I can first remember being aware of the Savoy Records label when I discovered a two-record set of Charlie Parker sides that were issued at the time by Arista Records. I literally wore out those ‘master takes’ of Bird’s transcendent be-bop, later to discover that the label also had documented some of my other favorite artists such as Curtis Fuller and Yusef Lateef. Unfortunately, the history of Savoy in its many incarnations as a reissue label has been checkered at best. After the ‘70s tenure with Arista, the label was sold to Muse Records where availability became a hit or miss affair. Then in 1991, Denon took things over and in typical Japanese fashion we saw facsimile reissues true to the original, not to mention the most comprehensive exploration of the catalog’s entire range to date. Now a division of Nippon Columbia, the label is getting a new facelift yet again with a pronounced nod in the direction of Savoy’s earliest titles.
Taken as a sampler, Savoy’s 60th Anniversary: Timeless
is a two-disc set that covers a wide range of material spanning the years 1944 to 1957. This 32-track survey largely focuses on jazz performances with artists such as Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Jimmy Scott, Milt Jackson, Lester Young, Fats Navarro, and Erroll Garner as part of the mix. An attractive black digi-pak format holds the discs and the accompanying booklet, which includes photos and annotation by producer Billy Vera. The sound quality is as good as is to be expected, considering the age of some of the tracks, and overall the presentation is quite nice.
With a name synonymous with the label itself, no Savoy reissue project would be complete without a Charlie Parker compilation or two. While the sum total of Parker’s Savoy and Dial sessions are already available as a hefty boxed set, in more manageable form for those with limited budgets or for neophytes are the master takes as assembled on Charlie Parker: The Complete Dial and Savoy Masters
. This 3-CD set accurately conveys the power of Bird at his finest and without the extra alternate takes that often merely serve as curiosity for fanatics. Trumpet masters Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and Howard McGhee are also well represented here. Of course, if three discs are even a little too much or not in your budget, you might want to sample the 20-tune compilation Charlie Parker: Best of the Complete Dial and Savoy Masters
. Updated sound and a 19-page booklet supplement this disc which includes such obvious classics as "Parker’s Mood," "Au-Leu-Cha," "Ornithology," "Scrapple From the Apple", and "Koko."
For those who can’t get enough of Parker’s moods, you might want to add to the wish list Charlie Parker: Best of The Complete Live Performances on Savoy
. This 3-CD set features performance material record at New York’s Royal Roost between 1948 and 1949 with Miles Davis and Kenny Dorham on hand to share the front line with Bird. Sound quality is quite good and the deluxe packaging and insightful liner notes help complete this most pleasing collection.
Documenting the rise to prominence of one of be-bop’s founding fathers is another Savoy package highlighting the work of trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. Dizzy Gillespie: Odyssey ’45-‘52
is a three disc set that for the first time accurately gathers all of the trumpeter’s most important early recordings. On disc one, we get sextets and quintets with Charlie Parker from 1945, along with more marginal material with the likes of Slim Gaillard. With disc two we’re on to large group sides with Ray Brown and Johnny Richards anda 1951 sextet recording that includes John Coltrane on alto sax ("We Love to Boogie", "Tin Tin Deo", "Birk’s Works’). Finally, disc three covers early ‘50s sextets and quintets with a wide variety of sidemen.
What some say was a hothouse for the development of be-bop during the mid ‘40s was the big band led by vocalist Billy Eckstine. Certainly many of the movement’s finest practitioners came through the ranks such as Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Gene Ammons, Miles Davis, and Art Blakey. Billy Eckstine: The Legendary Big Band
brings together the ensemble’s finest moments spanning the years 1944 to 1947 on two discs. Sound quality is strong and Eckstine sounds in good voice; none of the later mannerisms that would turn off true jazz lovers later down the road to be heard here.
Tenor saxophonist Lester Young was somewhat of an anachronism during the golden era of be-bop. His sound was rather light, a contrast to the heavy swing-styled players such as Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster. And yet, he was not considered a bop player, choosing a slower and breathier approach that was more in line with the ‘cool school.’ Lester Young: The Complete Savoy Recordings
takes a look at the years 1944 to 1950 with 46 tracks spread over two discs. There are quintet and sextet cuts, along with some lighter performances as a front man to the Johnny Guarnieri and Earl Warren Orchestras. Nothing all that revolutionary really, but Young fans will be more than pleased with this new compilation.
Although his name doesn’t often come up when discussing be-bop circles, vibe man Red Norvo did have his hand in the movement for a time and had the advantage of working with Bird, Diz, and other giants of the genre. The Modern Red Norvo
is a two-disc set which includes the famous 1950 trio with Tal Farlow and Charles Mingus performing "Swedish Pastry," "Time and Tide," and "Mood Indigo." If there’s but a wee problem with this set it is the inclusion of too many alternate takes and possibly one disc of the cream of the crop might have been a better idea.