By DAN REYNOLDS, senior editor of Risk & Insurance®
When it comes to measuring the cultural value of what is now being called the "Savory Collection," the treasure trove of live jazz recordings made in the late 1930's by audio engineer William Savory, the task may well be impossible.
The recordings, numbering almost 1,000, of such greats as Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday and Coleman Hawkins, were recently unearthed and salvaged under the supervision of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem.
Suffice to say, the recordings provide a cultural resource of "magnitude" said Dan Morgenstern, a former editor of Downbeat Magazine and the director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University in Newark, N.J.
"It is a very significant thing and there are really some outstandingly lovely things there," Morgenstern told Risk & Insurance® during a phone interview July 22.
The jazz museum was lucky in that it had at its disposal the skills of audio engineer Doug Pomeroy, who restored and digitalized the collection of recordings. "There aren't too many people around who really know how to handle this kind of stuff, but he certainly does," Morgenstern said.
Loren Schoenberg, the executive director of the National Jazz Museum of Harlem in New York City, which is in possession of the recordings, said he has had no trouble insuring the collection, though he was not willing to provide a figure on what the collection might be currently valued at.
"We have insured the property with our insurance carriers," Schoenberg said. He declined to say who those carriers were.
Whatever financial value is placed on the Savory Collection may ultimately change, but as things stand, due to the constrictions of copyright laws, the vast majority of the Savory Collection is not accessible to the public.
"The potential copyright liability that could attach to redistribution of these recordings is so large--and, more importantly, so uncertain--that there may never be a public distribution of the recordings," wrote David G. Post, a law professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, on the Volokh Conspiracy blog, a group blog posted by law professors.
"Tracking down all the parties who may have a copyright interest in these performances, and therefore an entitlement to royalty payments (or to enjoining their distribution), is a monumental--and quite possibly an impossible--task," Post wrote.
For his part, Morgenstern doesn't think the situation with the Savory Collection is as dire as all of that. He thinks that eventually, the copyright issues that are holding up distribution of what may be the single most significant collection of jazz music ever unearthed will eventually be resolved.
Morgenstern the jazz lover doesn't kid himself. He knows that the commercial market for classic jazz isn't anywhere near that of the market for a Britney Spears or a Lady Gaga, for instance.
There is, he said, a significant international market for classical jazz and that some of these recordings are of a quality that collectors and fans will be eager to get their hands on.
The collection contains "hours and hours and hours" of "some really gorgeous stuff."
"It is a wonderful find," Morgenstern said.
July 25, 2011
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