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Chick Webb (2/10/1909 - 6/16/1939)

Chick Webb was hugely admired by drummers such as Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, and Art Blakey for his power, musicianship and impeccable rhythm. He was a master at swinging a big band.

Webb was born with spinal tuberculosis which left him a hunchback and led to his early death. He took up drums on the advice of his doctor as a way of loosening up his limbs, and with money saved from menial jobs he bought a drum set fitted with custom pedals to accommodate his small stature. At age 17 he left Baltimore for New York and on the advice of Duke Ellington, who was struck by his talent, formed a quintet that would eventually expand to become the Chick Webb Orchestra, the house band at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. In legendary band battles there, Webb’s crowd-pleasing style and power overwhelmed such ensembles as Count Basie’s, Fletcher Henderson’s and Benny Goodman’s. Although Webb could not read music, he learned arrangements quickly and led the band from his drums on a raised platform.

Webb introduced “Stompin’ at the Savoy” in 1934 and had hits with “If Dreams Come True” and “Blue Lou,” all compositions of his lead alto saxophonist, Edgar Sampson. In 1935 he hired a young, unknown vocalist, Ella Fitzgerald, with whom he recorded over 60 songs, most notably “A Tisket, A Tasket” (Fitzgerald’s own composition) which went to the top of the charts.

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