Chick Webb Project
Mike & Mary were proud to sponsor two of the songs for the Chick Webb project, a project that transcribed c. 31 songs from the Chick Webb library for live performances, the first which was at Lindy Focus 2016! To see the Lindy Focus web page on this project, click here. Click here to view the original IndieGogo page about the project
Mike & Mary – Report on Lindy Focus (LF) 2016.
What is Lindy Focus (LF)? As many of you know, LF is an annual event that takes place in Asheville, NC the week between Christmas and New Years. In addition to workshop classes, competitions and other activities, a definite highlight of the event for 2016 was five nights of swing-era big band music that featured the music of Count Basie, Artie Shaw, Chick Webb and Benny Goodman. Due to family obligations, this past year’s event (Dec. 27-31, 2016) was the first chance we’ve had to attend LF – and we picked a good year!
LF 2016. We attended for two days/nights, Dec. 29th & 30th. The Dec. 29th and Dec. 30th nightly dances featured the music of Chick Webb and Benny Goodman, respectively. The music for both dances was truly exceptional. The musicians at Lindy Focus did a great job playing the songs in the right style, and at the correct tempo (and maintaining the correct tempo throughout the entire song). What a treat it was to dance, and listen, to the great swing music of the big band swing-era (instead of the “mayonnaise & white bread” stuff you get from most “big bands” that play these days).
And for those that couldn’t attend the event, here is a link to a You Tube page for the live stream for the Dec. 29th Chick Webb night dance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jV2M7i8pGl4.
In closing, if you get a chance to attend the LF event in the future, do so – especially if LF continues to feature swing-era big band music for the nightly dances!
Some info about Chick Webb from the Hepcats swing dance music web page.
Chick Webb was one of the greatest and most influential jazz drummers of all time. He led the Chick Webb Orchestra from 1926 to 1939 during the height of the swing era and his mighty “Battle of the Bands” at the Savoy Ballroom in the Harlem district of New York City were famous, epic encounters.
Chick Webb was born in 1909 in Baltimore, Maryland. At a young age he contracted spinal tuberculosis, leaving him with a hunchback and limited use of his legs. At the age of three, doctors prescribed drumming as a remedy for Chick’s stiff joints. Webb readily obliged, banging on pots, pans, and oil drums around the house. By selling newspapers, Webb was able to save enough money to buy his own drum set. He quickly landed jobs with local bands and eventually found work in New York City in 1924. Once in New York, Chick played with Johnny Hodges, Tony Hardwick, Benny Carter and Duke Ellington. Still only 17, Ellington got Webb several gigs at the Black Bottom Club and the Paddock Club in New York.
In 1927, Webb took his band to the Savoy Ballroom and they quickly won over crowds with their flashy, flamboyant, and energetic style. Although he could not read sheet music, Webb memorized every piece and led the band from a raised platform in the center of the stage, cueing sections with his drumming. By 1931, Webb’s Orchestra was the Savoy Ballroom “house band”. During his time at the Savoy Ballroom, the Chick Webb Orchestra challenged and defeated bands led by the likes of Fletcher Henderson, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington during the famous “Battle of the Bands”.
In 1935 Savoy Ballroom manager Charlie Buchanan asked Webb to find a younger, hipper vocalist. Bardu Ali, a member of Webb’s band, had noticed a young singer named Ella Fitzgerald at the Apollo Theater and snuck her into Webb’s dressing room for an audition. Ella appeared with the band that night and was an instant success; she and the band formed a powerful partnership that would go on to record 60 songs featuring Fitzgerald over the next three years.
By 1938, Webb’s health began to fail him. Despite his health problems, Webb continued to book the band and travel extensively, saying “I’ve gotta keep my boys working.” Early in 1939, Webb was admitted into Johns Hopkins Hospital. In June of 1939, Chick Webb became extremely frail and died with his mother and wife at his bedside on the 16th. His funeral in Baltimore contained 80 cars in the procession and more mourners than could fit into the church. After Webb’s death, Fitzgerald fronted the band until it finally broke up in 1942.
Much like the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra, the Chick Webb Orchestra is vastly underappreciated today. There are several good CD’s on the market for Chick Webb recordings (although the relative primitive recording techniques of the time could not adequately capture Webb’s spectacular technique and wide dynamic range on the drums).
A good starting point CD for Webb’s music is Chick Webb, Stompin’ at the Savoy (distributed by ASV/Living Era).
Why Mike & Mary think this project was important
Why did Mike & Mary sponsor two songs for the Chick Webb project? There are three main areas that Mike & Mary are particularly proud of as far as our accomplishments and contributions to the Lindy Hop / Balboa swing dance community.
1. The Music. We are especially proud of our Big Band Swing Dance collaborations with University of Kentucky (UK) School of Music faculty members Dick Domek and Miles Osland, with the music provided by the Kentucky Jazz Repertory Orchestra (KJRO) and/or the UK Jazz Ensemble (UKJE). From our earliest days as Lindy Hop and Balboa swing dancers in Lexington, Mike and Mary wanted to bring the original, hard swinging big band music of the 1930’s/40’s swing-era to Lexington for dancers and non dancers alike to enjoy.
How did the Hepcats/UK School of Music Big Band Swing Dance collaborations get started? Click here for more info.
2. The Dance. For Mike & Mary, it’s all about the original swing dances (and music) of the 1930’s & 40’s big band swing era, Lindy Hop and Balboa (and some Collegiate Shag). We strive to maintain a high standard for teaching Lindy Hop and Balboa (and a high standard for the music) and never strayed to teach something that was “popular at the moment”, but not really swing dancing, i.e. what is sometimes called blues, etc…
Through our weekly classes, leadership, and example, we’ve helped to develop some very competent swing dancers, some that competed at the regional and national level; formed several performance groups that also competed regionally and nationally; and inspired countless others to commence the journey that is Lindy Hop and Balboa.
3. The Chick Webb Project. It’s been said that any music not played live is bound to die. Mike & Mary were honored to participate in the Chick Webb project; it was really a no brainer. We hope this project has long lasting results in the Lindy Hop / Balboa swing dance community, with more 1930’s/40’s big band music played at swing dances. Hopefully other projects focusing on the songs of other deserving big band leaders will also come to fruition.