Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

December 17, 2018

Savoy Jazz R&B Reflections Completer Disc

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 5:27 pm


CD Released in 1995 in Japan by Savoy Jazz/Nippon Columbia (Denon)

savoy completer

1. In A Sentimental Mood – Billy Eckstine
2. Blues For Sale – Billy Eckstine
3. Serenade In Blue – Billy Eckstine
4. Solitude – Billy Eckstine
5. Sophisticated Lady – Billy Eckstine
6. Careless Love – Big Joe Turner
7. Last Goodbye Blues – Big Joe Turner
8. Whistle Stop Blues – Big Joe Turner
9. Hollywood Bed – Big Joe Turner
10. Howlin’ Winds – Big Joe Turner
11. Because I Love My Baby – Johnny Otis
12. Beer Bottle Boogie – Johnny Otis
13. Uneasy Blues – Johnny Otis
14. Love Will Break Your Heart For You – Johnny Otis
15. Rockin’ Blues – Johnny Otis

Here’s an album you might not own…although it’s not a rarity and you can get a mint used copy for four dollars and a new copy for eight dollars, and I’d highly recommend that you do should you have a taste for mid-to-late 40’s R&B. Savoy was one of the great indie jazz labels from the 40’s through the 60’s, although its bread and butter was always Gospel. Its jazz albums tended to be more like the one-take blowing sessions of Prestige than the more rehearsed, more elegant sessions of Blue Note, but they also recorded a lot of R&B. Many will remember the series of Arista-Savoy reissue albums of the 1970’s, many of them 2 LP sets, always generously programmed with knowledgeable liner notes and attractive packaging with similar art style and fonts so an entry in the series could be identified at 50 paces in the rack at your local record store. For many years after that, fewer new Savoy reissues appeared….though the old Arista ones were never hard to find (and still aren’t). As with the free-jazz reissues on Arista-Freedom, a lot of promo copies were in circulation and the print-run on many of the items was not small.

That availability of Savoy material changed radically in the early 90’s. Here is a passage from the LA Times in 1992: “When be-bop came to prominence in the mid-’40s, Savoy Records was right there in the thick of things, recording such now-classics as Charlie Parker’s “KoKo” and “Parker’s Mood” and Fats Navarro’s “Nostalgia.”
Many of these seminal recordings–and others from the ’50s and ’60s, all available only intermittently in recent years–are now being reissued on CD by Denon Records USA. Two years ago, Denon purchased the Savoy catalogue from Joe Fields, who owns Muse Records.
Denon is planning on issuing 10 Savoy CDs a month for the next two to three years, said label spokesperson Melanne Sacco. The initial releases, in the stores now, include “The Genius of Charlie Parker,” “The Charlie Parker Story,” “Presenting Cannonball Adderley,” “Introducing Lee Morgan” and “Opus de Bop,” with Stan Getz and Navarro’s “Nostalgia. “
The recordings have all been completely remastered, Sacco said, and will be issued with original album cover art and liner notes. Suggested retail price is $7.99.” 

The Japanese technology company Denon (associated with the Nippon Columbia organization, no relation to the US Columbia) purchased the Savoy catalogue and made the decision, no doubt liked by its shareholders, to “monetize the assets,” and then a steady stream of Savoy material on Japanese CD began to appear. While some were reissues of the Arista-Savoy vinyl reissues, many others were exact reissues of Savoy and Regent (a subsidiary label) LP’s, with fold-out inserts where the front and back covers were scanned–and those covers were often used ones with ring-wear and scratches, but were directly scanned with no touch-ups. I should point out that these were JAPANESE cd’s, though they were widely available. I used to see them appear, 10 a month, at my local Best Buy, and for a few years I made a point to leave some money in my monthly budget to buy them. They offered a wide variety of jazz styles—-mainstream, bop, hard bop, chamber-jazz, even the occasional Eddie Condon-esque session (and Condon himself). As with most labels, they had some artists in whom they believed but who did not record widely elsewhere or come to wide popularity (pianist Ronnell Bright comes to mind–my only other album by him is on a French label).

Looking back at that period in the early-to-mid 90’s when these Japanese exact reissues of Savoy jazz albums appeared en masse every month at my local Best Buy–which is now 25 years ago!–for seven or eight dollars each is something to marvel at, in hindsight. I have always kept these together in my collection–which I usually do not do–and I’m sure I’ve got at least 50 of them, if not more. Label owner Herman Lubinsky and later producer Ozzie Cadena (father of Dez Cadena, my favorite Black Flag frontman) knew what they were doing and had superb taste and understood what qualities were essential for solid jazz albums and, prior to that, R&B and jazz 78’s. Anyone with any taste would clearly have paid seven or eight dollars for the original LP’s–if they could even find them so cheap– so to get quality Japanese exact reissue CD’s of the material at that price was something that raised the quality of my life then and now.

This “Completer Disc” is a curious animal. It only exists due to the time limitations of the CD format. During the Arista-Savoy period of reissues, 2-LP sets with 28 or 32 tracks were issued on Billy Eckstine, Big Joe Turner, and Johnny Otis. I owned the later two on vinyl way back when (alas, I sold them along the way), and I had a European cassette of the Eckstine set (which eventually broke). When these old 2-LP sets were transferred to CD by the new Japanese owners of the masters, they could not fit the entire contents on the CD, so five tracks were left off those CD’s (and for the record, the 2-LP sets reissued on CD  were BILLY ECKSTINE, “MR. B. AND THE BAND”; HAVE NO FEAR, BIG JOE TURNER IS HERE; and THE ORIGINAL JOHNNY OTIS SHOW).

I do not know what logic, if any, was  used to decide which five tracks were left off the CD’s and shunted off to this COMPLETER DISC. I don’t have copies of the two-LP sets handy, so whether the tracks were cut due to their being the last ones recorded, or the last ones on side 4 of the LP, or whether someone made the subjective decision that they were the weakest cuts, I do not know.

However, we are in luck in that all the performances are first-rate and taken from a prime period of a great label. This album is an inexpensive way to get five tracks each from three great artists, with amazing backing bands, tracks NOT available on the more common reissue CD’s.

The Eckstine sides were recorded in 1946 and 1947 in L.A., produced by Herb Abramson, and the sidemen include both Sonny Criss on alto and Wardell Gray on tenor.

Big Joe’s sides were recorded in Chicago in 1947, also produced by Abramson, with a band featuring Riley Hampton (long associated with BB King) on alto.

The Johnny Otis sides were recorded in NY in 1950 and 1951 and produced by Ralph Bass., with a band that includes Lorenzo Holden on tenor and Pete Lewis in guitar, vocals provided by Little Esther, or Mel Walker, or Marilyn Scott/Mary DeLoatch. (note: many years ago, I reviewed in UGLY THINGS magazine a British collection of Otis’s recordings for Mercury and Peacock, the labels he recorded for after he left Savoy….and before he signed with Capitol and began the “Willie And The Hand Jive” era).

The most surprising thing about this album–and perhaps this is the reason why it’s been sitting in used record stores unsold for years–is that it starts off with the weakest track, a track totally untypical of the rest of the album. Billy Eckstine, the ultimate sauve African-American vocalist of the 1940’s, a heart-throb to women of all backgrounds (my mother was a devoted fan), was quite a hip individual himself and an early champion of Be-Bop. The man had a whole contingent of boppers among the ranks of his band. His timing and phrasing were always impeccable and he usually avoided the trap many similar “romantic” vocalists of the day fell into, that of being lugubrious. He was NOT going for the same market as a Wynonie Harris. Four of the five tracks here are fine small-group jazz-flavored R&B, including haunting and smoldering versions of the Duke Ellington chestnuts “Solitude” (what a beautiful reading he gives it….I’d bet the Duke loved it!) and “Sophisticated Lady.” Unfortunately, the track that is a treacly string-laden ballad, “In A Sentimental Mood,” leads off the album, and I can just imagine used record store owners listening to five seconds of the first track and then tossing this album WAY back in a stack at the rear of the store. That’s a shame because every other track is strong, beautifully transferred, and the highest level of quality 40’s rhythm’n’blues (or in Eckstine’s case, cocktail R&B).

Big Joe Turner–who like Jimmy Rushing was synonymous with “blues shouting,” over jazz-flavored ensembles of many kinds– began recording in the late 1930’s and was recording small group jazz sessions for Pablo 45 years later, and for much of that period he was re-working similar songs but every performance was different and fresh. He could re-invent himself to work in a number of genres–boogie woogie, rock and roll, small group jazz, R&B, big band, etc.–without really changing the essence of what he did, always a sign of a master and an artist totally comfortable and at ease. He even recorded with Bill Haley in Mexico in the mid-1960’s! The five songs here, including such Turner staples as “Careless Love” and “Hollywood Bed” (aka Cherry Red), are prime Big Joe Turner, and many may enjoy them even more than his better-known 50’s rock and roll singles for Atlantic.

As for Johnny Otis, his recordings for Savoy (and before that, for Excelsior) are among his best-ever, and the club-owner/band-leader/taste-maker was on a roll at that time and at the peak of his popularity. His Savoy material is collected on a Billy Vera-curated 3-CD box set which should be in all homes, but if you don’t have that, these tracks are a nice introduction. His band could be both sleek and stylish while being rootsy and raw—-few have ever walked that line more skillfully than the dapper Mr. Otis. Otis’s unique vibes are not on all the tracks (when I’m listening to a compilation or a playlist and hear those vibes integrated into an R&B format, I will often tell whoever is with me that the track must be either an Otis record or an Otis production or a record where Otis’s band is backing someone else–it’s THAT distinctive of a sound), but still this definitive 40’s and early 50’s nightclub-R&B master has an instantly recognizable sound and who can ever get enough of the vocals of Little Esther or Mel Walker or Marilyn Scott.

Except for the string-laden opening track (which is fine in its own way, just not to my tastes), this is a dynamite collection of high-quality, lesser-known sides from the Savoy family of labels. It’s a relatively unknown album (my friends who are into this kind of music do not own it, surprisingly!), and you can still get it cheap.

Your quality of life will be improved if you do score a copy ASAP. The affordable series of Japanese Savoy reissues in the early-to-mid 1990’s were a godsend for the jazz lover, and I’m glad I purchased them regularly at the time. I may well write more about entries in the series. While some have became big-ticket collectibles, many still remain cheap, and should be grabbed while you can still get them. Quality archival CD’s from the 1990’s, the golden age of archival CD reissues of historic material, will some day become as collectible and high-priced as vinyl has become. It’s hard to believe that there was a time when you could walk into your neighborhood chain record store and on payday pick up, say, a 2-CD archival set of Tommy McClennan on a major label. There was more to buy than one could afford. That period lasted for about ten years and is now only a dim memory. Grab what you can at low prices while you still can. It’s timeless material, but time will eventually run out as more people wise up to the situation.

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