Chick Webb

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Chick Webb
Chick Webb.jpg
Background information
Birth nameWilliam Henry Webb
Born(1905-02-10)February 10, 1905 (disputed, see below)
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
DiedJune 16, 1939(1939-06-16) (aged 34)
Baltimore, Maryland
Genres Jazz
Occupation(s)Musician, bandleader
InstrumentsDrums
Associated acts Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Hodges, Sidney Bechet, Van Alexander

William Henry "Chick" Webb (February 10, 1905 [1] [2] [3] – June 16, 1939) was an American jazz and swing music drummer as well as a band leader.

Jazz is a music genre that originated in the African-American communities of New Orleans, United States. It originated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and developed from roots in blues and ragtime. Jazz is seen by many as "America's classical music". Since the 1920s Jazz Age, jazz has become recognized as a major form of musical expression. It then emerged in the form of independent traditional and popular musical styles, all linked by the common bonds of African-American and European-American musical parentage with a performance orientation. Jazz is characterized by swing and blue notes, call and response vocals, polyrhythms and improvisation. Jazz has roots in West African cultural and musical expression, and in African-American music traditions including blues and ragtime, as well as European military band music. Intellectuals around the world have hailed jazz as "one of America's original art forms".

Swing music, or simply swing, is a form of popular music developed in the United States that dominated in the 1930s and 1940s. The name swing came from the 'swing feel' where the emphasis is on the off–beat or weaker pulse in the music. Swing bands usually featured soloists who would improvise on the melody over the arrangement. The danceable swing style of big bands and bandleaders such as Benny Goodman was the dominant form of American popular music from 1935 to 1946, a period known as the swing era. The verb "to swing" is also used as a term of praise for playing that has a strong groove or drive. Notable musicians of the swing era include Louis Armstrong, Louis Prima, Larry Clinton, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, Woody Herman, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Harry James, Louis Jordan, and Cab Calloway.

Contents

Biography

Webb was born in Baltimore, Maryland, to William H. and Marie Webb. From childhood, he suffered from tuberculosis of the spine, [4] leaving him with short stature and a badly deformed spine; which caused him to appear hunchbacked. [5] The idea of playing an instrument was suggested by his doctor to "loosen up" his bones. He supported himself as a newspaper boy to save enough money to buy drums, and first played professionally at age 11. Webb had three sisters: Bessie, Mabel and Ethel. Mabel married Wilbur Porter around 1928.

Pott disease

Pott disease or Pott's disease is a form of tuberculosis that occurs outside the lungs whereby disease is seen in the vertebrae. Tuberculosis can affect several tissues outside the lungs including the spine, a kind of tuberculous arthritis of the intervertebral joints. The disease is named after Percivall Pott (1714–1788), a British surgeon. The lower thoracic and upper lumbar vertebrae are the areas of the spine most often affected. The formal name for the disease is tuberculous spondylitis.

At the age of 17 he moved to New York City and by 1926 was leading his own band in Harlem. Jazz drummer Tommy Benford said he gave Webb drum lessons when he first reached New York.

Thomas Benford was an American jazz drummer.

He alternated between band tours and residencies at New York City clubs through the late 1920s. In 1931, his band became the house band at the Savoy Ballroom. He became one of the best-regarded bandleaders and drummers of the new "swing" style. Drummer Buddy Rich cited Webb's powerful technique and virtuoso performances as heavily influential on his own drumming, and even referred to Webb as "the daddy of them all". [6] Webb was unable to read music, and instead memorized the arrangements played by the band and conducted from a platform in the center. He used custom-made pedals, goose-neck cymbal holders, a 28-inch bass drum and other percussion instruments. [7]

The Savoy Ballroom was a large ballroom for music and public dancing located at 596 Lenox Avenue, between 140th and 141st Streets in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. Lenox Avenue was the main thoroughfare through upper Harlem. Poet Langston Hughes calls it the Heartbeat of Harlem in Juke Box Love Song, and he set his work "Lenox Avenue: Midnight" on the legendary street. The Savoy was one of many Harlem hot spots along Lenox, but it was the one to be called the "World's Finest Ballroom". It was in operation from March 12, 1926, to July 10, 1958, and as Barbara Englebrecht writes in her article "Swinging at the Savoy", it was "a building, a geographic place, a ballroom, and the 'soul' of a neighborhood". It was opened and owned by white entrepreneur Jay Faggen and Jewish businessman Moe Gale. It was managed by African-American business man and civic leader Charles Buchanan. Buchanan, who was born in the British West Indies, sought to run a "luxury ballroom to accommodate the many thousands who wished to dance in an atmosphere of tasteful refinement, rather than in the small stuffy halls and the foul smelling, smoke laden cellar nightclubs ..."

Buddy Rich Jazz drummer and bandleader

Bernard "Buddy" Rich was an American jazz drummer and bandleader. He is considered one of the most influential drummers of all time and was known for his virtuoso technique, power, and speed. He performed with Tommy Dorsey, Harry James and Count Basie, and led a big band.

Although his band was not as influential, it was feared in the battle of the bands. [5] The Savoy often featured "Battle of the Bands" where Webb's band would compete with other top bands, such as the Benny Goodman Orchestra or the Count Basie Orchestra. By the end of the night's battles the dancers seemed always to have voted Webb's band as the best. Webb lost to Duke Ellington in 1937. Although a judge declared Webb's band the official winner in 1938 over Count Basie's, and Basie himself said he was relieved to come away from the contest without embarrassing himself, surviving musicians continued to dispute the ruling for decades. [8]

Count Basie Orchestra band

The Count Basie Orchestra is a 16 to 18 piece big band, one of the most prominent jazz performing groups of the swing era, founded by Count Basie in 1935 and recording regularly from 1936. Despite a brief disbandment at the beginning of the 1950s, the band survived long past the Big Band era itself and the death of Basie in 1984. It continues as a 'ghost band'.

Duke Ellington American jazz musician, composer and band leader

Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington was an American composer, pianist, and leader of a jazz orchestra, which he led from 1923 until his death over a career spanning more than fifty years.

Webb married Martha Loretta Ferguson (also known as "Sally"), and in 1935 he began featuring a teenaged Ella Fitzgerald as a vocalist. Together Chick and Ella would electrify the Swing Era of jazz with hits such as "A-Tisket a Tasket", which was composed by Van Alexander at Fitzgerald's request. Despite rumors to the contrary, "Ella was not adopted by Webb, nor did she live with him and his wife, Sally," according to Stuart Nicholson in his Fitzgerald biography. [9]

Ella Fitzgerald American jazz singer

Ella Jane Fitzgerald was an American jazz singer sometimes referred to as the First Lady of Song, Queen of Jazz, and Lady Ella. She was noted for her purity of tone, impeccable diction, phrasing, intonation, and a "horn-like" improvisational ability, particularly in her scat singing.

Van Alexander American musician

Van Alexander was an American bandleader, arranger, and composer.

Last years and death

In November 1938, Webb's health began to decline; for a time, however, he continued to play, refusing to give up touring so that his band could remain employed during the Great Depression. He disregarded his own discomfort and fatigue, which often found him passing out from physical exhaustion after finishing sets. Finally, he had a major operation at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore in 1939. Webb died from Pott disease on June 16, 1939, in Baltimore. Reportedly his last words were, "I'm sorry, I've got to go." He was roughly 34 years old. [8] Webb was buried in Baltimore County, in Arbutus Memorial Park, in Arbutus, Maryland.

Webb's death hit the jazz/swing community very hard. After his death, Fitzgerald led the Chick Webb band until she left to focus on her solo career in 1942 and caused the band to disband. [10] Art Blakey and Ellington both credited Webb with influencing their music. Gene Krupa credited Webb with raising drummer awareness and paving the way for drummer-led bands like his own. Webb's thundering solos created a complexity and an energy that paved the way for Rich (who studied him intensely) and Louie Bellson.

On February 12, 1940 a crowd of about 7,500 people attended a Chick Webb Benefit in Baltimore, Maryland. In attendance were Sally Webb, Chick's widow, his mother Marie Webb, his sister Mabel Porter, Governor Herbert R. O'Conor, Fitzgerald and boxing champion Joe Louis. [11]

Disputed year of birth

Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines and Coleman Hawkins are among several early jazz musicians whose birthdates have been disputed. Webb's birthday was generally believed to be February 10, 1909, however research has proven this to be incorrect.

The Encyclopædia Britannica Online had given two possible years for his birthdate: 1902 and 1909. However, they have now tentatively adopted 1905. [12] Still other publications claim other years. During Webb's lifetime a December 1937 Down Beat magazine article, "The Rise of a Crippled Genius", [13] stated he was born in 1909, and a book entitled Rhythm on Record by Hilton Schleman stated his birth year was 1907. [14] The New York Times reported in 1939 that Webb was born in 1907. Despite these conflicting dates, Eric B. Borgman has proven that Webb was born in 1905, using the 1910 and 1920 United States censuses and newspaper articles. [2] [15] The confusion regarding his birth year can be seen on his death certificate, which has "1907" overwritten with "1909". Webb's grave marker gives the wrong birth year of "1909".

Selected discography

Related Research Articles

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References

  1. American Rag, Uhl Tidings column, November 2005.
  2. 1 2 Borgman, Eric Bruno (25 February 2011). ""Setting the Record Straight"". Ebbentertainmentinc.blogspot.com. Retrieved 20 April 2019.
  3. Chick Webb on IMDb
  4. "Swing Music History" Archived 2010-02-28 at the Wayback Machine , last accessed Jan 12, 2010
  5. 1 2 "Chick Webb" . Retrieved 2012-12-06.
  6. "Buddy Rich Drummerman". Drummerman.net. Retrieved 2011-10-30.
  7. "Chick Webb". All About Jazz. Retrieved 16 January 2019.
  8. 1 2 Jazz: A Film By Ken Burns, 2000. Documentary miniseries. Directed by Ken Burns
  9. Ella Fitzgerald; A Biography of the First Lady of Jazz, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1993, p.36
  10. "Home - Ken Burns". Jazz. Retrieved 20 April 2019.
  11. "Scenes as 7500 Attend Chick Webb Benefit". news.google.com. The Afro American. 17 February 1940. p. 8. Retrieved 16 January 2019.
  12. "Encyclopædia Britannica". Britannica.com. Retrieved 2011-10-30.
  13. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-11-12. Retrieved 2014-11-12.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  14. Rhythm on Record: Who's Who and Register of Recorded Dance Music, 1906/1936, Hilton Schleman, Melody Maker Limited, London, 1936, page 264.
  15. Chick Webb Archived January 19, 2016, at the Wayback Machine

Bibliography