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Jazz classics that were lost and found

Recently discovered jazz music recordings show improvisation in its heyday.

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For decades, the Savory Collection was the stuff of legend. Rumored to be a series of jazz recordings preserved by William Savory during the 1930s, it was whispered about and alluded to but never actually seen. Unlike many legends, however, reality exceeded everyone's dreams.

"I thought maybe there would be 50 to 100 recordings and that would be phenomenal," says Loren Schoenberg, the executive director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, which recently acquired the collection. "But there are almost 1,000."

Stored for decades in cardboard boxes, the professional-grade, 16-in. aluminum and acetate discs bear the names of the jazz greats, including Lester Young, Billie Holiday, and Benny Goodman. A professional sound engineer, Mr. Savory recorded the music for his own use directly from live radio broadcasts, capturing the performances that were sweeping the country during one of the most important eras in jazz history.

"Musicians would say, 'You never heard Lester Young play until you heard him in a 10-minute solo,'" says Mr. Schoenberg.

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