[JPL] Old Recordings of Jazz Greats Discovered

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Thu Dec 27 06:36:00 EST 2007


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Old Recordings of Jazz Greats Discovered
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
(12-26) 05:08 PST Boise, Idaho (AP) --

With cocktail glasses clinking in the background, jazz singer Billie Holiday
stood near a piano amid partygoers inside an apartment overlooking New York
City's Hudson River. She began singing "Good Morning Heartache."

It was Nov. 18, 1956. Tony Scott joined her on clarinet as the voices of
others gathered at 340 Riverside Drive, including "Tonight Show" founder
Steve Allen, receded into a respectful hush.

This virtually unknown bootleg ‹ and about 100 cubic feet of additional
reel-to-reel audio tapes, newspaper clippings, films and boxes of a writer's
working files ‹ are part of historical material accumulated by musician,
producer and critic Leonard Feather in his half-century association with
jazz royalty like Holiday. He donated it to the University of Idaho's
International Jazz Collection following his death at age 80 in 1994.

While copyright laws have stymied efforts to make the recordings available
to a broader commercial audience, the Moscow, Idaho, school plans to make at
least a sampling of Holiday's party performance and other Feather materials
available to those attending this February's Lionel Hampton International
Jazz Festival.

"It's like doing an Ouija board and hearing voices from the other side,"
said Michael Tarabulski, an archivist at the International Jazz Collection.

How did Feather get Holiday and Scott, a celebrated bebop player who died in
March, on tape? It was Feather playing the piano. The uptown Manhattan
apartment belonged to him.

Included in the collection are about 50 of Feather's "Blindfold Tests,"
where he interviewed greats like Benny Goodman with their eyes covered, an
effort to promote fair critiques of new strains of jazz based on how they
sounded, not who was playing them.

Feather, a native of England whose updated "Encyclopedia of Jazz" remains an
important biographical reference, helped popularize the swing era. Before
his death 13 years ago, he often joined his friend Hampton, a percussionist
and vibes player, at the University of Idaho's annual jazz festival.

It was this association that convinced him to donate his collection to the
university, whose archive also houses historical material from Hampton,
trombonist Al Grey as well as vocalists Joe Williams and Ella Fitzgerald and
trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie, Doc Cheatham and Conte Candoli.

The university has had Feather's recordings since 2003, but their contents
weren't known until the school finally sent them away to Philadelphia last
year to be converted into digital files, a form that could be more easily
accessed by historians.

"I asked them to give me a call if they found some pretty fantastic stuff,"
said Tarabulski, who said the phone call he then got exceeded his
expectations.

By 1956, the 42-year-old Holiday's voice was near its best, even if her
liver would fail within three years.

On Nov. 10, 1956, she performed at Carnegie Hall. Eight days later, she was
in Feather's living room, where she sang at least eight songs, including
"Bless the Child,""Lady Sings the Blues," and "You Go to My Head."

In addition to clarinetist Scott and Allen, nightclub pianist Bobby Short
was on hand, as was jazz singer Helen Merrill, who performed with Holiday.

But while some of the material would be a seminal part of any jazz
aficionados' personal collection, Tarabulski said copyright laws may prevent
that from happening soon.

"Our problem is in making it accessible," Tarabulski said, of the recordings
Feather made of conversations and sessions with artists. "He didn't obtain
their permission, he was just using it to write his articles. We're loathe
to put it out on the airwaves, because people could copy it. And yet, what a
shame."

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2007/12/24/entertainment/e17282
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