Archive for the ‘Big Band’ Category

King of Jazz

March 8, 2010 Leave a comment

If you “Google” King of Jazz in about 0.14 seconds you will have an answer and you will find a 1930 movie featuring Paul Whiteman who was an orchestra leader who was dubbed King of Jazz in 1924. Credit is given to him for bringing jazz to the mainstream after WWI. Whiteman was the first to arrange music for jazz orchestra, creating a sound that was very danceable and geared toward the younger audience. His bands featured some of the greatest musicians of his day, Bix Beiderbecke, Jack Teagarden, Bunny Berigan, Eddie Lang, Red Norvo, and the Dorsey brothers. Whiteman also added a vocalist to his band in which he was one of the first to do so and a rarity at that time. Over the years Whiteman introduced many singers who went on to great success, including Bing Crosby, Dinah Shore, Mildred Bailey, and Morton Downey. Whiteman commissioned and debuted George Gershwin’s famous “Rhapsody In Blue. He recorded many jazz and pop standards during his career, including “Wang Wang Blues”, “Mississippi Mud”, the jazzy classic “Rhapsody in Blue”, “Wonderful One”, “Hot Lips”, “Mississippi Suite”, and “Ferde Grofé  “Grand Canyon Suite”. This guy has some history! His popularity faded in the swing music era of the 1930s, and by the 1940s Whiteman was semi-retired from music.

Amazon Paul Whiteman Store

Paul Whiteman Quote: “Jazz came to America three hundred years ago in chains.”


Chick Webb

November 19, 2009 Leave a comment

Chick Webb was a jazz drummer with an incredible swinging band and spirit. At birth Webb battled congenital tuberculosis of the spine in order to become one of the most competitive drummers and bandleaders of the big band era. ..this left him in poor health for his entire life, Chick was a small, hunchback of a man who possessed an “incredible spirit” and an astounding musical talent. For many jazz fans, Chick remains arguably the greatest jazz drummer to have ever played the instrument. Yet it was only by a quirk of fate that Chick even came to play the drums. 

Chick Webb

The idea of playing the instrument was suggested to him by his doctor as a way to “loosen up” his stiffened limbs. By saving money earned through delivering papers, Chick soon secured a drum set. And by the age of seventeen, Chick was playing in New York nights clubs such as the Black Bottom and the Paddock Club. These early jobs were secured for him through the efforts of Duke Ellington who instantly recognized Chick’s talent. It was Ellington who encouraged Chick to form a quintet aptly called the “Harlem Stoppers.” The name was probably derived from Chick’s own hard driving style on the drums as the quintet’s leader. Later, this quintet would evolve into one of the most feared “swing” bands in New York — The Chick Webb Orchestra.

The Chick Webb Orchestra earned its fame after it became the house band of the legendary Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, New York. At the Savoy jazz bands made reputations for themselves by taking part in cuttin’ sessions usually against Chick Webb’s Orchestra. Count Bassie, Fletcher Henderson, Lloyd Scott and other, merely great, swing bands fell before the awesome power of Chick Webb’s spectacular playing. And, when the famous Benny Goodman Band came to Harlem to challenge the Chick Webb Orchestra at the Savoy, they too were left cut and bleeding after the encounter. Even the legendary Gene Krupa was said to have been shell-shocked by the power of Chick’s playing. But what else could Krupa expect from a bandleader and drummer whose moniker was “The King of the Savoy!”   

Chick Webb’s already mythical reputation was given even greater stature when he replaced his longtime vocalist Charles Linton with a then relatively unknown singer by the name of Ella Fitzgerald. Jazz legend has it that Ella “snuck” into Chick Webb’s dressing room in order to convince him to take her into his bed. But legends notwithstanding, Ella did become Chick’s lead vocalist. And Ella, called adoringly by fans and musicians, “The First Lady of Swing,” always acknowledged Chick Webb as her “first and foremost” influence.

Together, Chick and Ella, would electrify the Swing era of jazz with hits such as “A-Tisket a Tasket,” which was composed by Ella to cheer Chick up while he was ill. And while this and other great tunes recorded by these artists are well-known, Chick’s early work — some say his most impressive solos — was regrettably poorly captured by recording technology ill suited for Chick’s immense talent. But one of Chick’s hit tunes “Stompin’ at the Savoy” gives contemporary jazz fans some hint of the power of Chick Webb and his Orchestra.

In 1938, Chick Webb’s health began to fail him. This was mostly due to Chick’s chronic spinal condition and his insistence that he and his orchestra would only perform at the height of their talents for their fans. Often it was said that Chick played with such power that he was physically exhausted when he left the bandstand. 

In 1939, Chick returned to Baltimore for a major operation. Shortly afterwards, the little giant died on June 16, 1939 with his mother at his side. Chick’s funeral procession was said to have been composed of some eighty cars and the church where he was eulogized was said to be unable to hold all the mourners.








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Coleman Hawkins

April 2, 2009 Leave a comment

Coleman Hawkins considered the first important tenor sax player. He is strongly associated with swing , big band and was influencial in the bebop and avant guarde era. Many tenor men and horn players to come would try to emulate his mood and style of playing. Miles Davis was quoted as saying “when I heard Hawk I learned to play ballads”. His 1939 jazz recording of the pop standard of Body and Soul featuring him improvising almost the whole song except for the first four bars. A definate evolutionary step in the jazz world. He also was the leader of the first ever bebop recording session with Dizzy Gillespie, and Max Roach in 1943.coleman_hawkins Known for his adaptable playing style he  had no problems communicating with younger players. In the late 50’s he was considered a “has been” when he recorded with Roy Eldridge and John Coltrane. theloniousmonkwithjohncoltranecoverhawkins-and-eldridgeLester Young known as “The Prez” said that Coleman was the first “Prez” and I was the second.

Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster is a favorite of mine.

Coleman Hawkins Legacy Jazz Festival 2009