A Trove of Old 78s Heads to Syracuse
For 30 years, the turntable tucked in the corner of Records Revisited rarely rested. All day it spun at 78 revolutions per minute, whirling some aging pancake placed lovingly on it by the shop’s owner, Morton J. Savada. A heavy needle was always burrowing into the scratchy grooves of those brittle old discs to bring forth the music of Harry James, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and others from the first half of the 20th century.
The records were rarely repeated, yet the supply — perhaps a quarter-million 78-r.p.m. discs — never ran out.
Records Revisited was packed floor-to-ceiling with discs of a vintage and variety that drew a steady stream of record buffs to 34 West 33rd Street. The shop, more like an archive than a store, held approximately 60 tons of swing, big band jazz and other style, forming one of the largest collections of 78s in the world.
The shop has been closed since Mr. Savada’s death in February. Last Thursday, his son, Elias Savada, was poring over a cardboard box, one of 1,300 being filled with records and put on waiting trucks. The collection will be sent to Syracuse University’s Belfer Audio Laboratory and Archive, which will now have the second-largest collection of 78s in the United States, after the Library of Congress, university officials said.
Elias Savada seemed flush with nostalgia and pride as he opened Box 495, and reached in to pull out a record for one last spin.
What do you know? It was Gene Krupa’s “Drum Boogie.” The elder Mr. Savada would have noted the obvious: that Krupa had a big hit with the lively jump tune and was featured with his big band performing it in the 1941 film “Ball of Fire,” with Anita O’Day singing and Roy Eldridge on trumpet.
Now only Mr. Savada’s handwriting remained, offering some scribbled details of the recording, on the brown paper record sleeve. Mr. Savada placed the disc on the record player and dropped the needle down, filling the store with the music that Morty Savada lived for.
“This is what dad loved, this sound,” Mr. Savada said. “He always had a record on when he was here.” When he was here, Mr. Savada ran the shop himself. Actually, he stopped doing business two years ago when his health declined, but he often visited his beloved collection, which remained in the shop after he died at his home in Harrison, N.Y., on Feb. 11 at age 85.
Many die-hard collectors used to gather at Records Revisited to find obscure singles on those 10-inch disks that featured one song per side, and which Mr. Savada kept organized alphabetically and by style on white floor-to-ceiling shelves lining the walls and the many narrow aisles.
After the Krupa record, Mr. Savada unpacked another box and pulled out MGM record 10160-A. It was in fair to good condition and had a perky yellow label from which Mr. Savada read out loud: “Marion Hutton sings ‘My Brooklyn Love Song,’ from the R.K.O. picture ‘If You Knew Susie.’ Orchestra conducted by Sonny Burke.”
The song featured humorous lyrics delivered in exaggerated Brooklynese, culminating with the claim that a boy’s love for the Brooklyn Dodgers has diverted his concentration on his “goil.”
Mr. Savada did not use a computer to keep track of his records, opting instead for index cards filed in a tan metal cabinet. The cabinet was still there, and Elias Savada scooped up a bunch of loose business cards scattered on it. There were cards from WCBS radio, as well as WNYC, WGBH, and the BBC and Reader’s Digest. There were individual clients, including a business card from Carol Hemingway, who according to Mr. Savada’s notation on the card was “Ernest H’s daughter in law,” who, he also noted, bought a Dwight Fisk recording put onto a cassette by Mr. Savada, which sold for $10.
Elias Savada said that neither he nor his brother or sister had any urge to take over their father’s business. Still, Elias is something of an archivist — he is a consultant in the movie industry whose specialty is determining whether certain television shows and other material has fallen into the public domain.
He said that his father, always an avid record buff, ran the family’s apparel company, but that after acquiring a small collection of 60,000 records, he opened a record store and got out of the garment business, which was flagging anyway because of competition from importers.
The Syracuse University archivists couldn’t be more pleased with the obscure records arriving in numbered boxes. Not only is there a huge swing collection, but also recordings of country, blues, gospel, polka, folk and Broadway tunes. Suzanne Thorin, the university’s dean of libraries, said the truckloads of Mr. Savada’s records — at least, the tiny percentage sampled so far — has revealed fascinating auditory treasures, including Carl Sandburg reading his own poetry while accompanying himself on the guitar, and Hazel Scott, the pianist and singer. There are also many rare recordings preserved only on V-Disc records produced for American military personnel overseas in the 1940s.
Mr. Savada said that his father had a policy of never selling the last copy of a recording. “He was running a business, but he knew he had an important archive here and he had a responsibility to maintain it.”