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Sunday, 21 February 2016

Chick Webb & His Orchestra - In The Groove


Side 1
1 - Don't Be That Way
2 - What A Shuffle
3 - Blue Lou
4 - Go Harlem
5 - You'll Have To Swing It *
6 - Strictly Jive
7 - Rock It For Me *
8 - Squeeze Me

Side 2
1 - If Dreams Come True *
2 - A-Tisket, A-Tasket *
3 - Azure
4 - Spinnin' The Web
5 - Liza
6 - Undecided *
7 - T'Ain't What You Do *
8 - In The Groove At The Groove

*vocal by Ella Fitzgerald

Download from here:

All sides were recorded for Decca between November 1934 and February 1939. The Chick Webb band had previously recorded for Vocalion and Columbia / Okeh.

I have to own up to being out of my comfort zone with this one. We've stepped back a decade from the normal Bebop Wino era of jump blues and early R&B to the heyday of big band swing. However there are, inevitably, strong connections with the postwar era of rhythm 'n' blues and jazz to be found in the personnel of the Chick Webb Orchestra. Most obviously there is the presence of Ella Fitzgerald who joined the band in early 1935 and whose vocal efforts guaranteed big record sales in the second half of the 1930s.

Ella in front, Chick at the drums
There among the reed players is none other than alto sax man Louis Jordan who became a band member in mid 1936, replacing arranger and alto sax player Edgar Sampson who had decided to strike out on his own. As well as contributing the occasional vocal performance, Jordan played clarinet and soprano saxophone with the band. He had ambitions to form his own band and when he did leave in mid 1938 it was after a blazing row with Chick, who was convinced that Jordan had attempted to lure some of his musicians, including Ella Fitzgerald, to the new group. Shortly afterwards Louis formed the Tympany Five which set a whole new trend for blues and boogie based jump bands.

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan in the studio
Tenor sax player Teddy McRae was a long standing member of the Chick Webb Orchestra. In the 1950s he recorded humorous R&B records under the pseudonym "Mr. Bear."  His "I'm Gonna Keep My Good Eye On You" is considered by discerning critics (i.e. me) to be a work of genius but it unaccountably remains absent from The Great American Songbook.

Chick employed Bardu Ali as front man for the band. Although a musician (trumpet) and band leader in his own write, his role in the Chick Webb Orchestra was akin to that exemplified by Cab Calloway and Lucky Millinder: hold the whole show together and keep the audience's attention by M.C.-ing, conducting, dancing and even singing the occasional number. After the death of Chick and the breakup of the band, he formed his own group and subsequently headed West to L.A. He entered a business partnership with Johnny Otis and opened the Barrelhouse night club, a venue which played a pivotal role in the rise of West Coast rhythm and blues. His full name was Bahadur Ali and he was the son of a Bengali immigrant, Moksad Ali and his African American wife, Ella Blackman. There is a very interesting article on Bardu Ali on the "Taj Mahal Foxtrot" blog here:

A blog with the subtitle of "The Story of Bombay's Jazz Age" is simply irresistible.

Stompin' at The Savoy
The Chick Webb Orchestra reigned supreme at the Savoy Ballroom where they attracted a fanatical following among the dancers. The room was equipped with two stages, making it an ideal venue for big band battles. Among the bands who lost out to Webb were those of Count Basie and Benny Goodman although Chick had to cede victory to Duke Ellington.

As for Chick himself, his life was tragically short. Born in Baltimore in 1909, he was a diminutive hunchback because of tuberculosis of the spine. Despite his physical handicaps he had the drive and determination to become a first class drummer and bandleader. His health, which was never good, deteriorated markedly in 1938-39. In June 1939 he entered hospital in his native Baltimore for an operation but failed to recover from the procedure. The band limped on for another year or so under the leadership of Ella Fitzgerald with Teddy McRae as musical director but without Chick it just wasn't the same and the inevitable breakup came in 1941.

Chick Webb

1 comment:

malcee said...

thanks ! I am in the groove at the groove.