William Savory, an audio engineer who had a novel approach to recording live studio sessions in the time before tape -- back during the golden era of jazz -- has passed on a wealth of previously unknown, even unthinkable, live session recordings. Virtually no one heard so much as an eighth note from those recordings until after Savory's death.
The secretiveness and jealousness he felt about those recordings led him to squirrel them away from nearly everyone who wanted to hear them -- and also led him to life in Falls Church with the CIA.
The New York Times profiles William Savory, whose recordings of live studio sessions in the 1930s captured greats like Count Basie, Billie Holliday, Benny Goodman and more playing long sessions that simply could not be recorded on the limited disc technology of the day. That collection -- almost 1,000 12- or 16-inch aluminum or acetate discs -- was just acquired by the National Jazz Museum in Harlem.
Savory, born William Desavouret in 1916 aboard an ocean line to parents immigrating to the U.S. from France, worked for a number of audio studios and also broadcast news before World War II. During the war, he served as a Naval Research Laboratory engineer as well as a test and combat pilot. After the war, the Times reports, Savory served on the Columbia Records team that invented the 33 1/3 r.p.m. LP.
After marrying a singer from Benny Goodman's ensemble, Savory moved to Falls Church. In Washington, he worked for a defense contractor on communications and surveillance tech, with a focus on audio and data signals, the Times reports. However, his son testifies that Savory claimed he worked for the CIA -- a claim the son describes as credible.
Savory figures for a spook. According to friends and jazzbos alike, he rarely shared his recordings with anyone -- letting slip a Benny Goodman (and only Benny Goodman) recording here and there, but otherwise refusing to describe in detail the contents of his archive.
Savory's recordings remained largely a mystery until his death. The National Jazz Museum is now working to restore them and convert them to digial files. It's enchanting to think about those recordings languishing in a Falls Church basement, unknown to the entire world. What else is out there? Still, it's better to listen to them.