Midnight In A Madhouse

Chick Webb

A birthday tribute to the short-lived but influential drummer

Drummer and bandleader William Henry “Chick” Webb was born on February 10, 1905 in Baltimore, Maryland.

Webb was stricken as a child with tuberculosis of the spine which resulted in him becoming a dwarf with a hunched back.

Despite that, Webb took up the drums and was a professional at the age of 11.

He moved to New York City in 1922 when he was 17, freelanced, and led his first band in 1926; he would be a bandleader during most of his career.

In 1931 Chick Webb’s group became the house band at the Savoy Ballroom, a high-profile association that resulted in him becoming an influence on Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Max Roach, Art Blakey and many of the drummers who followed.

Arranger-composer Edgar Sampson contributed such songs to Webb’s repertoire as “Stompin’ At The Savoy,” “Don’t Be That Way,” “If Dreams Come True” and “Blue Lou,” helping give the Webb Orchestra its own sound,

With trumpeters Taft Jordan and Bobby Stark, trombonist Sandy Williams, tenor-saxophonist Elmer Williams and the pioneering jazz flutist Wayman Carver, Webb’s big band was impressive, but its biggest star was easily Ella Fitzgerald who was featured on the majority of the drummer’s recordings (including her giant hit “A-Tisket, A-Tasket”) during 1935-39.

In ill health during his final year but refusing to take time off, Chick Webb passed away in 1939 when he was just 34.

Since there is no significant footage of Chick Webb, here is his big band recording of “Midnite In A Madhouse” from December 17, 1937.

-Scott Yanow

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