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Spinnin' the Webb

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Album Review

A formidable percussionist who led one of the toughest swing bands of the 1930s, Chick Webb achieved great posthumous fame as the man who discovered Ella Fitzgerald. With all due respect to the First Lady of Song, the Chick Webb Orchestra's accomplishments have always been overshadowed by Ella's reputation. Spinnin' the Webb, GRP/Decca's 20-track sampler of recordings made during the final decade of Webb's short lifespan, earned justifiably high marks when it appeared in 1994, and it still stands as one of the very best Chick Webb anthologies ever released in any format, even though it contains no vocals by Ella Fitzgerald. This edition opens with two Brunswick recordings dating from June 1929: "Dog Bottom," featuring a scat vocal by trumpeter Ward Pinkett, and "Jungle Mamma." Both pieces were composed by Webb and are infused with the vividness that characterizes so much of the jazz of the late '20s. "Heebie Jeebies" and "Blues in My Heart" (with a vocal by trumpeter Louis Bacon) date from the spring of 1931. By that time Benny Carter was fortifying the reed section and writing arrangements for the band. And by 1934 Webb had switched to Decca and would stick with that company until his death in 1939. The records made during that five-year period are marvels of power, finesse, and cohesive swing. Like his contemporaries Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Jimmie Lunceford, and Earl Hines, Webb attracted brilliant instrumentalists who helped him forge music that still sounds refreshingly vibrant, creative, and uncontrived. His key players were trumpeter Taft Jordan, a Louis Armstrong worshiper who could sing like his idol; trombonist Sandy Williams; master arranger and alto saxophonist Edgar Sampson, who composed "Stompin' at the Savoy," "Blue Lou," and "Don't Be That Way"; the great unsung Wayman Carver, a tenor saxophonist who introduced the flute into big-band jazz during the 1930s; reed men Garvin Bushell and Hilton Jefferson; alto saxophonist Louis Jordan, destined for terrific success during the 1940s in a newly created market known as rhythm & blues; and bassist John Kirby, who by the end of the '30s had formed a dynamic sextet that soon came to be known as "the Biggest Little Band in the Land." These are some of the men who helped to make the Chick Webb Orchestra a legend in its own time. GRP/Decca's Spinnin' the Webb is an extraordinarily high-quality collection, in keeping with other volumes in the series that feature vintage recordings by such stalwarts of swing as Louis Armstrong, James P. Johnson, Lionel Hampton, and Charlie Barnet. Each edition is well worth the price of admission, and the Chick Webb disc occupies a shotgun seat at the head of the pack.

Spinnin' the Webb, Chick Webb and His Orchestra
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