Various Artists: Timeless: Savoy 60th Anniversary

[28 November 2002]

By Marshall Bowden

Sixtieth anniversaries are auspicious, and no one can blame the Savoy Jazz label for celebrating its 60th year in style. A record label synonymous with bebop, itself synonymous for many with the word “jazz”, Savoy grew into a major independent label through luck, an ability to spot major talent in the making, and a series of shrewd acquisitions, including National Records, Discovery Records of Hollywood, the short-lived Hi-Lo label, Parrot Records, and Dizzy Gillespie’s Dee Gee label. Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon, Fats Navarro, and J.J. Johnson all recorded the first sessions as leaders for Savoy. Other talents-to-be such as Kenny Dorham, Lee Morgan, and John Coltrane, all recorded sides for Savoy either as leaders or sidemen. Little wonder then, that this two-disc set is a wonderful release both for new and veteran jazz fans alike.

Timeless sports a very consistent sound from track to track, making it clear just how cohesive Savoy’s vision was once it had established its niche. Though there are a few R&B-tinged hits from the early days of the label, like Paul Williams’ “The Huckle-Buck”, Hal Singer’s “Cornbread” or the Joe Williams favorite with King Kolax on trumpet, “Everyday (I Have the Blues)”, the majority of these recordings are straightforward bebop classics. There are pretty obvious tracks, like Charlie Parker’s “Parker’s Mood” from 1948, Dexter Gordon’s “Long Tall Dexter” with Bud Powell and Leonard Hawkins, or Miles Davis’ “Sippin’ At Bells” with Parker, John Lewis, and Max Roach. There’s Dizzy Gillespie’s masterpiece “The Champ Parts 1&2” with a supporting cast that includes J.J. Johnson, Budd Johnson, Milt Jackson, Percy Heath, and Art Blakey. But there are also less often heard gems like Stan Getz’s 1946 recording “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me” that shows Getz already in possession of his singular trademark sound, or Lennie Tristano’s “Supersonic”, recorded in 1947. There’s the beauty of young Art Pepper’s “These Foolish Things” with Hampton Hawes on the piano. The young altoist’s promise is clear on this track and unsullied by the tragic future that was to come.

Then there are 1944 dates by Lester Young and Ben Webster that provide a wonderful opportunity to revisit these major musicians. Young’s “Jump, Lester, Jump” with Count Basie and Freddie Green, is a sheer delight, as is Webster’s “I Surrender Dear” with pianist Johnny Guarnieri, bassist Oscar Pettiford, and drummer David Booth. Other tenor saxophonists provide standout tracks as well: Illinois Jacquet (“Illinois Goes to Chicago”), Big Jay McNeely (“The Deacon’s Hop”), and Gene Ammons (“Trav’lin’ Light”). Pianists are well represented as well with George Shearing’s tasteful quintet featuring vibraphonist Margorie Hyams and drummer Denzil Best, Erroll Garner’s “She’s Funny That Way”, and the 1952 Marian McParltand Trio’s “Our Love Is Here to Stay”.

The tracks here, like those on most of Savoy’s classy reissues, are created from original acetate and tape masters. CEDAR noise reduction is used where necessary, but is never so heavy-handed as to affect the music’s overall balance or deaden the sound. High resolution 20-bit digital transfer completes the process that makes many of these recordings sound like they were just committed to tape yesterday.

Even more exciting is the news that Savoy, which was sold to Arista Records after founder Herman Lubinsky’s death and has since changed hands numerous times, is reviving the Savoy Jazz banner and will be distributed by one of the largest independent U.S. distribution companies, Red Distribution. This will lead to the signing and recording of new artists and the release of new Savoy Jazz product. President Steve Vining is playing his cards close to the vest, but has indicated that the label is close to signing up to eight artists, including some jazz veterans who he feels should be recorded and heard. For jazz fans around the world, that makes the label’s 60th Anniversary something to celebrate indeed, both for its illustrious past and its dedication to the future. Timeless lives up to its lofty title, and should find a place on every jazz fan’s CD shelf.

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