SAVOY RECORDS

THE SAVOY JAZZ COLLECTION: 1 & 2.                                                                                   Brilliant Jazz 8408/1-20

First box: #1.) Adderley Brothers – pt.1 (10 sides) [60:00]//#2.) Adderley Brothers – pt.2 (11 sides) [60:06]///#3.) Art Pepper – pt.1 (12 sides) [42:24]//#4.) Art Pepper – pt.2 (12 sides)[48:18]///#5.) Charles Mingus & Booker Ervin – pt.1 (6 sides) [43:24]//#6.) Charles Mingus & Booker Ervin – pt.2 (11 sides)[53:18]///#7.) Charlie Parker (w. Miles Davis) – (20 sides) pt.1 [60:00]//#8.) Charlie Parker (w. Miles Davis) – pt.2 (21 sides) [60:00]/// #9.) Dizzy Gillespie – pt.1 (15 sides) [43:48]//#10.) Dizzy Gillespie – pt.2 (15 sides) [46:12].

 Second box: #11.) Errol Garner – pt.1 (20 side) [58:00]//#12.) Errol Garner – pt.2 (19 sides) [54:00]///#13.) Little Jimmy Scott – pt.1 (16 sides) [43:24]//#14.) Little Jimmy Scott – pt.2 (16 sides) [44:00]///#15.) John Coltrane (7 sides) [53:12]///#16.) Lester Young (14 sides) [48:12]///#17.) Milt Jackson & the MJQ (15 sides) [45:48]///#18.) Sonny Stitt (& Zoot Sims) (10 sides) [60:00]//#19.) Stan Getz (& Dexter Gordon) – pt.1 (18 sides) [53:18]//#20.) Dexter Gordon (& Stan Getz) – pt.2 (18 sides) [56:54].

These two boxes are in all likelihood quasi-legitimate products of the Netherlands, courtesy of Foreign Media Music in Leewarden, supposedly licensed from Union Square Music. I’ll not get into the morass of who-owns-what, or what’s out-of-copyright where, just merely let you all know that these collections exist. There are barely useful notes for each CD pairing (they are the same in each) and generally there’s quite a lot of music on each album. The sound quality is excellent, leading me to hazard that previous digital sources have been used for all. I am hampered in this review by having my copy of Lord’s discography on CD-R packed in a box in our spare room (the story of my recent years in a nutshell [or boxes]!). As a result I cannot comment much on who plays on what beyond the presence of the ostensible leader on each disc as well as the random names mentioned in the notes. Also, there’s not sufficient room to list song titles for the twenty CDs… for which I’m sure the review editor will breath a DEEP sigh of relief! I’ll simply make brief comments here on the music presented herein and try and pick up any “clangers” in what’s written in those minimalist notes. These two boxes were picked up here in Sydney for AUS$35.00 each (or the equivalent to AUS$3.50/CD – US$3.50) so the costs are quite bearable for one lacking any Savoy material to hand (my LPs are in other boxes in NJ!).

The first pair of CDs has good material and playing by both Adderley brothers in their first(?) joint recording sessions in the summer of 1955 – the barely adequate notes indicate that Horace Silver is the pianist… probably true – it feels right! They sure can play the blues, though, and Nat sounds much better than I expected from past reading regarding his earlier playing. Cannon takes a leaf out of the then-popular Earl Bostic songbook with a soulful version of “Flamingo”, appropriate for the Floridian! Also some nice flute playing on a few tunes in a Frank Wess vein – had never heard him on flute before. Worthy stuff, indeed with fine rhythm section work throughout.

The second pair of CDs contains material by another alto player, Art Pepper, one of my all-time favorites, which was recorded ca. 1952/3. Pianists Hampton Hawes and Claude Williamson, bassists Bobby Whitlock and Joe Mondragon, and drummers Bobby White and Larry Bunker get name-checked in the notes, as does tenor/bari player Jack Montrose. There are nine quartet sides (including alternates) spread over the two discs along with eleven (with four alternate takes) quintet sides of superb “West Coast” jazz (whatever the hell that means!) – Pepper smokes throughout, even on the ballads, with a great individual sound. Nice arrangements in the quintet sides, too.

Next up are two discs tenuously labeled “Charles Mingus & Booker Ervin” (linked because Ervin played in Mingus’ band at one time… just not together here! Also, Danny Richmond may be the drummer for Ervin, a rare non-Mingus date for him.) The first CD looks to contain a single Booker Ervin-led LP date from 1960 (“Cookin’” ?), judging by the composer credits and the relatively short playing time with no date indicated. Musicians mentioned in the notes are drummer Danny Richmond, pianist Horace Parlan, bassist George Tucker, plus one Richard Williams – he’s down as a drummer, but is likely the fine uncredited trumpeter on the session. A good hard bop date to rival anything from Blue Note, in spite of the dodgy piano*; two standards, the rest originals by the leader.

The Mingus disc is longer and a mix of tunes of his, two standards (“Body & Soul”, “Tea For Two”), and some pieces by Wally Cirillo. Musicians mentioned are tenor players Teo Macero and John LaPorta, as well as drummers Kenny Clarke and Rudy Nicholson (not Richmond) – presumably no Booker Ervin. Save for one piece from 1971 apparently recorded in Japan (“O.P.”, a relatively straight-ahead big band arrangement with inappropriate “hard” drumming), the material was cut in 1954/55 probably in Savoy’s Newark, NJ studios. Great attention-grabbing and often intricate arrangements and soli, as one would expect from a Mingus date – sweet! And that man could PLAY the bass.

Then we get into the real bebop heavy hitters – first two CDs by Bird (billed as “Charlie Parker ‘featuring Miles Davis’”) then two by Diz! The 1940s Parker sides have the usual suspects in the repertoire, running from the Tiny Grimes session (“Tiny’s Tempo”) for Savoy to more adventurous material (“KoKo”), including, from titles, some from Dial (“Lover Man”, a.o.). [The notes mention “the 45 Savoy and 47 Dial cuts all re-mastered here…”. Now, there are twenty sides on the first CD, 21 on the second – do the math… it’s not possible in this world!] Musicians like Erroll Garner and Howard McGhee are name-checked in the notes as being on some sessions. There is so much important music here that I do not know where to start commenting, so I won’t. If you know of Parker’s output for Savoy and/or Dial, then you should be aware of what’s available. It all holds up well – it’s all good, classic stuff. Be-bop spoken here!

The final pairing of the first box is a real mixture of material from Gillespie, running from big band sides to quintet pieces recorded in the late 40s(?). Musicians such as John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Milt Jackson, J.J. Johnson, Bud (sic) Johnson, Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Shelley (sic) Manne, Sonny Stitt, Joe Carroll, and John Lewis are mentioned en passant in the notes. Carroll is an acquired taste for which I have not acquired the taste, but the rest of the material is primo stuff; less ground-breaking, maybe, than the Parker sides. After all, Diz was after hits (so was Lubinsky) – but as Duke once said, there’s two kinds of music; good music, and the other kind – this is mainly NOT the latter! I could have done without the novelty sides, but the session with a violin is very interesting to me and one I’d missed before this. The second disc is more to my liking (less hokum), including sides with Bird, and some sterling big band sides that take things out on a high note (pun intended). All in all, this first box is a very fine collection of mainly forties music at a very appreciated price – no “dogs” around.

And so on to Box 2, a collection more varied in styles to the first box’s bunch of mainly bebop! This one heads a bit more into the jazz mainstream from that prior set’s bop benchmarks with mixed, but still pleasurable, results. Beginning with the well-nigh unclassifiable Erroll Garner, one of jazz’s idiosyncratics and one who actually made a decent living from jazz! The only other musician mentioned in the notes as being on some of the cuts is bassist Slam Stuart (sic) – bass and drums (brushes, mainly) can be heard on most of the sides, quietly and tastefully. An occasional solo piece, too! Two large bites of early Garner from the mid-forties (?); he sounds like himself, which should be recommendation for his fans. I’m glad to have these CDs, though, for it’s more than “cocktail piano” – I’m low on Garner and this fills the bill rather nicely, even with a slightly dodgy piano on some… cheap Herman*! Only one original tune though – “Jumpin’ At The Deuces”.

Little Jimmy Scott is an acquired taste for which I have never acquired the taste: his SLOW, often string-laden, ballads with a very few mid-tempo sides to give some variety to the compilation, but nothing up tempo is in sight. I can hear where Johnny Ray came from, though! If you like his work, then you’ll like these sides from the 40s/50s – Ray Charles certainly did! For what they are, the recordings are well done with probably lots of jazz musicians in the bands. I found all that sameness and treacle too much of a dose for me – there could have been other, better choices for these two CDs. Not my kind of jazz, folks.

John Coltrane is represented by his presence on two of flugelhornist Wilber Harden’s 1958 Savoy dates: one band with Tommy Flanagan (pno), Doug Withers (bs), and Louis Hayes (dms) on a 13 March date; a second one (13 May) with Curtis Fuller (tbn), Howard Williams (pno), Ali Johnson (bs), and Arthur Taylor (dms) along with Harden and Coltrane. This second date is represented by three of the seven tunes (“B.J.”, “Dial Africa”, “Tanganyika Strut”). Mention is made in the notes of a second Coltrane-based CD which had been programmed for this box, listing the tunes, but it ain’t here. (It would have been a better choice to use both complete dates rather than the Jimmy Scott overdose)! This is a fine album and Harden could play… would that there had been more like it as indicated in the often seemingly fictitious notes. I guess that there were some changes after the notes were put to bed.

Things blend nicely then into Lester Young, followed by a couple of those in the Lestorian mode! This single Pres CD collects material from the mid-forties in small combos and with a big band likely led by Earle Warren. Included in the groups are Johnny Guarneri, Junior Mance, and Count Basie – no other musicians or any dates are mentioned. Sadly, once again there are notes referring to two CDs when there is only one present here, so I can say little about who’s on what. Additionally, Track 13 is misidentified as a second take of Earle Warren’s “Poor Little Plaything” – it’s not; you get a romping big band flag-waver instead! The final “Big Eyes Blues” sounds to have been taken from a location recording, being nine and a half minutes. Lester, of course, is marvelous – would that the referenced second CD had been included rather than my whipping boy, Jimmy Scott. What we have here is great music, but I’m desirous of more! More frustration to go along with never hearing the band Pres had with his brother, Lee, while in Los Angeles! Vintage Pres, of whom there is no counterpart – lovely… “Ding Dong!”

Before some talented Young acolytes, though, comes the MJQ early in their career in 1952. Here are early recordings by a version of the band, plus three sides Jackson recorded with the likes of Lucky Thompson (ts), unknown alto, trombone, and trumpet, Hank Jones (pno), Wendell Marshall (bs), Kenny Clarke (dms) from the “early 1960’s (sic)”. Box Two is NOT as well organized as Box One, folks! Once again mention is of TWO CDs taken from four appropriate Savoy LPs – there may have been such a set, but only half of it is herein once again. The quartet kicks things off nicely with “Softly, as a Morning Sunrise”; It’s nice to be reminded of how damn good that band was – not just Bags, but all four had such a wonderful “fit” with each other. Most of this CD is MJQ material – smooth jazz in the best sense of the term, with some true grit to it (to mix my metaphors!). The non-MJQ sides (“You Go To my Head”, “Blues Mood”, “Big Junior”) are a nice Jacksonian change-of-pace at the end of this disc – would that the full discussed package had been included on another disc here.

Sony Stitt is billed on the side of the box as with Zoot Sims, who does not seem to be “here” at all, and Stitt is the only one mentioned on the jewel box paper-work. One of the many Lester Young influenced tenors from those post-war times – the recordings are claimed to be from a Sep 1981 club recording done not long before Stitt’s death in 1982. The personnel listed by the notes are: Richie Cole (as), John Handy (as/ts), Cedar Walton (pno), Herbie Lewis (bs), Bobby Hutcherson (vbs), and Billy Higgins (dms). The disc gets off to a stonking start with “Big Dr. Woody”, Stitt on tenor w. rhythm and rolls out an hour, ending with “Wee” played by the full group (@ 10:10), plus a brief “Outro”. Great tenor and alto playing by Mr. Stitt in full flight with some friends on his high level of expertise on an album that is a surprise discovery for these ears… nice. There is a 12-minute ballad medley that has the other alto players, plus vibes and piano each taking on a different tune as their solo feature. Most of the long cuts have all participants heard to advantage – “Lover Man” is a delight. Has this material been released before the box (and by what label – certainly not Herman’s Savoy outfit)**. The only odd cut is #8, 3:46 labeled “Solo Excerpt”… assumed to be by Sonny. This disc is my “find” of the decade!

Finally, we get to Getz and Dexter – sides from the mid-forties: Actually, they do not appear to play together in spite of the billing – the “Part One” CD is Getz-based, the second Dex-focussed. This I determined from the composer credits before listening – all on Part Two are Dexter’s tunes; those on Part One mainly from Getz, Al Cohn, or Kai Winding. While each disc should be singularly attributed, that organization is no bad thing from a listening standpoint.

So, to Getz. This is all superior music – mentioned in the notes are: Hank Jones (pno), Curly Russ [sic](bs), and Max Roach (dms)… plus Zoot Sims and Al Cohn; I suspect that Winding is the trombonist on some. Too many alternate takes back-to-back: best run on “random play”! But the music is fine as wine, running the gamut from quartets to small, arranged groups. I’ve not heard this stuff before (can’t hear EVERYthing!) and I’m pleased with this disc.

Dex closes things out on a high note. The booklet notes mention: Tadd Dameron, Bud Powell (pno), Fats Navarro (tpt), Leo Parker (bar), Nelson Boyd (bs), and Art Blakey (dms). This is well-known and well-regarded material by a giant just beginning to reach his lengthy prime – all cuts are originals, usually blues-based. Once again though, too many back-to-back alternate takes. Bebop at its best… lovely, a really solid set of fine music. A great way to end this box – damn, he was good.

All things being said, these two boxes are an interesting way to gather some of the finest jazz recorded by the legendary/notorious Herman Lubinsky and his minions in Newark, NJ and elsewhere (NYC, LA) for the Savoy bunch of labels. Not the nicest man in the music business (proven by my brief personal experiences with him as well as from written reports and “as told to me” stories I’ve picked up over the years from artists, and most anybody who had to deal with him – including Ralph Bass!), but his labels did capture some extremely important African American music by some very important musicians at an important period in time. To understate matters greatly!

One Jeremy Elliott is cited as having gathered with some degree of care a very listenable collection of CDs of 1940’s jazz at its finest, from a bit of swing on to bebop, as well as writing the notes. The more avantgarde material is not included here, nor is any rhythm & blues (save for Scott) even though jazz musicians were a part of that stream as well back in those days and Savoy had a BIG catalogue of both. Personally, I would not have back-to-backed alternate takes, especially with two CDs in most cases available, but that’s another matter of personal programming taste. And then there’s the “missing” CDs of Coltrane, MJQ/Milt Jackson, and of Pres to make this a less-than-perfect or ideal second box – nothing wrong with the first one, though. If you lack much of this music, as I do at the moment, then this is an economical way to reasonably acquire some great listening in spite of some excesses and confusion, like lack of in truth in packaging. Not to mention the Sonny Stitt date!

* Even I had a good Steinway upright that I kept in tune at my place in the Ulster County woods for a few Trix blues recordings at home, and I usually tried to go on the cheap, too! But never at the expense of the music!!

** The performances by all are wonderful, as is the sound. A lost gem (re)discovered – what a great date – the crowd agrees with me!!! [Possibly a Bob Porter production? He’d know, at any rate.] I’d hazard a guess that its original issue was on a CD. Also, what has happened to Richie Cole? This is the sort of publication where you can ask such questions!

PETER B. LOWRY

published: IAJRC JOURNAL; Mar 2013 – Vol 46, #1: pp. 71-73.

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