Nothing defined the essence of swing-era jazz better than the spontaneity of live performances for appreciative audiences, whether in person or on the radio. And that is perfectly demonstrated with the National Jazz Museum in Harlem's The Savory Collection Volume 3 - Honeysuckle Rose: Fats Waller and Friends, the latest entry in its outstanding series of historic swing-era jazz.
This extraordinary and unique historical archive features swing era jazz artists at their peaks. Performing inspired and extended performances of previously unissued material, this music has been preserved in superior sound quality by sound engineer/technical genius Bill Savory. The full multi-volume collection is now available for streaming exclusively on Apple Music.
The result of a 30-year effort to secure these recordings for the Museum by Founding Director and Senior Scholar Loren Schoenberg, this new collection is another remarkable addition in a series that clearly sustains its excitement and importance with each ensuing release.
"Many times when there is a multivolume series, the content tends to weaken as the series goes on. That's far from the case here; we have so many superlative recordings, that we took extra special care to space them out as the series continues so that there are true highlights in every volume," says Schoenberg. "This one was especially fun to work on; you should've seen us dancing around the museum!"
Through the efforts of Schoenberg and the Museum, the timeless Jazz Canon continues to expand, adding new jewels to a treasury of riches in this utterly unique and transcendent art form. As the esteemed documentarian Ken Burns says in his liner introduction, "The Savory Collection adds a new and significant piece to the jigsaw puzzle of jazz's evolution. Several dozen hours' worth of the music's greatest artists playing the true Golden Age of the music...."
Following in the fashion of the previous volumes, a stellar representation of the era's foremost artists is featured, including single cuts by Albert Ammons, Roy Eldridge, Chick Webb and Joe Sullivan; and a pair by Benny Carter. But the collection is dominated by a five-tune jam session co-led by three legendary figures -- pianist Fats Waller, trombonist Jack Teagarden and guitarist Eddie Condon; and ten tracks by the highly innovative bassist John Kirby's Sextet.
The 1938 jam session, broadcast on New York City's WNEW radio and a forgotten event until now, also includes jazz masters Pee Wee Russell on clarinet, tenorman Bud Freeman, the bass/drums tandem of Artie Shapiro and Zutty Singleton, along with Jack's brother Charlie Teagarden on trumpet; and of course Fats and Jack add their singular vocal stylings to the mix. The repertoire includes Fats' iconic "Honeysuckle Rose," striking interpretations of the standards "China Boy," "I'm Coming Virginia," "I Got Rhythm" and an intimately compelling blues excursion simply titled "Blues" -- all marked by both the expected extraordinary musicianship in this unexpected collaboration with Fats.
The collection's titular "Honeysuckle Rose" is also one of the Kirby selections, featuring a delightful vocal by scat-singer Leo Watson, broadcast in 1938 -- the first radio broadcast by the all-star group that included Charlie Shavers on trumpet, Russell Procope on alto sax, clarinetist Buster Bailey, with Billy Kyle and O'Neil Spencer joining Kirby in the rhythm section on piano and drums, respectively. The remaining nine tracks are from 1940, tied together with a spoken narrative.
Although the Western Classical touches for which Kirby was known are not part of this set, the wit, virtuosity and aplomb of his highly original ensemble certainly are on full display. With six band originals by Shavers, Kyle and Kirby -- "From A Flat to C," "Blues Petite," "Front and Center," "Effervescent Blues," "Milumbu" and the experimental "Rehearsin' for a Nervous Breakdown" -- alongside items like "Minnie the Moocher's Wedding Day," "Boogie Woogie" and Duke Ellington's "Echoes of Harlem," clear evidence is provided as to this group's special place in jazz history.
The third version of "Honeysuckle Rose" comes from the orchestra of another giant, Benny Carter. Recorded live at the Savoy Ballroom in 1939 along with Edward Eliscu's and Billy Rose's "More Than You Know, "the 16-piece orchestra includes such heavyweights as trombonists Vic Dickenson and Tyree Glenn (also on vibes), trumpeter Joe Thomas and Eddie Heywood on piano. With arrangements by Carter, he also vividly demonstrates his impeccable solo skills on both alto sax and trumpet.
The single artist tracks are also gems. Albert Ammons testifies to his royal stature as the king of boogie-woogie piano with his rollicking "Boogie Woogie Stomp," recorded in 1939 at New York's Café Society. Drum master Chick Webb tears off some spectacular drum solos unlike anything heard on his commercial recordings on his 1938 take on the Gershwins' "Liza" with a studio orchestra, made even hotter with the trumpet fire of Roy Eldridge. From that same session (but without Chick), Roy adds his own version of "Body and Soul" to the list of profound interpretations of that beautiful song.
This spectacular collection closes out with a brief, but sparkling take on "China Boy" by pianist Joe Sullivan's sextet, recorded the same night as the Albert Ammons track that provides the opening bookend to this album. As the liner notes so aptly state, "Once again, Bill Savory's exquisite taste in music has afforded us the rare chance to revel in some of the greatest jazz sounds that without his intervention would have been lost to the ages -- thank you, Bill!"