt and play a few live songs with her band. Brown’s driving rhythms and retro-soul style are already topping the charts in Europe, and she’s set to begin a U.S. tour next month.
And if you like V.V. Brown, be sure to give a listen to another young English musician: Rox. She also fuses soul, jazz, and pop influences, but still manages to sound fresh and original. Maybe that’s because of something else they have in common: both Brown and Rox have a Jamaican parent, and both say they draw musical inspiration and confidence from their family traditions. Their songs are bouncy and upbeat, but don’t let that fool you. The lyrics and the music possess real depth. Watch Rox’s video for “My Baby Left Me” (the single officially drops March 15), and see for yourself: