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.
Please come see the world premiere of THE SAVOY KING: CHICK WEBB AND THE MUSIC THAT CHANGED AMERICA at the 38th annual Seattle International Film Festival, Saturday, June 9 at 6:00 pm, and Sunday, June 10 at 3:00 pm (both screenings at the Harvard Exit Theater). Featuring the voices of Bill Cosby, Janet Jackson, Billy Crystal, Andy Garcia, John Legend, and Jeff Goldblum, among others, The Savoy King brings alive one of the most remarkable untold stories in music history. Film critic Leonard Maltin wrote, “The Savoy King is vibrant and evocative . . . I loved every minute.”
“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
Andy Garcia as Mario Bauzá
Danny Glover as Count Basie
Jeff Goldblum as Artie Shaw
Janet Jackson as Ella Fitzgerald
John Legend as Duke Ellington
Ron Perlman as Gene Krupa
Voza Rivers as Sandy Williams
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.