The Savoy King will screen on Saturday, September 29th (noon) at the Walter Reade Theater (165 West 65th Street on the north side between Broadway & Amsterdam, upper level;) and on Tuesday October 2nd (3:30) Francesca Beale Theater (144 West 65th Street on the south side between Broadway & Amsterdam).
“If Chick Webb’s story had been a novel, filmmakers would have lined up to option it. Through genius and a fabled will, Chick became a true titan in American music. In telling this remarkable story of an indispensable man, The Savoy King promises to be one of the great musical documentaries of our time.”
~Jazz & Film Critic, Gary Giddins
The Savoy Ballroom was the home of the amazing Lindy Hop dancers, and the first venue in America where Blacks and Whites could dance and socialize together. It had a huge, but largely unheralded social impact. Born fatherless and poor, Chick Webb broke his back, developed spinal tuberculosis, and was a hunchbacked dwarf in constant pain, yet he virtually invented modern drumming and built the hottest band of the 1930s (it was the Savoy Ballroom’s “house band”). Chick was mentored by Duke Ellington, toured with Louis Armstrong, argued with Jelly Roll Morton, jammed with Artie Shaw, married a beautiful dancer, discovered and practically adopted Ella Fitzgerald, beat Benny Goodman and Count Basie in legendary battle of the bands, befriended Mario Bauzá (“The Father of Afro-Cuban Jazz”), groomed and then fired Louis Jordan (the founder of Rhythm & Blues), encouraged a struggling Dizzy Gillespie, and helmed the first Black band to host a national radio show…all before drumming himself to death at age 30.
Chick’s brief, inspiring life illuminates the society-changing power of music, the life-lifting effect of mentoring, a hard-fought breakthrough in racial understanding that reverberates today in many ways, and the ability of everyone (with or without disabilities) to reach beyond their apparent limits.
FEATURING THE VOICES OF:
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as Dizzy Gillespie
New Orleans musician Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes as Barney Bigard
Rocky Carroll as Narrator
Bill Cosby as Chick Webb
Billy Crystal as Mezz Mezzrow
Tyne Daly as Jazz publicist Helen Oakley Dance
Keith David as The Savoy Ballroom’s Manager, Charles Buchanan
Washington Post Columnist, Eugene Robinson as Teddy McRae
Rolling Stones Drummer, Charlie Watts as Jazz Journalist, Stanley Dance
NEWLY FILMED INTERVIEWS!
Drumming legend Louie Bellson (with his last filmed drum performance), drumming great Roy Haynes (among other things, he does a charming scat version of A-Tisket, A-Tasket), trumpeter / NEA Jazz Master Joe Wilder, playwright-actress Gertrude Jeannette, Swing dance masters Frankie Manning and Norma Miller, Harlem Rens basketball star John Issacs, composer-arranger Van Alexander, longtime Harlem physician Dr. Muriel Petioni, childhood friend Rev. Edward Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald’s son Ray Brown Jr., the son of the Savoy Ballroom’s owner – Dr. Rchard Gale, and Chick’s jazz-loving nephew Brad Rowe.
Stay tuned to learn more about the story of the Savoy Ballroom & its King, Chick Webb. Chick Webb (1905-1939) was one of the greatest jazzband leaders & drummers of the 1930s.
In this vignette about Ella Fitzgerald, we learn about her early career and the formative relationship she had with Chick Webb, who played the role of mentor and guardian, as well as bandleader. Using archival footage, new interviews, the words of those who knew her, as well as her own words, this clip gives you a glimpse into the early years of Ella’s career and the people who helped shape it.
In this brief introduction to Chick Webb, we learn about Chick’s contribution to the art of drumming, using the words of Artie Shaw, Gene Krupa, Duke Ellington and Helen Oakley Dance, as well as new interviews with Roy Haynes and Norma Miller.
Frankie Manning was a swing-era dance pioneer, who became a master of the Lindy Hop and ultimately revolutionized it with his innovations, including the lindy air step and synchronized ensemble lindy routine.
He began his career in the 1930s in Harlem, as one of the featured dancers at the Savoy Ballroom, and was soon hired as a contract dancer at the famed Cotton Club. He was friends with some of the greatest jazz musicians and singers, including Ella Fitzgerald, Chick Webb, Duke Ellington and Count Basie.
Manning was also a charter member of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, a dance performance team that performed all over and in movies, like Hellzapoppin’ (1941). His dancing brilliance took him on tours of Europe, New Zealand and Australia.
Frankie Manning & Ann Johnson in 1941
Frankie Manning was interviewed shortly before his death for the film THE SAVOY KING. We are grateful to have some wonderful footage of him to include in the final picture.