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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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CHICK WEBB

Stomping at the Savoy

Proper Records P
ROPERBOX 5097

 

 

CD1
1. Heebie Jeebies
2. Blues In My Heart
3. Soft And Sweet
4. On The Sunny Side Of The Street
5. Darktown Strutters' Ball
6. If Dreams Come True
7. Let's Get Together
8. I Can't Dance (I Got Ants In My Pants)
9. Imagination
10. Why Should I Beg For Love?
11. Stompin' At The Savoy
12. Blue Minor
13. True
14. Lonesome Moments
15. If It Ain't Love
16. That Rhythm Man
17. On The Sunny Side Of The Street
18. Lona
19. Blue Minor
20. It's Over Because We're Through
21. Don't Be That Way
22. What A Shuffle
23. Blue Lou
24. I'll Chase The Blues Away
25. Down Home Rag
 
CD2
1. Are You Here To Stay?
2. Love And Kisses
3. Rhythm And Romance
4. Moonlight And Magnolias
5. I'll Chase The Blues Away
6. I May Be Wrong
7. Facts And Figures
8. Keepin' Out Of Mischief Now
9. King Porter Stomp
10. Crying My Heart Out For You
11. Under The Spell Of The Blues
12. When I Get Low I Get High
13. Go Harlem
14. Sing Me A Swing Song (And Let Me Dance)
15. Love, You're Just A Laugh
16. Devoting My Time To You
17. (If You Can't Sing It) You'll Have To Swing It
18. Swinging On The Reservation
19. I Got The Spring Fever Blues
20. Love Marches On
21. There's Frost On The Moon
22. Gee, But You're Swell
23. Rusty Hinge
24. Wake Up And Live
25. It's Swell Of You
 
CD3
1. You Showed Me The Way
2. Clap Hands! Here Comes Charley
3. Cryin' Mood
4. Love Is The Thing, So They Say
5. That Naughty Waltz
6. In A Little Spanish Town
7. I Got Rhythm
8. I Ain't Got Nobody
9. Just A Simple Melody
10. I Got A Guy
11. Strictly Jive
12. Holiday In Harlem
13. Sweet Sue, Just You
14. Rock It For Me
15. Squeeze Me
16. Harlem Congo
17. I Want To Be Happy
18. The Dipsy Doodle
19. If Dreams Come True
20. Hallelujah
21. Midnight In A Madhouse
22. A-Tisket, A-Tasket
23. Heart Of Mine
24. I'm Just A Jitterbug
25. Azure
 
CD4
1. Spinnin' The Webb
2. Liza (All The Clouds'll Roll Away)
3. Pack Up Your Sins And Go To The Devil
4. Mac Pherson Is Rehearsin' (To Swing)
5. Everybody Step
6. Ella
7. Wacky Dust
8. Gotta Pebble In My Shoe
9. I Can't Stop Loving You
10. Who Ya Hunchin'?
11. I Let A Tear Fall In The River
12. F.D.R. Jones
13. I Love Each Move You Make
14. It's Foxy
15. I Found My Yellow Basket
16. By Heck
17. Undecided
18. 'Tain't What You Do (It's The Way That Cha Do It)
19. In The Groove At The Grove
20. One Side Of Me
21. My Heart Belongs To Daddy
22. Chew-Chew-Chew (Your Bubble Gum)
23. Little White Lies
24. Breakin' Em Down

Chick Webb - Drums, plus various personnel

 

I haven't listed all the personnel on this boxed set of four CDs because they are so numerous that it would take several hours to specify them. But Chick Webb's band members included such great names as Benny Carter, Edgar Sampson, Louis Jordan, Ella Fitzgerald, Mario Bauza, and Ellingtonians Taft Jordan and Hilton Jefferson. This suggests what an important ensemble we have here. The CDs take us from 1931 to 1939, the year that Chick Webb died. Chick was subject to pain for most of his life, after an accident broke several vertebrae and made him a hunchback. Nevertheless he became an influential drummer who was praised by other drummers like Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa.

Despite Chick being the bandleader, he is almost inaudible on many tracks in this collection, since the early recordings failed to pick up the drums except for the occasional choke cymbal. You can hear snatches of him on Darktown Strutters' Ball but it is not until Don't Be That Way from 1934 that some short drum breaks are audible. Recorded in 1937, Clap Hands! Here Comes Charley contains some exciting drumming at a very fast tempo. Harlem Congo and Liza are further invigorating tracks with good drum solos. By Heck contains drum solos at mid-tempo. There are also some notable drum solos in tracks 6 to 8 of the third CD. These are by a small group called Chick Webb and his Little Chicks, where the flute of Wayman Carver and the clarinet of Chauncey Houghton join together to make for a clear, electrifying sound.

I mention the paucity of drum solos because Chick's playing was such an inspiration to other drummers, so it is a pity that we can't hear more of his virtuosity. Another inspiring aspect of the band was that it often had inventive arrangements - especially by Benny Carter (who was in the band in the early thirties) and most particularly by Edgar Sampson, who arranged such memorable tracks as Stompin' at the Savoy and Go Harlem. Benny Carter's special skill in arranging for sax sections is clear in Heebie Jeebies.

The early tracks - from 1931 to 1934 - have vocals by Louis Bacon and then Taft Jordan but they are not exceptionally distinguished. Many of the tracks from 1935 onwards include a very special singer: Ella Fitzgerald. It is well-known how Chick Webb took the teenager under his wing and how she took over the band when he died. Her earliest recordings here, starting with I'll Chase The Blues Away, already show clear intonation and an innate sense of swing, as well as a natural style which was more convincing than that of some mannered vocalists. Strangely enough, I'll Chase The Blues Away is virtually duplicated by the fifth track on the second CD. This is not the only inexplicable duplication in this compilation: Blue Minor occurs twice on the first CD and, although the sleeve-note calls it a "superior remake", I can't hear much difference between the two versions. The compilers would have done better to include Chick's first two recordings from 1929.

As this collection continues, you can almost hear Ella Fitzgerald's confidence and skill increasing. She must have been encouraged by her A-Tisket, A-Tasket becoming a big hit. Ella had composed it from an old nursery rhyme with her friend, pianist Al Feldman. It became one of the greatest hits of the 1930s and established Ella as a star singer . Almost inevitably it was followed by I Found My Yellow Basket, which Chick Webb devised with Ella. She also became famous for her scat singing, as in It Ain't What You Do.

This generous boxed set includes comprehensive sleeve-notes and it shows that, despite some stodgy arrangements, the band could swing when it wanted to and contained some fine instrumentalists. However, as a drummer, I'm sorry that these recordings include so few drum solos, especially when Gene Krupa and Lionel Hampton were playing long, clearly audible solos on recordings with Benny Goodman in the late 1930s. But perhaps my disappointment should be aimed at the recording quality, as many tracks by Goodman at this period seemed clearer.

Tony Augarde
www.augardebooks.co.uk



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