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Big Band Era Information  
Big Band Battle Of Bands
Count Basie vs Chick Webb

Big Band Music Battle At The Savoy

This was a show that was everything it was built up to be for jazz fans and swing dancers of the day. One of many "battle of the bands" at the Savoy Ballroom. Below is Down Beat magazine's assessment of the event and inside details written by Norma Miller in her book "Swingin' At The Savoy; The Memoir Of A Jazz Dancer."

Count Basie took his "up and coming" bluesy big band into the Savoy Ballroom on January 16th, 1938. Drummer Chick Webb and his big band were regulars at the Savoy and Webb was considered the reigning King there. He was a favorite of the Lindy-hoppers who danced at the famed ballroom also known as "The Track" because of the grooves in the floor worn through by the shuffling of dancing feet.

The Savoy Ballroom was where the Lindy-hop swing dance was honed and popularized by swing dancers and jazz fans like Frankie Manning and Norma Miller. Although it was not known by the writer of this article, printed in the February 1938 Downbeat magazine, an explanation as to why Basie "sent" the dancers more than Chick Webb follows the article.

Whitey's Lindy Hoppers was a Swing dance troupe employed by one, Herbert White, who exploited for financial gain the dance created at the Savoy in the late 20's known as the Lindy-hop. He also exploited the swing dancers he employed and exerted his control and dominance over his troupe (and anyone else in Harlem who tried to perform the dance for money) for as long as he could.

In her book "Swingin' At The Savoy; The Memoir Of A Jazz Dancer" Norma Miller recalls a rift between Whitey and drummer Chick Webb at the time of this famous big band music battle of the bands. The rift occurred when a conversation between dancers discussing the incoming Basie band was miscommunicated to Webb. Quoting from her book, Temple University Press; Copyright 1996;

"When he heard it, it sounded like the kids were saying he didn't have it anymore, and that the sound the Basie band was bringing would run him off the bandstand. Of course when Chick heard this he responded in typical Chick Webb fashion "I don't give a good Goddam what those raggedy Lindy Hoppers think or say. Who needs 'em? As far as I'm concerned they can all go to hell. And their Mammies too."

"The surprise came later that night. As we entered the ballroom, Whitey met us and told us when Chick got on the bandstand, all dancers were to leave the floor."

Whitey's Lindy Hoppers may have been a fairly small group of swing dancers compared to the masses (especially on this night) at the Savoy. However, when one corner of the room housing some of the most experienced, colorful, and acrobatic Lindy-hoppers kept taking their seats when the Chick Webb big band began playing; writers sent to cover this event, unaware of the "behind the scenes" rift, would have undoubtedly taken note. Understandable how the Basie big band would have been perceived as a favorite of the Swing dancers at the Savoy Ballroom on this night.

Webb patched things up with Whitey soon thereafter and Whitey's Lindy Hoppers were again soon performing to the sounds of the swinging Chick Webb big band.

Fortunately ballot boxes at the door give the ratings of the bands more credibility.

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For more on Count Basie please see our Count Basie biography
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